‘From Faith to Action’, the two day online inter-religious conference, working to safeguard the lives of migrant children, organised with UNICEF and partners.

UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional Office (ECARO) hosted an online inter- religious conference, to protect the lives of children on the move. The alarming figure of “one quarter of refugees are children”, was highlighted in the opening ceremony by the UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia (ECA), and this emphasised the very need for this event. The two-day conference aimed to strengthen partnerships with faith-based organisations and religious communities in Europe. Another objective was to advocate for the integration of refugee and migrant children into national life and for their protection against all forms of discrimination and xenophobia at country and regional levels.

Over the space of two days, the conference agenda varied, from plenary talks, to group discussions and workshops, all of which were delivered by religious leaders, leading faith actors, refugee FBO and CSO leaders and young migrants themselves. 

The conference highlighted how religious leaders’ role is crucial in bridging the gap between civil society and child refugees. Ashan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia (ECA), Special Coordinator for the Refuge and Migrant Response in Europe, reinforced this sentiment, as he commented for refugees, “Faith is one of the few threads of hope that remains”, therefore “faith leaders must remain a beacon in the community”. This was echoed by Imam Yahya Pallavicini, a member of ECRL, who spoke on the first day of the conference about “how a sensitive approach through prayer, can help migrants be part of our society.”

Imam Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, Director General of SABS and a member of ECRL, made a pivotal remark about social media’s role in the sphere; We “can use social media collectively, to combat the xenophobia that’s out there…this can encourage us to use social media to promote narratives of hope, rather than narratives of hate.”

One of the key recurring themes was the multidimensional role of education in this space. M.Sc. Nermin Botonjić, Secretary of the Mesihat of Islamic Community in Croatia, commented that education is a vital element, “as children get integrated more quickly into society than their parents”. 

Day two of the conference veered toward a more practical approach, with interactive breakout discussion sessions focusing on a future action plan which will be prepared by UNICEF with key partners. The conference created the space to devise a common agenda ‘that provides the opportunity for synergies and collaboration”. The final report and draft plan will be available in early 2021.

Dr. Mark Owen from ECRL-RfP remarked, “It was a great pleasure to be a part of the conference. We, as Religions for Peace, have been asked to take on the draft plan, we’ll do our best to represent everyone’s rich, detailed discussions as best as we can. This is an ongoing process and it will be available online to update.” Dr. Mark Owen also commented that “It’s easy to find examples across all religions that state the need to protect children. This should be a social norm, it’s a measure of our social morality. This is the strongest message we can send to our leaders and governments. The poor treatment of refugee children is simply unacceptable in our society.”

The conference took place on the 10th-11th December and was co-organised by the European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace Europe (ECRL), the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local Communities (JLI); in collaboration with Islamic Relief Worldwide, A World of Neighbours, the Lutheran World Federation and World Vision International. This was part of UNICEF’s overall global Faith and Positive Change for Children partnership initiative with Religions for Peace and JLI.