Unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees means new religious freedom challenges, say scholars

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Nov 29, 2018  |  Silver Spring, Maryland, United States  | 

Unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees means new religious freedom challenges, say scholars

As the number of migrants and refugees worldwide continues to surge, a panel of scholars convened last month by the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) says more must be done to deal with related religious freedom challenges. 

The IRLA’s 19thMeeting of Experts, held in Cordoba, Spain, brought together renowned scholars from a variety of academic disciplines to explore this issue. But the topics discussed were anything but academic for the many millions of men, women and children who are currently on the move, fleeing poverty, violence, or religious persecution, according to IRLA Secretary General Dr. Ganoune Diop.

“Managing migration, with all its associated difficulties—physical, legal, and social—is recognized as one of the most urgent and perplexing challenges of our time,” Diop said. “But the picture is incomplete unless we also understand just how frequently religious practice and identity intersect with these issues.” 

He points out that in many world regions, from Myanmar to Nigeria to Syria and Iraq, religiously motivated hostility or violence help drive migration. But also challenging, according to Diop, are the clashes of religious and social identities that often occur later, as migrants and refugees are absorbed into new cultures. 

“This process of integration raises very practical—and confronting—questions in many Western countries, such as whether to grant permits for building temples or mosques, how to relate socially and legally to those who wear religious garb, like the hijab, or even whether to allow traditional slaughtering of animals,” said Diop. “The presence and practices of religious minorities are sometimes seen as dividing wedges in society, threatening national unity and traditions.” 

Scholars at the IRLA Meeting of Experts presented papers on these and other topics, including why faith-based organizations should be involved in migrant and refugee issues and how they can better collaborate. Other presenters looked at issues specific to particular world regions, such as Europe, Latin America, and North America. 

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