Episcopal, religious leaders participate in Global Refugee Forum

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Dec 15, 2023

The Rt. Rev. Mark Edington, bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, on the right wearing purple, joins religious leaders in a Dec. 12, 2023 event, “Religious Leaders Unite for Climate Peace in Solidarity with Refugees,” one day before the Dec. 13-15 Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Peter Williams/World Council of Churches

[Episcopal News Service] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees held its second quadrennial Global Refugee Forum, the world’s largest international gathering on refugees, in Europe this week.

The forum’s purpose is to continue advancing the goals of the Global Compact on Refugees, which advocates for guidance and support for people who are forcibly displaced from their countries because of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations. Stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, financial institutions, foundations and corporations, gathered to discuss how to individually and collectively accomplish the goals.

Religious leaders representing about 40 faith-based groups also attended the Dec. 13-15 event in Geneva, Switzerland, including Bishop Mark Edington, who leads the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.

“Our presence in the conversation is grounded on the commitments we make in our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being,” Edington told Episcopal News Service in an email. “That claim is echoed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to seek asylum and the right to nationality.”

At the end of 2022, there were an estimated 104.8 million people worldwide who were forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations, according to the United Nations. That same year 22,465 refugees were admitted to the United States, nearly double the number from 2021. Although the terms migrants and asylum-seekers are often used interchangeably, not all migrants are asylum-seekers. The latter are people seeking protection from persecution or violence but who haven’t yet been legally recognized as refugees.

One day before the forum commenced, the religious leaders assembled at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva for a complementary event, called “Religious Leaders United for Climate Peace in Solidarity with Refugees.” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, delivered the keynote address.

“We no longer have the false luxury of ignorance or indifference,” he said. “We are now either directly contributing to the problem or else decidedly committed to a solution.”

Edington told ENS that representatives who participated in the forum were encouraged to submit pledges indicating how they will support the needs of refugees and the global compacts four key objectives: ease pressures on host countries; enhance refugee self-reliance; expand access to third-country solutions; and support conditions of countries of origin for refugees to return safely and with dignity.

The Episcopal Church’s pledge highlights its commitments to supporting refugees, referencing legislation adopted by General Convention in 2022 and 2018 that expresses full support of measures taken by the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration to protect refugees and asylum-seekers, including LGBTQ+ people. The pledge also spotlights the everyday work of Episcopal Migration Ministries, the church’s refugee resettlement ministry, and Episcopal Relief & Development, the church’s international humanitarian agency.

EMM’s efforts include hosting an asylum and detention ministry network that meets virtually monthly to address best practices in supporting asylum-seekers through advocacy, community education and networking, as well as its Rainbow Initiative for LGBTQ+ migrants. Episcopal Relief and Development’s efforts include supporting sustainable development to reduce the social and economic factors that propel migration, as well as addressing the needs of refugees in nations facing economic instability.

“Our interest in the work of the UNHCR and the conversation of the Global Refugee Forum is expressed as well in the resettlement work of Episcopal Migration Ministries and the target work done by Episcopal Relief and Development to expand the capacity of poor states in the developing world that receive the majority of migrants fleeing war, violence, uninhabitable climates and civil disorder,” Edington said.

Additionally, The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations represents the church’s various public policy positions, including comprehensive immigration reform, through advocacy work in Washington, D.C., and providing a guide to effective advocacy for Episcopalians.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.