Who is my neighbor? What does my faith tradition tells me, when it comes to welcoming migrants to my country/to Europe, sharing my country with minorities? These and other related questions, were asked and discussed by 45 students, coming from different Christian national student organizations from all over Europe, as well as young Jews and Muslims, who took part last week in a conference “Who is my Neighbor? Migration and Xenophobia in Europe”, in Valletri, Italy.
Conference’s speakers, that included academics, religious leaders (representing 3 Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Islam, Judaism), as well as NGO professionals working with the issue of xenophobia, spoke about the role of religion in overcoming boundaries in society, and about origins of European identity – being in fact migrant origins (as pointed out Martin C. Putna, Ph.D., from Prague University, analyzing an ancient Greek poem). All three religious leaders – Jewish rabbi, Muslim imam and Protestant pastor – emphasized the fact that the true spirit of each religion is to love the neighbor and take care of the migrants/refugees/foreigners. The participants also took part in different panel discussions and workshops, led by representatives of Jewish, Roma and Muslim communities. Europe has been experiencing lately a dramatic rise in xenophobic attacks on Roma and Jewish communities (attacks on communal properties, physical attacks on people). Bashy Quraishy – a Danish-Pakistani author and consultant regarding minority rights spoke about how hate speech against Muslims is present in many media and different parts of society. He called on young Europeans to prevent further development of xenophobic attitudes towards Muslims, Jews and Roma, in order to prevent an outburst of violent conflict in Europe.
The participants learned different historical facts and statistics regarding migration to Europe and within Europe, met with Italian activists working with migrants and visited organizations/centers helping migrants in Rome. Even though several European politicians declared last year that “multiculturalism is dead in Europe”, the obvious fact is that most Europeans live in de-facto multi-cultural societies and the influx of migrants to Europe will not stop (also because Europe needs migrants – said conference’s speakers) – it is then needed to deal constructively with the issue of “equal citizenship”, and the young leaders of different faith communities in Europe need to discuss what would be the best ways to promote a constructive discourse on this subject, in the face of all the tensions that we are facing now in Europe, like economic crisis and other. Daniela Malec from Religions for Peace, European Interfaith Network, told the participants that in order to effectively deal with this topic, youth organizations need to get engaged in interfaith dialogue and approach this issues through interreligious actions.
Young leaders present at the conference devoted the whole last day of their meeting to planning actions/campaigns addressing xenophobia in their home countries or wider regions. Some of the proposed projects concern general anti-xenophobia education in primary schools, other – working with Roma communities in Hungary and Slovakia, on revitalization of their cultural heritage and building intercultural bridges. The proposed projects were not a mere exercise for participants – they will try to get funding and to be implemented in 2013.
The conference was organized by World Students Christian Federation (WSCF) in partnership with Religions for Peace, European Interfaith Youth Network (RfP, EIYN). Anna Makowka-Kwapisiewicz (president of Jewish Association Czulent) was reprezenting EIYN at conference’s planning committee.