In mid-January, the World Evangelical Alliance
(WEA) appointed Tom Albinson as WEA Ambassador for Refugees and Displaced People. The role was created after a permanent UNHCR
network formed following the UNHCR's "Dialogue on Faith and Protection" in December 2012. For more about Tom, see the WEA press release
You are on the core leadership team of the RHP and in fact helped launch the effort in 2001, so how does this role potentially impact and help ministries engaged and involved in the RHP?
The ambassador role gives me opportunity to naturally network the RHP with other WEA global partners and networks, including the 129 National Evangelical Alliances around the world. It also raises the visibility and influence of the RHP with the UNHCR and within international humanitarian circles. I'm hopeful that this access will result in our becoming better informed about refugee crises and effective humanitarian responses as well as opening new doors for Christians to effectively serve forcibly displaced people.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities of being the first person to fill this role?
My hope is to bring together the refugee church and the church-at-large in ways that break the isolation of our displaced brothers and sisters while inspiring and strengthening the faith of the greater church. As churches become better connected, we’ll find strategic and innovative ways to partner together in mission.
The challenges are many. The scope and complexity of issues related to forcibly displaced people is overwhelming. Many churches are unaware of the global refugee crisis, much less their divine mandate to love the alien. Many Christians harbor misunderstandings and false assumptions about refugees that make them hesitant to help. Most of the church-at-large doesn't seem to know about the refugee church that is alive and well. The refugee church feels forgotten and isolated.
What should the RHP community know about how the UNHCR views faith-based organizations' part in addressing the refugee crises around the world?
When the UNHCR speaks of Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs), they specifically emphasize the strategic role that local churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues play in humanitarian response. In my view, the following quote from the High Commissioner expresses a longing of the world to see the church at its best. It was given to the delegation of governmental representatives, NGOs, and FBOs in the UN Palais des Nations, Geneva, in December 2012:
"[F]aith contributes much more than many people think to the protection and well-being of refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR and eventually to finding durable solutions…in most circumstances local religious communities are the first which our people of concern turn to for protection, assistance and counselling. Faith-based organisations often enjoy higher levels of trust from the community, better access and broader local knowledge, all of which are important assets in programme design and delivery, including in complex and insecure environments."
Anything that has surprised you during your interactions with UN officials or other government agencies since taking this position?
While I was initially surprised to hear of UNHCR’s keen interest to better partner with FBOs, I’m pleased to see how all of the various players stepped up since the “Dialogue” to move forward and not lose momentum. I was also encouraged to see how highly UNHCR regards WEA. The High Commissioner told those gathered for the “Dialogue” how impressed he was to hear of WEA’s World Refugee Sunday and how this strategy encourages Evangelicals to be informed and engaged in seeking durable refugee solutions. He suggested that other groups consider a similar response.
What changes or initiatives are you pursing in the remainder of 2013 as part of your role?
The role is new and we’re establishing initial priorities and strategies. I’m working with the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, established by Wheaton College, on a project to document how refugee churches and host community churches worked together in the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya (pop. 110,000+ refugees). I plan to submit this to UNHCR as an example of healthy FBO response to refugee crisis.
I’m also pursuing a relationship with various National Evangelical Alliances in Africa as well as the Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA) to learn from their response to refugee crises and how we can better network and equip local churches or alliances to respond to humanitarian crises in the region.
Over 8 months ago, our friend and colleague Stephen Mugabi passed away. Stephen was present at the creation of the RHP and was the face of Africa to the RHP community. He used his many relationships to promote the role of the African church in responding to refugee issues.
Although saddened by his departure, we are pleased to announce the appointment of a new Africa Coordinator for the RHP, Allan Barasa, a Ugandan based in Kampala. Allan served for a number of years along side Stephen and assisted in past RHP events in Africa. Allan has a B.A. in Development Studies as well as many other courses and certificates. He takes on this new role eager to develop the network into a community that provides real value and services to its members and to the refugee communities they serve.
Allan is endorsed and recommended by the Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA), and this allows him to mobilize and utilize the significant network of AEA church alliances across Africa. The RHP Africa will now embark on a strategy shaped by the following:
TEAM: To focus first on developing a strong RHP regional team based in Uganda.
SCALING: To begin regionally networking in East Africa Great Lakes Region , and expand further across Africa only when that has been established.
QUICK WINS: To deliver early, quick wins and services that are simple yet significant. One of the first will be a directory of refugee stakeholders in East Africa.
SUSTAINABLE: To develop a plan to be sustained in budget and personnel from within Africa within two years.
ADVOCACY: To represent to the rest of the world the unique issues and challenges of refugees in Africa.
Allan shares offices with Mark Orr, who serves on the RHP Core Team as an adviser. This allows them to work together in this critical re-launching phase of the RHP Africa. Pray for Allan and each of the new team members who face a considerable task to rebuild a network that can bring greater collaboration, compassion and efficiency to refugee response in this vast continent. For more, contact: RHP Coordinator, Allan Barasa at [email protected] or RHP Advisor, Mark Orr at [email protected].