INTERNATIONAL humanitarian funding should be directed towards the rebuilding of wasted or war-torn lands and the protection of the religiously persecuted to allow the displaced to return home, the international charity AMAR says.
In doing so, governments and agencies can change the public opinion that resettlement abroad, in a refugee camp, or squats is acceptable for children, or preferable to individuals’ having the right to a fulfilled life in their homeland, it says.
The proposal was one of more than 20 recommendations set out in a draft report, Religious Persecution: The driver for forced migration, launched in the House of Lords on Thursday of last week by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, who chairs AMAR. It is scheduled to be published in full next month.
The charity, which supports newly displaced families in Iraq, is calling on the United Nations to recognise religion as a “root cause” of persecution and forced migration. Its draft report urges the UN and other international agencies to give the “highest priority” to the protection from “extermination” of the Yazidi community in Iraq, by recognising the “ancient theological dispute” at the heart of the conflict (News, 18 November).
A history of religious persecutions, from Nazi Germany to the massacre, slavery, and resettlement of Native Indians in the 15th century, is listed in the report: persecution on religious grounds was “part of the human psychology” and could not be entirely eradicated, Lady Nicholson warned, only “softened or marginalised”.
It also recommends a change in legislation from the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, by which internally displaced and migrant children are not considered refugees, and do not have the same rights to protection. This “appalling black hole” in a law “crafted for the West” must be reconciled, Baroness Nicholson said.
All child migrants should be registered on reaching government-controlled camps, the report says, to prevent disappearances, rape, trafficking, and forced marriage. Encamped children should also be offered basic healthcare and education, and girls and boys who have already been subject to abuse should be supported and protected from further harm.
It was compiled in response to AMAR’s interfaith conference on religious persecution, held at Windsor Castle in September. Speakers included academics, human rights specialists, religious leaders, and Prince Tahseen Saeed Ali, leader of the Yazidis People.
A separate report from the Roman Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Religious Freedom in the World, published on Wednesday, suggests that religious freedom has deteriorated in almost half of the 23 worst-offending countries, fuelled largely by Islamic extremism and “hyper-extremism” in countries including Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria. It has resulted in the displacement of a further 5.8 million in the past year, it says, bringing the total number of refugees, as reported by the UN, to 65.3 million.
The report states: “In parts of the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq, this hyper-extremism is eliminating all forms of religious diversity and is threatening to do so in parts of Africa and the Asian Sub-Continent. The intention is to replace pluralism with a religious mono-culture.”
A Syriac-Catholic priest, Fr Jacques Mourad, who was held by Islamic State (IS) in Syria for five months last year, wrote in a foreword to the report: “Our world teeters on the brink of complete catastrophe as extremism threatens to wipe out all trace of diversity in society. But if religion teaches us anything, it is the value of the human person; the need to respect each other as a gift from God.”
The report points to the suppression of churches in China, violent penalties for religious expression in North Korea and Eritrea, and sanctions for blasphemy in India, Pakistan, and Burma. The report also supports the notion that by targeting Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans, and other minorities, IS and other fundamentalist groups are in breach of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
It was scheduled to be released on “Red Wednesday”, an event organised by ACN to remember those suffering for their beliefs worldwide. Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral were scheduled to be floodlit in red, and, at the latter, an interfaith prayer service was to be held, followed by a mass. Participants were invited to wear red vestments, or red items of clothing.