The Symposium “Religion and migration in Europe” brought together religious leaders, academics, practitioners and policy makers from across Europe to examine one of the most significant challenges faced by European countries and citizens today: the mass movement of migrants into Europe, and across European borders. It took place at the Representation of the State of Hessen (D) to the European Union in Brussels on Thursday, 8 December 2016.
The principle aim was to explore the ongoing role religious and multi-religious communities and leaders across Europe can play in facilitating the successful integration of migrants into host societies and communities, whilst simultaneously taking seriously the very real concerns many people in host communities have. A range of experts and stakeholders at European level from both religious and non-religious organisations contributed to the discussion, and several examples of good practice were showcased. A panel discussion debated on opportunities and risks of religious organisations and communities becoming more involved in integration processes. The discussion was introduced by Mark Weinmeister, Secretary of State for European Affairs of the State of Hessen.
“Religious communities have to take on common responsibility for an open and peaceful society, thus supporting civil society and those politically in charge”, underlined ECRL Moderator Rev. Dr Thomas Wipf.
“If we do not win the local population for integration, we will fail. We cannot claim to be able to do this from Brussels, it has to be done on a local and regional level”, thus Matthias Oel, Director of Migration and Security Funds, Director-General of Migration and Home Affairs, EU Commission.
Religious leaders play a “vital role in breaking down stereotypes and help host communities to meet migrants as people”, emphasised ECRL member Imam Yahye Pallavicini, Imam of the al-Wahid Mosque in Milan and vice president of the Islamic Community of Italy.
“When we look at indicators of integration such as education and access to the labour markets, the only area that difference still matters and continues to matter is religion. Religion will always stay a mark of difference”, said Prof. Dr Rainer Münz from the European Political Strategy Centre of the European Commission.
“Europe should be a place of repair, rebuilding and healing and that is where religious communities have a huge potential to contribute”, concluded Prof Simon Keyes of the Winchester Centre of Religions for Reconciliation and Peace of the University of Winchester.
Dr Majbritt Lyck-Bowen and Dr Mark Owen of the University of Winchester presented the interim results of a research project being carried by the University of Winchester in partnership with ECRL. The project brought existing academic integration models into engagement with several case studies, to examine the possible benefits a specifically ‘multi-faith’ approach to integration brings.
The Symposium was co-organised by the Minister for Federal and European Affairs of the State of Hessen Lucia Puttrich, the Moderator of the European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace, Dr theol. h.c. Thomas Wipf and the Director of the Winchester Centre of Religions for Reconciliation and Peace of the University of Winchester Dr Mark Owen.
The European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace (ECRL) brings together senior religious leaders from Europe’s historical religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam together with Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians. ECRL has participatory status with the Council of Europe. ECRL is one of five regional Interreligious Councils with the Religions for Peace network. Religions for Peace – accredited to the United Nations – is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition advancing common action for peace since 1970.