Faith communities must protect uprooted people

Faith communities have a duty to protect displaced people, the head of the World Council of Churches has said.

The Reverend Dr Olav Fykse Tveit was speaking at a dialogue hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva this week.

The meeting brought together faith-based organisations (FBOs) to explore the way in which local and international religious communities can help to protect uprooted people such as refugees, stateless people and internally displaced people (IDPs).

Dr Tveit said the dialogue was a springboard for mobilising greater efforts among the world's religious communities on behalf of uprooted people.

To ignore religion when addressing the reality and challenges of uprooted people would mean to miss the effectiveness of and need for mobilising all existing resources for a holistic response, he contended.

"Churches can inspire states so that they see the potential of sharing responses with FBOs and pursue these dialogues at a national level," said Dr Tveit.

"Hospitality and protection is central to the Christian values. Jesus has taught us not to define limits to the definition of who is my neighbour, but to ask how we prove ourselves to be a neighbour of those who need us, and to protect the rights of human beings, both men and women, as they are created in the image of God.

"From the earliest recorded history, Christians welcomed strangers. Europe is dotted with monasteries and churches which offered hospitality to strangers. Christians in all parts of the world are in the forefront of helping uprooted people."

Dr Tveit said faith-based organisations and the UNHCR were especially well placed to collaborate where IDPs and stateless people had not crossed international borders.

"When a crisis breaks out these groups turn to FBOs who are already present within the borders of the state," Dr Tveit noted.