Friday 17. September 2021
#202 - March 2017

Refugees and Muslim-Christian relations: A call for bridges not walls

In the wake of President Trump's executive order on immigration, and to mark UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, Thomas H. Smolich SJ, international director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Imam Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, president the Italian Islamic Religious Community (COREIS), released a joint statement.

Last 27 January, President Trump signed an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” The order indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. President Trump’s executive order on immigration set off a widening political and legal crisis one week into his presidency.


Reacting to the executive order, the joint statement, dated 6 February 2017, is forthright in its criticism of the new US Administration’s refugee policy, stating that the executive order is an ‘affront to our common Muslim and Christian values, and a repudiation of our shared humanity’. Both JRS and COREIS believe that the executive order not only jeopardizes Christian-Muslim relations, but also violates fundamental obligations in both religions to ‘love the stranger’ (Dt. 10, 19) and to ‘know one another’ (Qur., 49:13), obligations based on the premise of humanity’s common origins.


The refugee crisis as an “occasion of grace”

The authors of the statement insist that whilst national governments have a duty to protect their citizens by regulating their borders, the ethical demands of protecting ‘members of the human family who are in grave danger’ transcend the limits of national borders. Thus they highlight the ethical challenge that ‘in a world that is wounded daily by violence and injustice, terror and tyranny, our Muslim and Christian traditions invite us to show courage and generosity, not to give in to fear or selfishness’. 


In this vein, the statement points to the contribution of Pope Francis to the subject of migration. As the authors put it, Francis ‘has spoken of migration as an occasion of grace for all of us, host and migrant alike’. In particular they draw on his Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2016 “At this moment in human history, marked by great movements of migration […] those who migrate are forced to change some of their most distinctive characteristics and, whether they like or not, even those who welcome them are also forced to change. How can we experience these changes not as obstacles to genuine development, but rather as opportunities for genuine human, social and spiritual growth?”


Solidarity based on shared humanity beyond religions

The authors of the joint statement affirm the commitment of their respective organisations to showing solidarity with all refugees, regardless of faith. They assert that any ‘attempt to reject refugees on the basis of their religion is contrary to Christian and Muslim values of human dignity, care for the weakest in society, and of religious liberty’. 


Commenting on the specific case of Syria, the authors express grave concern about the US’s indefinite suspension of the Syrian refugee programme ‘at a time when nearly 5 million Syrians have had to flee the violence in their country’. In addition, the authors are alarmed by President Trump’s proposal to give priority to refugees claiming religious persecution in countries where their religion is in a minority. JRS and COREIS believe such a policy is disproportionately discriminatory towards Muslims and that a de facto ban on Muslim refugees from entering the US could fuel sectarian resentment.


Strengthening the architecture of refugee protection

Another worrying consequence of President Trumps’ executive order is that it could lead to a knock-on effect with other nations adopting a US style policy. Thus, it ‘threatens to destabilise refugee protection globally, by reducing the number of resettlement places, and closing access to asylum claims’. As such, the statement’s authors urge all governments to ‘oppose the US ban, and to ensure that the architecture of refugee protection is strengthened in their own countries’. Furthermore, they call for an end to ‘isolationist policies’, and for governments to instead ‘address the structural causes of forced displacement, and to share equitably the responsibility of providing protection to refugees’.

Concluding the statement, the authors note that ‘Christians and Muslims inhabit religious traditions that are rooted in the experience of exile, and the hospitality of God and God's own. Hostile attitudes towards displaced persons have no place in our religious traditions, and manifest a grave moral failure. Our faiths invite all people of good will to promote everywhere a more generous culture of hospitality to migrants and displaced persons. Let us recognise the dignity of every person, and the right of each person to live in safety in this our common home’. 


Thomas H. Smolich SJ, international director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Imam Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, president the Italian Islamic Religious Community (COREIS)


Editor of the article: Henry Longbottom sj

Download the joint statement


EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.