The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, has joined a number of Anglican primates and other faith leaders calling on heads of state to support the world’s 40.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs).
World leaders are preparing to descend on the UN headquarters in New York for this year’s General Assembly meeting. While there, they will sign a new Global Compact on Refugees. The faith leaders welcome this new international instrument, but say, in an open letter addressed to UN member states, that it applies only to people who have been forced to flee across borders while ignoring the plight of those displaced within their own countries.
“While global leaders are signing up to supporting refugees, the vast majority of people displaced within their own countries’ borders are often woefully ignored and abandoned by their countries’ leaders,” the British-based aid agency Christian Aid, which has co-ordinated the letter, said.
More than 57 leaders have signed the letter: the majority of them are from various Christian denominations, but signatories also include Jewish and Muslim leaders. In their letter, they challenge UN member governments about the exclusion of the 40.5 million internally displaced people from the new Global Compact.
“Internally displaced people remain in their own countries but have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and ‘natural’ disasters such as floods and earthquakes, and left to fend for themselves,” Christian Aid said. “Despite having no place to call home, they lack the support and protection that international law gives refugees—people who have crossed international borders.”
The faith leaders say that if the world is to realize the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, then the international community must ensure that internally displaced people are neither forgotten nor ignored.
In addition to Idowu-Fearon, Anglican signatories include Rachel Carnegie, executive director of the Anglican Alliance; Bishops Andrew John (Bangor), June Osborne (Llandaff) and Gregory Cameron (St Asaph) from the Church in Wales, together with the primate of Wales, Archbishop John D. Davies (Swansea and Brecon); Bishops Paul Butler (Durham) and Nicholas Holtam (Salisbury) from the Church of England; Canon Grace Kaiso, general secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa; and Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan.
One of the signatories, Paul Anticoni, chief executive of World Jewish Relief, said that “there are now unimaginable numbers of people fleeing conflict and persecution, and becoming displaced within their own countries. These people are often hidden, denied access to support and protection, and extremely vulnerable. We join our fellow faith-based agencies in calling for greater support and assistance to prevent, mitigate and respond to this scourge on humanity.”
The chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Naser Haghamed, explained that when he was 13 years old, he and his family were forced to flee their home in Eritrea because of conflict there. “I will never forget what happened,” he said. “We fled on foot and walked for days just to reach the border. And yet, I was lucky compared to what displaced people have to endure today.
“As faith groups, we are urging governments to fulfil their obligations towards their own displaced and calling on world leaders at the UN to make the safety, dignity and well-being of millions of displaced people a key priority.”
Christian Aid is an ecumenical aid agency that serves as the international development agency for 41 churches in the British Isles, including the four Anglican provinces: the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church. Its chief executive, Amanda Mukwashi, said: “If not at the United Nations, then where will the voice of internally displaced women, men and children be heard? Where can their issues be dealt with? Who will bring together global efforts and resources so that they are not left behind?”
The letter was published 20 September, ahead of the UN Advisory Council on Faith’s inaugural meeting, which will take place 21 September in New York.