Faith and responses to displacement

FMR 48
November 2014

The role of faith in the humanitarian sector is not easy to measure. Faiths generally advocate welcoming the stranger and there are many organisations and individuals inspired by their faith or religion to provide protection and assistance. Yet it is easier to measure the activities inspired by faith than to measure the difference that having that faith makes, and secularly inspired standards for such activities can appear to be in tension with the faith inspiration. FMR 48 includes 36 articles on ‘Faith’ plus seven ‘general’ articles.


Monsignor Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Imam Omar Kobine Layama and Pastor Nicolas Guerekoyame Gbangou

In the Central African Republic, where religion has been used as a tool to divide and manipulate the population, religious leaders have come together to promote tolerance and forgiveness as a basis for rebuilding peaceful cohabitation.

James Thomson

Faith leaders, faith-based organisations and local faith communities play a major role in the protection of people affected by conflict, disaster and displacement. Humanitarians, however, have only recently begun to fully appreciate the depth, scope and variety of protection work being done by faith actors and the complex interrelationships between faith and protection.

Joe Hampson, Thomas M Crea, Rocío Calvo and Francisco Álvarez

Friendship and compassionate companionship with the most vulnerable provide a powerful type of humanitarian service giving priority to personal accompaniment.

Kelly Barneche and ‘Joe’

Local faith communities are able to offer assistance to asylum seekers in ways that faith-based organisations, constrained by eligibility criteria, are not.

Sadia Kidwai, Lucy V Moore and Atallah FitzGibbon

Spiritual life is a priority in many conflict-affected communities, perhaps especially in situations of displacement. It is rarely prioritised by aid agencies, yet may be central to the formation and maintaining of strong and effective cross-community relationships.

David Holdcroft

Faith-based organisations take from their religious traditions both strong motivations and access to a long history of thinking concerning social and political issues. This can make them ideally placed to fill the gaps in the implementation of human rights.

Alastair Ager

There is good reason to engage faith-based organisations and local faith communities in humanitarian response but doing so raises challenging issues for the interpretation of humanitarian principles in what some see as a post-secular age.

Robert Cruickshank and Cat Cowley

CAFOD’s ability to partner with other faith-based organisations and communities brings significant advantages for its work with displaced people and other conflict-affected communities. However, modern-day humanitarianism does not always sit comfortably alongside some of the practices and approaches of the major religions.

Nathalie Lummert

Catholic Social Teaching’s emphasis on the dignity of the human person is a lens that Catholic institutions use to evaluate how we as a global society enhance or threaten the dignity of the human person, especially the most vulnerable of people – including those on the move.

Jason Squire and Kristen Hope

A secular NGO’s experiences in south Lebanon demonstrate that it is possible for non-faith-based organisations to develop productive relationships with faith-based actors without compromising their secular identities.

Simon Russell

Working with religious leaders is an essential element of serving local communities, as is an understanding of the religious life of local communities and how belief influences their decision making.

Flor Maria Rigoni

An organisation based on faith will listen and try to understand when unjust laws, traditions, cultures or ideologies cause refugees to flee.

Marcus Campbell

A new movement of Christian activists in Australia is using radical direct action to challenge their country’s policy of mandatory detention of asylum seeker children.

Andreas Vogt and Sophie Colsell

Caritas Luxembourg’s work with refugees, IDPs and migrants in Colombia, Lebanon and Luxembourg offers some examples of the ways in which a faith-based organisation may be advantaged or disadvantaged by its faith basis and how it needs to adhere to humanitarian standards.

Max Lamesch

While flexible in partnering with agencies best placed to assist affected populations, Luxembourg requires its partners to adhere to humanitarian principles.

Maurice Herson

When secular organisations are responding to the needs of displaced people, the religious practices and needs of the communities may not be high on the list of things to be thought about. Indeed secular organisations may struggle to recognise the importance of religion, in life and in death.

Amjad Saleem and Guy Hovey

Seven years ago, a strategic partnership between the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Muslim Aid in Sri Lanka was formalised into a worldwide partnership agreement. The partnership offered a model for community-based, culturally appropriate and sustainable assistance provision – so why did the partnership not reach these goals?

Birgit Neufert

Church asylum, or sanctuary, is a practice to support, counsel and give shelter to refugees who are threatened with deportation to inhumane living conditions, torture or even death. This practice can be located at the interface of benevolence and politics.

Kristin Marshall

Despite the anti-refugee sentiment demonstrated by Canada’s recent legislative changes and the government’s hardening attitude towards those in sanctuary, the spirit of resistance and community engagement is alive and well in Canada.

