In a Europe that closes its doors to people fleeing from distant lands scarred by poverty and war, Christians, Muslims and Jews in Switzerland decided to speak with a common voice in a joint Statement for Refugees. The 15-page document titled “There is always a human being standing before us” will be presented to the Vice-President of the National Council in Bern Marina Carobbio Guscetti (PS). The initiative equally enjoys the support of the Director of the UNHCR Office for Switzerland and Lichtenstein who defined it “a flagship project”, with the hope that it may serve as an inspiration for other Countries.
For the first time Christians, Jews and Muslims issued a joint appeal, described as “an important step for interreligious dialogue” in a release issued by the promoters of the initiative. The Document starts from the premise that
68 million people are displaced worldwide, half of them are children.
In Lebanon, a Country with fragile structural and economic resources – one in four inhabitants are refugees, one every 400 inhabitants in European Countries. Moreover, state the Document’s introductory remarks, the main Countries of arrival in Europe are marked by “weak protection and reception mechanisms” coupled by “increasingly restrictive policies for refugees who are thereby left in precarious legal situations”, which religious leaders defined “a no-rights zone.” The Declaration highlights the “religious and ethical principles” underlying the religions’ stance in support of refugees. In fact “according to Jewish, Christian and Islamic tenets
Every human being is a creature of God; as such he/she is place under His protection.”
These principles represent the cornerstone of “an ethics of human solidarity” “duty-bound to ensure that all human beings live together in justice and peace.”
Having clarified the premise, religious leaders articulated their appeal into five points. They request appropriate protection of refugees regardless of their location, along with “legal access routes” with the adoption of humanitarian visas to avoid that their flight might sadly become – as often happens – a nightmare of illegal human trafficking, slavery and, in most cases, death. The Declaration equally calls for “fair and effective asylum procedures”, which entails “avoiding excessively restrictive requirements supporting evidence of persecution.” As relates to inclusion measures, the Document requests refugees to respect the laws of the Countries of arrival along with the values enshrined in the Constitution, local regulations and rules. The fifth point demands that the applicant who does not qualify for asylum should be granted “dignified repatriation”, stressing that expulsion must always be used as a last resort, preferably to be avoided in case of families, giving priority to the best interest of the child.
The signatories of the interreligious Declaration are Harald Rein, bishop of the Catholic Church of Switzerland, President of the Swiss Council of Religions; Gottfried Locher, President of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Switzerland; Charles Morerod, President of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference; Herbert Winter, President of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities; Montassar BenMrad, President of the Federation of Islamic Federations in Switzerland; Farhad Afshar, President of the Coordinating Committee of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland.