“Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders”- a global initiative to promote compassionate treatment of refugees

How can we instill in others the importance of welcoming the stranger?

Such is the question that drove the creation of an innovative new campaign spearheaded by the United  Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) and several faith-based organizations, including HIAS.  With more than 40 million refugees, internally displaced, and stateless people throughout the world, the question of how communities across the globe treat the newcomer has taken on a new level of significance.

HIAS led efforts to draft a document called “Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders,” which follows a discussion hosted by António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in December 2012 to start taking concrete steps in encouraging communities to treat refugees with even more compassion.  The Affirmation highlights both the connections that several major religions share with regard to treatment of the stranger, and the similarities between UNHCR policy and the treatment of the stranger across world religions, to design a message aimed to appeal to billions of individuals.

Drawing on the liturgies of several major world religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism – the Affirmation seeks to provide faith leaders with guidelines on how to better welcome refugees in their communities.  The Affirmation implores faith leaders to:

  • “speak out for social justice of the stranger”
  • “to work with other faith communities…to find better ways to assist the stranger,”
  • “remind others in my community that we are all considered ‘strangers’ somewhere, that we should treat the stranger to our community as we would like to be treated,”
  • “to support others who exercise courage in welcoming the stranger,”
  • “respect the right of the stranger to practice his or her own faith freely.”

Framing the compassionate treatment of refugees as a religious and moral imperative, the Affirmation also reminds and challenges non-religious leaders to “not only welcome the stranger, but to also listen to him or her deeply, and promote understanding and welcoming in [their] community.”  This initiative aspires to have a far-reaching influence, as it recognizes that many individuals across the globe find importance in following the tenets of their respective religions, and faith-leaders play a large role in setting the tone of their communities towards certain issues.

HIAS’ President and CEO, Mark Hetfield, Senior Counsel for Refugees and Migration, Rachel Levitan, and Program Manager of International Operations, Magnolia Turbidy, were in attendance at the special unveiling ceremony of the Affirmation in Geneva, Switzerland in early June.  Hundreds of NGOs, inter- and intra-governmental organizations, and faith-based organizations across the globe have put their support behind the dissemination of the Affirmation.

The Affirmation has been translated into several languages including English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese.  To read the short, but powerful message of the affirmation, click here.