Defending the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, ecumenically

The international conference on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration” held in Rome on 18- 20 September 2018, was organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. ACT Alliance participated in the event, bringing to the table the experiences of members who are working with migrants and displaced people worldwide.

Together, participants adopted a Message from the Conference affirming the rights of all people on the move, calling on churches to speak out against all instances of discrimination and to promote narratives of hope and love. At the end of the conference, Pope Francis received the participants, speaking up against intolerance and emphasising the role of religious leaders in promoting respect and dignity to all people.

“We live in a time when feelings that many thought were outmoded seem to be reviving and spreading. Feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred of individuals or groups deemed to be different because of their ethnic, national or religious affiliation, and as such considered unworthy to participate fully in the life of society,” said Pope Francis.

“Faced with the spread of new forms of xenophobia and racism, leaders of all religions also have an important mission: to spread among their faithful the principles and ethical values inscribed by God in the heart of man known as the natural law,” he continued.

The message acknowledges the rise in xenophobic and racist reactions to refugees and migrants and notes that migration, “belongs to the whole history of humanity – past, present and future – and the entire biblical narrative.” The message also notes the various drivers of forced displacement and migration including violent conflicts, poverty, insecurity, and climate change, and affirms “the institution of asylum” as well as “the rights of all people on the move, regardless of their status.”

Having engaged with the issues of xenophobia, racism, and populist nationalism, participants observed that these often result in a rejection of the other. The message further reads, “to refuse to receive and help those in need is contrary to the example and calling of Jesus Christ. Claiming to protect Christian values or communities by shutting out those who seek safe refuge from violence and suffering is unacceptable, undermines Christian witness in the world, and raises up national boundaries as idols.”

The conference further called on all to hold accountable those who “exercise power and participate directly in decisions that affect the future of the human community” and in this context expressed support for the effective implementation of the recently agreed Global Compacts for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and on Refugees, including their respective provisions for eliminating all forms of discrimination against migrants and refugees, noting that these frameworks were drafted with the active participation of churches, civil society, and other stakeholders.

Rev. Dr Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, Programme Executive, Mission & Evangelism, and lead organiser of the conference for the WCC, noted the positive signalling effect of the conference for ecumenical relations. “The implications of this are huge. Many church leaders here commented to me how this has inspired them to go home and say, if this kind of cooperation can happen here at this level, there’s no reason why we cannot do it ourselves nationally and locally. I hope that we can continue to build on that for more and more collaboration in the future.”

“Having plenty of non-European perspectives in the room aided the discussion and helped us focus on the articulation of Christian values for addressing this challenge,” she continued.

Christian Wolff, ACT Alliance’s Programme Manager for Migration and Displacement, echoed the spirit of ecumenical collaboration. “For us, this was a significant event, because it enabled us to reach a broad constituency of churches and their leadership and to anchor our principled and human rights-based approach to migration and displacement even more deeply within the ecumenical movement. Bringing together our engagement at the political level with church-based voices who can carry our concerns into their constituencies is a key part of our long-term strategy, and we are deeply grateful to the WCC and the Vatican for facilitating this collaboration.”

Tahaafe-Williams praised ACT Alliance for its fruitful ecumenical collaboration on migration issues, including and especially with the WCC. “We are encouraged by the results, which include this conference. Migration is a very complex area that no one organisation can effectively cover on its own, so we are grateful to ACT and its members for consistently monitoring developments and bringing their expertise and experiences into the ecumenical family, which helps us all engage at different levels together.”

Tahaafe-Williams agreed on the need to carry the message from the conference into church communities. “We hope that people will take it seriously, and start using it for engaging at the local level, where it matters. It should inform the way we are operating, as Christians and as people of faith, including others who share the same values. This came out strongly in our inter-religious panel. We hope that having a tool to speak to our membership ecclesiastically will be a useful starting point for our journey together.”

The full Message from the Conference is available here.

The full text of Pope Francis’ remarks is available here.