Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, fourth from left, at the Geneva event (Peter Williams photo)

Archbishop Aykazian Leads Forum on Global Refugee Crisis

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GENEVA — This week, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director Archbishop Vicken Aykazian led an international religious gathering on the plight of refugees around the globe. The December 12 gathering of religious leaders in Geneva preceded the Global Refugee Forum (meeting in the same city December 13-15).

As vice-moderator of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee, Archbishop Aykazian opened the event with his remarks. He noted that the WCC “is proud to host this meeting during Advent, preparing to celebrate Christmas. Christians see this as God on the move, coming into the world as a baby born to refugee parents, escaping political violence by crossing the border into Egypt.”

He went on that today, “moving with this Holy Family are another 100 million people…. Displacement from and within countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Sudan — to name just a few — stems from longstanding destabilizing forces which the political community fails to halt. My own people, Armenians, once again this year have had to experience the tragedy of displacement.”

Over the past three years, Archbishop Aykazian has made a profound mark on the international ecumenical stage as an outspoken advocate for the Armenians of Artsakh, during the tribulations of war, blockade, and exile they have endured. His remarks throughout the forum turned to the current situation of Armenia and Artsakh, including his eye-witness experiences.

Among the other figures addressing the forum was Greek Orthodox hierarch Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who delivered a keynote address on the ecological and refugee crises facing the world.

Message of Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Vice-Moderator of the WCC Central Committee

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At “Religious Leaders Unite for Climate Peace in Solidarity with Refugees”
The Ecumenical Center, Geneva, Switzerland / December 12, 2023.

It is a great privilege for me to open this town hall meeting of Faith leaders in solidarity with refugees. The 2nd Global Refugee Forum, which this event precedes, will once again highlight the needs and dignity of refugees, expose the forces which are driving people to leave their homes and lay bare the hostile attitudes that often meet them.

Our various work and witness as people of faith to protect vulnerable people on the move represents divine light and love in a world overshadowed by violence, hatred and war.

The World Council of Churches is proud to host this meeting while we are moving through Advent, preparing to celebrate Christmas. Christians see this as God on the move, coming into the world in a baby born to refugee parents, escaping political violence by crossing the border into Egypt.

Moving with this holy Family are another 100 million people. This number continues to grow. Displacement from and within countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Sudan – to name just a few – stems from long standing destabilising forces which the political community fails to halt. My own people, Armenians, once again this year have had to experience the tragedy of displacement.

We see the right to asylum and protection more and more under attack – in the countries of the Global North but also elsewhere. People are taking dangerous journeys, often becoming the victims of profiteering traffickers. Many die before reaching their destination.

We also see politicians and media stirring up hostility, demeaning and dehumanizing people who, like all of us, would prefer to live, work and nurture their families and communities in safety and prosperity at home. We are facing a tide and plague, not of migrants, but of xenophobia. In public debates, religion is often mentioned as a motive for not giving access and protection to people of other faiths.

This is deeply troubling for us as people and leaders of faiths. All faiths in their founding narratives closely relate to migration and displacement. Our own communities have experienced persecution and violence many times in the past and still today. And it is despite and because of this that in local communities and along borders our communities are organizing to offer welcome and hospitality. This is why the different faiths continue to play an essential role in receiving and welcoming those seeking protection. We understand why migration is natural to human community, especially when people are fleeing for their lives and has been fundamental to the history of human civilizations.

We are also there to ask when the political and social processes will deliver peace? The nation states need to ensure security. But there are global forces which mean many nations cannot provide peace and prosperity for their peoples. They lie in political and economic interests that for generations have driven insecurity and inequity. In this situation the Refugee Convention of 1951 and the 1967 protocol remain essential, relevant and most important. Yet it is difficult to explain to a person fleeing desperate hunger, which will result in her death, that she is not covered by any international protection, but a person threatened with a gun is. And of course we know that climate-induced migration will become more and more of an issue – an issue not foreseen in the current protection system. Current events also raise the question why specific groups like Palestinians are not covered by UNHCR or how so-called mixed migration situations can be best addressed.

I would therefore invite all of us to re-endorse the “Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders”, adopted exactly 11 years ago at the High Commissioner Dialogue with the focus on “Faith and protection.” I also hope that we can commit ourselves to the following pledges:

To continue to welcome refugees and asylum seeking persons as part of welcoming the stranger, irrespective of religious or other backgrounds

To continue to advocate for the individual right to asylum

To argue for safe passages and humanitarian corridors for refugees

We are tempted to talk about migrants as them out there. But our religious communities are made up of those who are uprooted by war, climate change, poverty and oppression, and of those who are called to welcome our brothers and sisters as they come to us seeking safety and security.

Where we are people called to welcome, we, as Christians, remember these words in the New Testament: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

And for those on the move, these words of the Prophet Isaiah: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.

We have each crossed borders to gather here, and it is to show solidarity and hope. As we gather like this, we bless those who are on the move. Their coming in pain and distress will nevertheless also be a blessing to those communities to whom they come. Our respective divine teachings have taught us that turning to our neighbors on the move with love can and does change the world. Let us pray we can capture this change in our meeting today.

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