Speech delivered by Basil Ugorji, President and CEO, International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM), New York, USA, at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, Strasbourg, France, on Thursday, October 3, 2019, from 2 to 3.30 pm (Room 8).
It is an honor to be here at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Thank you for inviting me to speak on “violence and discrimination against religious minorities in refugee camps across Europe.” While acknowledging the important contributions made by the experts who spoke before me on this subject, my speech will focus on how the principles of interreligious dialogue could be used to end violence and discrimination against religious minorities – especially among refugees and asylum seekers – across Europe.
My organization, International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation, believes that conflicts involving religion create exceptional environments where both unique barriers and resolution strategies or opportunities emerge. Regardless of whether religion exists as the source of conflict, ingrained cultural ethos, shared values and mutual religious beliefs have the ability to substantially affect both the process and outcome of conflict resolution.
As an emerging center of excellence for ethnic and religious conflict resolution and peacebuilding, we identify ethnic and religious conflict prevention and resolution needs, and we mobilize resources, including ethno-religious mediation and interreligious dialogue programs to support sustainable peace.
In the wake of an increased inflow of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 when almost 1.3 million refugees with different religious beliefs applied for Asylum protection in Europe and more than 2.3 million migrants entered Europe according to the European Parliament, we hosted an international conference on interreligious dialogue. We explored the positive, prosocial roles that religious actors with shared traditions and values have played in the past and continue to play in strengthening social cohesion, peaceful settlement of disputes, interfaith dialogue & understanding, and the mediation process. Research findings presented at our conference by researchers from more than 15 countries reveal that the shared values in different religions could be utilized to foster a culture of peace, enhance the mediation and dialogue processes and outcomes, and educate the mediators and dialogue facilitators of religious and ethno-political conflicts, as well as policymakers and other state and non-state actors working to reduce violence and resolve conflict within migrant centers or refugee camps or between migrants and their host communities.
While this is not a time to list and discuss all the shared values that we found in all religions, it is important to point out that all peoples of faith, irrespective of their religious affiliations, believe in and try to practice the Golden Rule which says and I quote: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others.” In other words, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Another shared religious value that we identified in all religions is the sanctity of every human life. This prohibits violence against those who are different from us, and encourages compassion, love, tolerance, respect and empathy.
Knowing that human beings are social animals intended to live with others either as migrants or members of the host communities, the question that needs to be answered is: How can we address the difficulties in interpersonal or intergroup relations in order to “bring about a society that respects the persons, families, property and dignity of others who are different from us and who practice a different religion?”
This question encourages us to develop a theory of change that could be translated into practice. This theory of change begins by an accurate diagnosis or framing of the problem in migrant centers and refugee camps across Europe. Once the problem is well understood, intervention goals, method of intervention, how change will occur, and the intended effects of this change will be mapped.
We frame violence and discrimination against religious minorities in refugee camps across Europe as an unconventional religious and sectarian conflict situation. Stakeholders in this conflict have a different set of worldviews and realities that are based on multiple factors – factors that need to be explored and analyzed. We also identify group feelings of rejection, exclusion, persecution and humiliation, as well as misunderstanding and disrespect. To address this situation, we propose the use of unconventional and religious intervention process that encourages the development of an open mind to learn and understand the worldview and reality of the others; creation of a psychological and safe & trusting physical space; reinjection and rebuilding of trust on both sides; engagement in a worldview-sensitive and integrative dialogue process through the help of third party intermediaries or worldview translators often referred to as ethno-religious mediators and dialogue facilitators. Through active and reflective listening and by encouraging non-judgmental conversation or dialogue, the underlying emotions will be validated, and self-esteem and trust will be restored. While remaining who they are, both the migrants and the host community members will be empowered to live together in peace and harmony.
To help develop lines of communications between and among hostile parties involved in this conflict situation, and to promote peaceful coexistence, interfaith dialogue and joint collaboration, I invite you to explore two important projects that our organization, International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation, is currently working on. The first is the Mediation of Ethnic and Religious Conflicts that empowers professional and new mediators to resolve ethnic, racial, and religious conflicts using a blended model of transformative, narrative and faith-based conflict resolution. The second is our dialogue project known as Living Together Movement, a project designed to help prevent and resolve ethnic and religious conflicts through dialogue, open-hearted discussions, compassionate & empathic listening, and diversity celebration. The goal is to increase respect, tolerance, acceptance, understanding and harmony in the society.
The principles of interreligious dialogue discussed so far are supported by the framework of religious freedom. Through these principles, the autonomy of the parties are validated, and spaces that will promote inclusion, respect for diversity, group related rights, including the rights of the minorities and freedom of religion will be created.
Thank you for listening!