UNHCR Cyprus meets with the religious leaders of Cyprus

“The shared values common to different religious traditions present a strong framework for promoting tolerance, understanding and openness towards refugees,” said UNHCR Representative, Damtew Dessalegne, addressing the island’s religious community leaders.

The Representative of UNHCR in Cyprus met with the island's religious leaders to discuss the inclusion of refugees and asylum-seekers and the promotion of tolerance, respect and diversity.
© UNHCR/Cyprus

On Wednesday 30 May 2018, Mr. Damtew Dessalegne, UNHCR Representative for Cyprus, was invited to the High Level Meeting of the Religious Leaders of the main faith communities of Cyprus: Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite and Latin Catholic.  The meeting was within the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, hosted by the Ambassador of Sweden, H.E. Ms Anna Olsson Vrang.

The meeting was meant for an exchange of views and ideas on the refugee problem generally and the increased role religious leaders and faith-based organizations could play to meet the many challenges refugees and asylum-seekers in Cyprus face in their daily lives by promoting inclusion, respect, tolerance and diversity.  It indeed proved a useful occasion to highlight some of the main gaps in the services and support available to refugees, ranging from inadequate reception conditions, unemployment and difficulties in integrating into the economic, social and cultural fabric of the host society.

“The shared values common to different religious traditions present a strong framework for promoting tolerance, understanding and openness towards refugees,” said Dessalegne, addressing the island’s religious community leaders.  “You can no doubt play an immensely positive role in countering negative public attitudes and building tolerant and inclusive communities, based on the common values of caring and respect for the stranger.”

In reflecting on the refugee issue globally and in Cyprus, all religious leaders and their representatives present at the meeting expressed their genuine interest in contributing to creating a welcoming environment for asylum-seekers and refugees in Cyprus. There was a consensus on the need to engage in active advocacy for the effective integration of refugees and to co-ordinate as religious leaders with their respective communities, the state, civil society and UNHCR in alleviating the predicaments of refugees and in fostering their acceptance and inclusion in the local society.

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Background: In December 2012, the fifth High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges was held on the theme of ‘Faith and Protection’. The Dialogue assembled over 400 representatives of faith-based organisations, faith leaders and other partners for a two-day discussion in Geneva on partnership with faith-based actors. This was the first formal multi-faith dialogue UNHCR ever engaged in and explored the common values underpinning the notion of refugee protection in all of the world’s major religions.  Subsequently, in 2013, UNHCR published Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders in multiple languages.