Max reports that there were 36 presentations at the 2 day conference. The presence of the German Minister for the Interior gave the meeting a significant governmental profile. There was strong attendance from UN organizations, particularly UNHCR and UNICEF. Church representation came from countries of origin and first asylum (Middle East Council of Churches), countries of transit (Greece, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary) and countries of destination (Germany, UK, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark). Significant interventions on the part of Churches were given by Archbishop of Uppsala Antje Jackelén and Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church,
Overall the conference saw a great level of consensus on most issues pertaining to the protection of refugees.
Max has now returned to Athens to continue his work with the Churches there.
The communique from the conference is below the fold:
Europe’s Response to the Refugee and Migrant Crisis, From Origin to Transit, Reception and Refuge: A Call to Shared Responsibility and Coordinated Action
On 18-19 January 2016 representatives of governments, UN agencies and civil society
organizations, including churches and faith-based organizations, met at a high-level conference on
the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Switzerland, and co-sponsored by UNICEF, UNFPA and UNHCR. The conference aimed to promote principled, human rights-based and coordinated responses to refugees and migrants in Europe and to the root causes of their displacement. The conference provided an opportunity for participating faith-based organizations to apply faith principles (especially the belief that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God) in putting at the centre of the responses the human dignity and rights of all those affected.
In 2015, more than 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by land and sea. Arrivals
include people fleeing from many other situations of danger and despair, especially in the Middle
East, Asia and Africa. The refugee and migrant crisis has rapidly become a children’s crisis, as
children currently account for one in three of all refugees and migrants arriving in Europe. All
children, no matter where they are or where they come from, whether they are refugees or
migrants, are entitled to care and protection of their dignity, rights and well-being.
The conference focused on responses to the crises, predominantly in Europe but also in the wider
context of the 60 million people displaced globally. It examined the entire trajectory of forced
displacement, from origin through transit to destination, and acknowledged the challenges that
European governments and societies are facing in meeting legal obligations under international
refugee, humanitarian and human rights laws while at the same time addressing political, security
and economic concerns.
The conference participants call for stronger collective engagement by the international
community in seeking political solutions to conflict, violence, inequality and exclusion that are root
causes of the current unprecedented global crisis of forced displacement. In particular, we appeal to
all those with capacity to help stop the fighting and to alleviate the intolerable suffering in Syria to
put aside their political differences and to join in common action for peace now. Protection of
women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence and exploitation, and their access to lifesaving sexual and reproductive health services, are essential components of a humanitarian
response to the crisis, and are critical investments in future recovery and resilience. In addition,
countries neighbouring the conflicts from which the refugees are fleeing, and which carry a
disproportionately heavy burden of hosting the majority of refugees, must be acknowledged and
The conference participants concur that alleviating the suffering of people affected by
displacement is a shared responsibility, not only in Europe but also elsewhere. It is vital that
governments, civil society, international agencies and others work together in a consistent and
coordinated manner to provide a safe and humane environment for refugees and migrants, and to
meet the immediate needs of people escaping war, generalized violence and oppression -- and over
the longer term to facilitate social inclusion and integration. It is of urgent importance that safe and
legal passage for refugees coming to Europe be expanded and facilitated. Closing national borders to
refugees is not a solution because it only shifts the responsibility to the next country.
The conference participants call for better coordination and cooperation of Europe’s response to
the refugee and migrant crisis. Implementing, strengthening and improving the common EU asylum
system is urgently needed. Strengthened coordination in the European response is required to meet
the needs of refugees and migrants, including protection against sexual and gender-based violence,
education for children and adolescents, and the specific health, nutrition and protection needs of
children, adolescents and women, the elderly and people with disabilities. It is essential to uphold
principles of international law in the context of the crisis. All people fleeing from conflict and
persecution are entitled to seek protection under international refugee law. Access to a fair asylum
process must not be limited on the grounds of nationality, ethnicity, religion, health status or any
criterion other than need. Cooperation is also urgently required to oppose xenophobic, racist and
Islamophobic statements and actions, and political exploitation of the crisis. And it is essential
immediately to begin implementing measures to help refugees and migrants integrate into their new
societies. In addition to considering the legal obligations and moral principles that require a
compassionate and welcoming response to people in need, it is to be noted that the contributions
made by refugees and migrants through their labour, skills and creative capacities can be of great
value to their host communities.
Civil society, including faith-based organizations, has a unique and substantial role in responding
to humanitarian crises. Better coordination of their actions with those of governments and
international agencies, as well as stronger inter-religious cooperation that brings in the voices and
capabilities of other faiths, are essential to maximize efforts at ensuring the survival, rights and
dignity of refugees and migrants.
We call for these intentions to be translated into action, and for the voices and views of refugees
and migrants to be heard and taken into account to the maximum extent possible. This will entail
defining roles and responsibilities, sharing information and knowledge, resources and activities,
building on each other’s comparative strengths and advantages, and holding each other to account.
It will require concrete mechanisms for strategic planning, implementation and accountability, and a
plan of action to set specific, measurable, achievable and time-bound goals. To this end, the
conference participants call on the co-sponsoring organizations to work together to strengthen
participation and contributions of faith-based organizations in responses to the refugee and migrant
crisis at country and regional levels, building on existing initiatives already underway, and on a
quarterly basis to review and share progress in addressing issues raised at this conference