Religious Leaders call for increased support for refugees and host communities
Religious communities have a long history of assisting those fleeing war, poverty, and persecution. The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) recognises the contributions and long-standing experience of religious leaders in supporting refugees, and faith-based organisations have made 27 pledges related to the GCR since 2019, all of which are either fulfilled or in progress.
On 31 January 2023, leaders of different faith traditions, including representatives from the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders, gathered in Chisinau, Moldova to call for people of all religions worldwide to increase much-needed support to refugees and host communities.
"The Moldovan community and faith-based organisations were among the first ones to welcome us, counsel us, and help us find a place to stay," said Dmitrii Lekartsev, a refugee from Ukraine, who opened the roundtable discussion on peace and solidarity hosted by the Prime Minister of Moldova. He thanked the religious community and said the reception gave him comfort and hope. "We are praying for peace in Ukraine and for all those providing us with assistance" he said.
Religious leaders visited refugee and community centres in Chisinau that have been critical to ensuring protection and access to services upon reception and admission of Ukrainian refugees – including children – on their journey to safety. "We need peace," said Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh of Guru Nanak Nishkam Swak Jatha, "and if we want peace, we have to sit around a table and find a solution."
"The small Catholic Church in Moldova responded immediately to the influx of refugees from Ukraine in collaboration with the local government and many volunteers," said Bishop Mons. Anton Cosa, Roman Catholic Diocese of Chisinau. He continued, "We offer services for refugees, but we are working on our own, and only occasionally do we cross paths with each other. This meeting gives an opportunity, a bigger horizon to discover more about what other religious groups are doing."
"Love brings us closer," said Petru Archbishop of Chisinau. "Ukrainians are our brothers, and we are neighbours. We are still cooking hot meals for refugees who are coming to the border frozen. Anyone who comes to us in need will receive what they need with open arms."
"Religions for Peace is committed to sharing the light of wisdom and compassion coming from each and all faith traditions. The strong belief is that when religions work together, no one is left behind" said Prof. Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace.
"We save their lives," said Rabbi Michael Schudrich of the refugees in Moldova. "Now we have to make sure they have a life, including education, employment, housing, and psychosocial support."
Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR, said, "As wars, conflict, and persecution continue to force people to flee their homes, we seek the support of faith leaders and their communities. We must work across our societies with faith communities, mayors, parliamentarians, the private sector, and banks. We need a new commitment to solidarity with all refugees, no matter where they are coming from. The solidarity in Moldova is an important example for the rest of the world."
UNHCR Representative Francesca Bonelli explained the value of hospitality: "Moldova is a little country with a big heart" she said. "Despite limited resources, Moldovans opened their country and homes without hesitation." She called on the international community to continue their solidarity and support for Moldova.
Almost 750,000 Ukrainian refugees entered Moldova in the past 11 months, and over 102,000 refugees remain in the country, nearly half of whom are children. The Government's decision last month to activate temporary protection is a concrete expression of their continued and sustained solidarity with the refugees from Ukraine.