The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) participated in the Dialogue on Faith and Protection, facilitated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 12-13, 2012. UNHCR called the Dialogue to “highlight the important role that local religious communities play in protecting asylum-seekers, refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR” and “to explore how humanitarian agencies can better engage with religious communities to improve the protection of forcibly displaced and stateless people.”
Participants included diverse governmental representatives, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations and leaders and academics from various religious communities. Also present were Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the WEA USA national member, and Dan Kosten, senior Vice President of World Relief, a WEA Global Partner.
“The WEA welcomes this initiative of UNHCR, as the protection and welfare of the refugee is a concern deeply rooted in the Bible,” said Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the WEA. The Dialogue confirmed that both humanitarian work and major world religions emphasize a concern for the welfare of the stranger.
The Dialogue specifically explored how faith-based organizations and communities can help create welcoming communities and promote durable solutions for refugees. The Dialogue also explored how cooperation between faith-based organizations and the UNHCR can be enhanced.
UNHCR asked Dr. Tunnicliffe to speak during the opening plenary meeting in front of 400 ambassadors, NGO representatives, and faith leaders concerning the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP) that was launched by the WEA in 2001. Now a WEA Global Partner, the RHP seeks to help churches and Christian agencies network together, share good practices, pursue joint advocacy and give refugees a voice.
"The issues and challenges of the Refugee Highway are complex and beyond any one agency or government's capacity to fully address," commented Tom Albinson, WEA refugee consultant and founding member of the RHP. "We are happy to hear UNHCR's affirmation of the essential role played by Faith-based Organizations (FBO) in responding to the complex and challenging issues experienced by refugees. Indeed, it is in the best interest of the world's 42.5 million forcibly displaced people that we all work together."
António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, closed the Dialogue with the recommendation that humanitarian actors, including UNHCR, deepen their understanding of religious traditions across faiths and become more ‘faith literate’. Guterres went on to propose that the Dialogue be transformed into a permanent network whose purpose would include developing partnership principles to guide UNHCR’s engagement with faith-based organizations, along with training modules for the use of UNHCR and other agencies. He also sees potential for the permanent network to pursue joint research projects and common advocacy campaigns.
The WEA welcomes the decision of UNHCR to transform the Dialogue into a permanent network and is committed to participating in it.
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Over two billion Christians in the world today are represented by three world church bodies. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is one of those, serving and representing more than 600 million evangelicals. Launched in 1846 to unite evangelicals worldwide, the WEA continues to be a dynamic movement with 7 regional and 129 national Evangelical Alliances, and over 150 member organizations. WEA's mission is to speak as a trusted voice, to equip members and leaders for global impact and to connect its members and others for common action in the furtherance of God’s reign. For more info e-mail at [email protected] or go to Worldea.org.