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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

UN Summit: A very cautious optimism

With Canon Andrew Khoo
Last week I was privileged to represent the Anglican Communion at the United Nations General Assembly meeting on refugees and migrants. Along with a colleague, Lay Canon Andrew Khoo of Kuala Lumpur, in the Province of South East Asia, we were able to observe the summit close at hand for 48 hours and witness the historic signing of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants signed by the leaders at the UN.

I came away from the summit impressed by the sheer vast nature of the gathering: the 193 member states of course who are the key players, but also the range of groups from around the world representing civil society, Christian and other faith representatives, NGOs, UN and Development agencies and others, who together recognise that we are facing a global crisis, a crisis that needs a new approach that will need solidarity from all.

A Syrian Refugee gives his testimony before the UN
There were some very significant voices that said we needed to recognise that the systems for dealing with refugees and migrants have failed. In those moments of honesty the world leaders admitted that this new, better, comprehensive approach is urgently needed.

The New York Declaration is not perfect.There are huge gaps in the new initiative, particularly around the funding commitments which have to be negotiated separately. Many of the 90 paragraphs in the Declaration are phrased vaguely or are only “considerations”. There is now a process of 2 years work ahead of the member states to agree further concrete details of the global "Compact". So my enthusiasm about the global community gathering to address this vital issue is tempered by these realities. I am only cautiously optimistic.

Among the hopeful signs that I would point to however, from the perspective of our Churches, is the fact that embedded in the New York Declaration is a recognition that faith based organisations have a role to play in this new comprehensive approach. As to what that role may be, it must certainly involve us in the constructing of a new narrative about refugees. The New York Declaration boldly about the need to counter xenophobia, racism, blaming migrants and refugees for all sorts of problems. Here the Churches and our own Anglican Communion have a role in helping to change this toxic narrative. As Christians, embedded in our biblical tradition are stories of exile, refuge, sanctuary, migration and persecution of peoples. God's message to his people through the biblical stories is a clear challenge to respond with welcome and hospitality to strangers, sojourners and refugees. While the Churches of the Anglican Communion and indeed other Churches do not have much money to contribute to addressing the scale of the crisis, nevertheless, Christians can play a vital part in helping to counter the growing worldwide xenophobic demonisation of refugees and migrants.

Another hopeful sign from the Declaration is the identification of the vulnerability of certain groups, particularly children and women, who need special and heightened protection and attention. This coincides with the Churches' own perspective and commitment to serving the most vulnerable among the vulnerable.

I commend the Anglican Communion Office at the UN for its close monitoring of these issues on our behalf, and for their engagement with partners in advocating for the necessary changes.

Cardinal Perolin, Vatican's Secretary of State, at a fringe meeting

1 comment:

  1. Here is the link to the New York Declaration.