Co-organised by UNICEF’s Europe and Central Asia Regional Office (ECARO), World Council of Churches (WCC), the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local Communities (JLI), and the European Council of Religious Leaders-Religions for Peace, in collaboration with Islamic Relief Worldwide, A World of Neighbours, Lutheran World Federation and World Vision International.
More than 1 in 4 migrants and refugees arriving in Europe are children.
JLI supported the conference as the knowledge partner, preparing a background paper, three case studies highlighting the work of the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organisation in Serbia, Apostoli in Greece and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, and a draft action plan.
The two-day conference started with welcome messages from Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia (ECA) and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe, Monsignor Robert Vitillo, Secretary-General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and M.Sc. Nermin Botonjić, Secretary of the Mesihat of Islamic Community in Croatia.
Imam Yahya Pallavicini, President of CO.RE.IS. (Islamic Religious Community of Italy), José Ignacio García SJ, Regional Director at Jesuit Refugee Services Europe and Elina Sarantou, Programs Manager at HIAS Greece offered further opening reflections from the perspective of faith actors.
Susanna Trotta, JLI Research Associate, and Dr Olivia Wilkinson JLI Director of Research presented the situation in for children on the move, impact of COVID-19, faith activities in the region and challenges and opportunities.
Over the course of the two days, over 150 participants split into three separate sessions to discuss the roles of faith actors in three thematic areas: Strengthening the Continuum of Protection for Children on the Move; Building peaceful societies and combating xenophobia; and Policy and advocacy. The sessions were facilitated by representatives of FBOs and UNICEF ECARO. These featured a case study presentation, a panel discussion and group work to share promising practice and jointly develop the draft action plan.
The conference included messages from Maria Khoshy, an Afghan refugee, and David Joseph Belaire, a refugee from Nigeria, who stressed the importance of unconditional support to children on the move, regardless of their religious affiliation and called for a platform for youth on the move to share their experiences.
Youth representatives Lejla Hasandedic-Dapo and Emina Frljak from Serbia and Herzegovina took an active part in the sessions and panel discussions. In particular, Emina Frliak highlighted the importance of using “religious language” and not only “humanitarian” or “development language”, and “to use one’s privilege to help and not to hurt.”
“Have faith. Never give up.”
— UNICEF Europe C.Asia (@UNICEF_ECA) December 11, 2020
Concluding remarks from Philippe Cori, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. He highlighted the importance of strengthening collaboration between UNICEF and faith actors for Children On the Move in Europe and Central Asia in the coming years.
JLI looks forward to the next steps of the “From Faith to Action” initiative after the conference.
Jean Duff, JLI Strategic Advisor, noted that “Migrant children are a blessing and an opportunity for Europe” and six points of action:
- Continue to strengthen the evidence base about faith groups’ activities relating to Children On the Move
- Organize the evidence for advocacy to key target audiences to support efforts to change the narrative of fear and threat on migrants and refugees and the dire needs of children
- Learn about and follow principles of effective partnership with faith groups
- Continue to strengthen the community of support among FBOs working on the front lines, especially in xenophobic situations
- Build on the UNICEF commitment to internal and external advocacy. There is the opportunity to support to UNICEF ECAR country offices in faith literacy and faith engagement for Children On the Move, and in resourcing partnerships with local faith actors
- 2021 follow up: a joint action plan between faith actors who took part in the conference and their networks and UNICEF