Yesterday’s Working Together in Faith conference in Edinburgh examined how individuals and groups could grasp policy, advocacy and practical action as they exercised their faith. You can get a flavour of the event from the tweets posted using the #SFARconference hashtag.
Organised by Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, the interfaith event opened with a reflection from David Bradwell. The scene was then set as delegates listened to the first hand experiences of someone going through UK’s asylum process.
Dr Maureen Sier is director of Interfaith Scotland. Her presentation began with a refugee story from her own family and looked back at comments made by David Logan MP in a Parliamentary debate in 1938.
She finished her presentation by quoting passages relevant to different faiths’ appreciation of asylum and migration.
Alison Phipps is professor of languages and intercultural studies at the University of Glasgow and convenes GLASnet (Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration network). Her journey into the conference’s topic began when she responded to a call to visit at detention centres. (She quickly discovered that football was a more universal language than her own European languages!) Opening up and sharing her hone with asylum seekers for the last ten years, Alison movingly recounted how she came to foster her daughter and described the ongoing struggle navigating through the official asylum process.
Alison noted that while the European Union has binding obligations to help when in instances of mass displacement, few countries meet those obligations. She spoke about the need to “activate compassion” and questioned the legal requirement for academics to be “border guards”, reporting to authorities on the whereabouts of students from particular regions. She finished with a poem.
Parallel workshop sessions allowed delegates to find out about running Weekend Clubs, hosting asylum seekers and refugee and how to influence the fluctuating media narrative about those seeking refuge in the run up to the UN Summit on Refugees in September 2016.
After lunch, further workshops examined the community sponsorship scheme (to allow individuals, charities, faith groups and businesses to support resettled refugees directly), the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in Northern Iraq, and a quick masterclass in lobbying politicians on refugee issues from Amnesty Scotland.
Rev Kathy Galloway closed the conference with her reflection on the CTBI delegation of women who visited refugees in Greece which she led at the end of May. On her return she found herself in the situation of being asked to explain war by a four year old. The daunting nature of the refugee crisis should not put us off intervening.
“The challenge is not for us to do what we can’t. The challenge is for us to do what we can.”