Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 4 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and almost 9 million people are predicted to be internally displaced in 2016. Responses from the international community to address this crisis have fallen short. However, faith communities and faith-based organisations have increasingly come together to engage in humanitarian work to help alleviate this suffering.
Last month, the LSE Faith Centre hosted a panel discussion “Am I My Brother’s Keeper? Faith Communities Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis”. This event highlighted the responsibility of faith communities to participate in humanitarian activities and introduced the audience to some of the initiatives already in place to address the Syrian refugee crisis. We were honoured by the participation of Dr Georgette Bennett, founder of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA); Mr. Shadi Martini, Senior Syria Advisor of the MFA and Syrian refugee from Aleppo; and Mrs. Angela Afzal, Refugee Response Coordinator for Capital Mass (a joint initiative of the Diocese of London and Church Urban Fund). The discussion was chaired by Revd Canon Dr James Walters, Chaplain and Senior Lecturer of the LSE.
The conversation was, at moments, harrowing. Drawing on her personal experiences of being a child of Holocaust survivors and a refugee herself, having arrived in New York as a stateless refugee, Dr Bennett highlighted the responsibility of faith communities to respond to crises. She conveyed the powerful message, made plain in all Abrahamic faiths, to care for the stranger and alleviate human suffering. The MFA is a testament to how the humanitarian imperative to assist those in need becomes common ground upon which interfaith dialogue and partnerships across religions and denominations can be built.
“The mission of MFA is to mobilise these core values of the faiths by harnessing the power of faith-based and civil society collectively and internationally” Dr. Georgette Bennett.
Dr. Bennett also addressed some of the key issues surrounding the refugee crisis such as anti-immigration and anti-refugees policies, underfunded humanitarian responses, refugee integration in host communities, and rampant Islamophobia and xenophobia.
Particularly poignant was Shadi Martini’s testimony of his transition from being a business man running a hospital in Aleppo, to a refugee. He is now an activist deeply involved in numerous joint efforts with Muslim, Jewish and Christian organisations that work to bring humanitarian aid to Syrian war victims. His call was for sensible policies that would guarantee the dignity of the people and address the most vulnerable.
“Resettlement is the best answer. It preserves the dignity of the people, gives them safe networks to live in. Keep children in schools and get them medical attention. By abandoning them, these people are left in a very vulnerable situation where it is very easy to get exposed to radicalization” Mr. Shadi Martini
Finally, Angela Afzal briefed the audience on how faith communities in London are responding to the crises. Not only by providing financial support, but also more hands-on aid. This support takes the form of refugee welcoming groups aimed at facilitating integration into the local communities and lobbying local MPs to promote sound reforms to current legislation.
The panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session where attendees engaged in an open conversation that furthered understanding of the moral obligation of religious communities to engage in humanitarian activities and the added value they provide to such efforts. It also delved into practical steps that attendees could take to engage in this cause.
For more information about the LSE Faith Centre, please click here.
For further information about the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA) please click here.