Global: An inter-religious statement on behalf of forced migrants

Rome, 21 September 2016 - In this year of the Jubilee of Mercy, announced by Pope Francis, in conjunction with the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and on today’s occasion of the UN International Day of Peace, Catholic and Muslim leaders stand in solidarity to call upon all governments, religious institutions, and people of good-will to work together in tackling the root causes of forced migration.

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As members of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Religious Islamic Community of Italy (COREIS), European partner of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), we call on the international community to share the responsibility of providing protection of those fleeing from their homes, to ensure good reception conditions and access, on arrival, to adequate and affordable services. Robust policies are needed to counter racist and xenophobic tendencies – diversity must be recognized as an opportunity and a gift, not a threat.

War and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since World War II, with over 65 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, including over 21 million refugees, 3 million asylum-seekers and over 40 million internally displaced persons. Children represent a disproportionate number of displaced persons, accounting for nearly half of all refugees, amounting to 28 million refugee children total. An additional 20 million child migrants have fled their homes for a variety of reasons including extreme poverty or gang violence.

In 2015, around 45 per cent of all child refugees under UNHCR protection came from Syria and Afghanistan where child exploitation is endemic, but the Jesuit Refugee Service has witnessed thousands of other displaced children at risk of human rights abuses throughout the world. Globally, children on the move are at risk of forced military recruitment in Eritrea, of sexual abuse in Democratic Republic of Congo, of human or organ trafficking in Sudan and of exploitative labor in Lebanon.

The criminal profits of the arms and ammunition industry, of human trafficking and smuggling, and political and judicial discrimination against migrants, are amongst the greatest evils of our contemporary world. These call for the active, effective, and coordinated work of Christians and Muslims, in Europe and on other continents, to ensure all possible assistance to those suffering from them.

From the Muslim and Christian perspectives, all human beings have received the gift of life from God who looks upon His creation with mercy and compassion. The human person in Islamic anthropology is the vicegerent (khalifah) of God on earth, while Christian theology holds that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Every human person is therefore to be treated as possessed of an inalienable dignity, regardless of differences in faith, culture, or nationality. Unity in diversity is a reflection of the Divine Mystery by which all believers in God can fully experience their own individual nature, without fundamentalism or syncretism, without oppression or coercion.

The forces of globalization can sometimes be indifferent towards the sensibilities of different cultural and religious communities. Muslims and Christians are only too aware of the ever accelerating pace of political, economic, and social trends which can encourage a profound crisis of moral uprooting. To resist radicalism, and moral relativism, Muslims and Christians must recommit themselves to a more profound and engaged dialogue, in an encounter that is always rooted in a spirit of fraternity. Both Muslims and Christians are inspired by Mercy, which is one of the Names of God. The Muslim tradition of protection and hospitality towards the wayfarer, the widow, and the orphan is reinforced by the fact that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was himself a refugee who fled his home city for safety. Christians are told in their scriptures that every time they welcome a stranger, they make Christ welcome, and the story of the birth of Christ is one of vicious persecution and a flight for refuge in a foreign land.

Hatred for another’s religious belief which results in persecution and violence must end. The international political system and national governments must guarantee to Christians and Muslims and all religious peoples the right to live their faith with freedom, dignity, and security. Better education and dialogue between religious institutions and communities are essential in our contemporary society to ensuring the harmony of religious pluralism under the rule of law.

Muslims and Christians strive for a peace that is "beyond all understanding", an experience of intimacy with the mystery of God, and of fraternal harmony with their neighbours. Peace then is neither a vague abstraction nor an unrealistic ideal. Peace can be achieved when we all recognize that we share a common home, and that we are invited by God to work together for the common good.

The pilgrim, the refugee, and the migrant, are all people who are searching, beyond hearth and home, for a place where they may encounter peace, be free of distress, and enjoy hospitality. Many forced migrants come from the Islamic and Christian traditions; they are in need of "not bread alone", but also "the true word": the spiritual consolation that is an experience of God’s mercy, fraternity among Christians and Muslims, among believers and nonbelievers; as sisters and brothers to discover a common Peace.

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Martina Bezzini