Elizabeth Gano

The Lutheran World Federation’s experience is that closer cooperation between faith-based organisations of different faiths is both possible and beneficial.

Elizabeth Wirtz and Jonas Ecke

A case-study from Ghana assesses the importance of a faith-based response to displacement in West Africa, while an example from Kenya highlights problems that can arise in collaborations between secular and faith-based organisations.

Catherine Mahony

Inter-religious action has played a key role in ensuring that social cohesion and inter-religious mediation remain on the international agenda in relation to response in the Central African Republic, where people’s faith is an integral part of their identity but where it has been manipulated in a horrific way.

Maryam Zoma

Both faith-based and secular organisations need to recognise the ways in which religion can provide healing and support but can also cause harm for refugees and asylum seekers.

May Ngo

The Protestant church in Morocco is struggling with tensions as it navigates between being a church organisation and being – in its work with refugees and migrants – something more like a non-governmental organisation.

Edward Benson and Carine Jaquet

The response of faith-based organisations to displacement in northern Myanmar has been remarkable but sustaining an open and collaborative relationship with the international community remains an ongoing challenge.

Sabine Larribeau and Sharonne Broadhead

Local faith-based organisations play a central role in meeting the basic needs of the increasing urban refugee population in Bangkok. This raises challenges for all involved.

Shoshana Fine

For some asylum seekers in Turkey, conversion may be an opportunistic strategy to improve resettlement prospects.

Zenebe Desta

Faith-based organisations need to ensure that in providing essential humanitarian assistance they do not exploit the vulnerability of people by proselytising, whether overtly or covertly. 

Ricardo Augman and Enrique Burbinski

The act of assistance is an act of respect for the humanity of others and is not the preserve of any one faith.

Jenny Yang

The faith community in Mizoram state in India has played an instrumental role in providing social services, changing public attitudes and perceptions towards refugees, and providing access and assistance, reaching the most vulnerable where there is no international presence.

Emily Barry-Murphy and Max Stephenson

A Buddhist Sri Lankan NGO provides an example of how endogenous faith-based civil society organisations can help mobilise IDPs in owning and defining strategies for their own protection.

Susy Mugnes, Felicina Proserpio and Luisa Deponti

An ecumenical organisation provides socio-pastoral assistance for asylum seekers while they go through the first crucial steps of the asylum proceedings.

Samuel Bekalo

Many churches have the necessary physical and social assets to assist refugees in the community both individually and by bringing them together.

Kimiaki Kawai

As a locally based faith-based organisation, there were several aspects that enabled Soka Gakkai to contribute effectively to the relief effort following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, responding to both physical and psychological needs.

José Riera and Marie-Claude Poirier

Since its creation in 1950, UNHCR has engaged with faith-based organisations, faith communities and faith leaders in carrying out its work. Recently, UNHCR has been more actively exploring the role of faith in humanitarian responses.

Tahir Zaman

The use of the faith-based label demands greater clarification lest it lose coherence and result in adverse policy implications, excluding religiously motivated actors from providing much-needed assistance to displaced communities, particularly inside Syria now.

General articles

Georgia Cole

A legal decision about whether refugees in Uganda can become citizens continues to be delayed.

J O Moses Okello

Forty years after the OAU Convention on Refugees came into force, the dismal state in which refugees in Africa find themselves these days raises the question as to whether the Convention has lived up to expectations.

Israel Medina

Many Central American migrants flee their home country as a result of violence and threats from the criminal gangs. A large number of them also encounter the same type of violence that they are fleeing when on the migratory routes through Mexico.

Miguel Peromingo

One of the main challenges facing refugees trying to integrate in their host country is finding a suitable job. Sweden recognises this issue and is investing in making inclusion in the labour market the driver of refugee integration.

Mahima Thussu

In the 1990s nearly 250,000 people, mostly Kashmiri Pandits, were displaced by violence in Jammu and Kashmir state in India. More than 20 years later the question for them is whether the responses to their displacement so far can form the basis for long-term solutions for their protracted displacement.

José Ramón Cossío Díaz

At hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in November 2013 on the human rights situation in Mexico, the issue of the internally displaced in particular caught my attention, both due to its current serious level and for its potential impact in the not too distant future.

Anna Wirth

Civil society groups are embracing a recent victory in the High Court of Kenya as a reminder of the important role that strategic litigation can play in the enforcement and promotion of refugee rights.

Opinions in FMR do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors, the Refugee Studies Centre or the University of Oxford.
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