Welcoming and protecting strangers, especially migrants, is "at the core of our mission as churches,” says the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.
The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) was speaking at a meeting with Professor François Crépeau, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, this week.
“Churches and the ecumenical movement have a long tradition of affirming the rights and dignity of migrants,” Tveit stated during his conversation with Crépeau, who visited the WCC offices in Geneva, Switzerland on 27 August.
“Churches have to speak for those who are marginalised,” Dr Tveit affirmed.
He emphasised that churches have a duty and mandate to care for the other, irrespective of anyone’s origin, ethnicity, social status or creed, as “we are all made in the image of God”.
In the meeting, Crépeau said that all human beings are entitled to rights and migrants are no exception. “Migrants are entitled to the same human rights as any individual, except the right to vote, to be elected in the host country, or having the right to enter the host country,” he explained in recalling the principles of international law.
Professor Crépeau also pointed out the recent trend in changing policies on the part of some governments in Western countries, giving preferential treatment only to asylum seekers belonging to specific religious groups or ethnic identities.
The WCC General Secretary responded that such policies will not be accepted by the WCC and its member churches, as the mission of the churches is to uphold the values of human rights irrespective of migrants’ religious, ethnic or racial identity.
The discussions in the meeting highlighted the role of churches and faith-based organisations in meeting the needs of migrants, particularly those in irregular situations. According to media reports, irregular migrants in many situations fear imprisonment or deportation, and often hesitate to seek legal remedy even when they are victimised.
“Churches provide a safe space for them to talk, share their concerns and find solutions together. The WCC is committed to affirm and uphold the values of this tradition,” said the WCC General Secretary.
Staff members who participated in the meeting included Dr Isabel Phiri and the Rev Dr Hielke Wolters, the WCC’s associate General Secretaries, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, Semegnish Asfaw, WCC’s coordinator for accompanying churches in situations of conflict and Sydia Nduna, WCC programme executive for migration and social justice.