At a meeting by the International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent on the current migration crisis, Tom Colley, Policy and Research Analyst at Islamic Relief Worldwide, considers the importance of dignity.
Islamic Relief Worldwide was invited by the International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent to attend a partnership meeting to discuss the international response to the current migration crisis that affects not just the Mediterranean but the whole world. This is why I find myself sitting in a conference hall in Tunis, the Tunisian capital, surrounded by delegates from the Swedish, Somali and Senegalese Red Cross and Crescent societies. As this is a coordination exercise, however, international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) as well as government officials have also been invited to participate and I meet a member of the Spanish government and even a businessman interested in the role the private sector has to play. To open the meeting, two migrants, from Sudan and Eritrea, tell their horrific stories to collective sighs of disbelief.
The theme of the conference is Protect Humanity, Stop Indifference and this chimes well with the beliefs of Islam and consequently Islamic Relief.
A dignity for all
As an Islamic faith-based organisation we consider humans to have a fundamental dignity which is endowed upon us by God. As such it is our duty as a humanitarian organisation to restore that dignity if it has been destroyed. This dignity is bestowed onto everyone; migrant, refugee or settled person; there is no distinction. Migration also has a deep history within Islam; the Hijrah (Migration), of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) marks the start of the Islamic calendar and there are numerous references in both the Holy Qur’an and in the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) calling for the protection of those forced from their homes.
When the guest speakers finished outlining the proposed plans for response in Serbia, Hungary and Greece (where IRW has aid workers on the ground on the island of Lesbos) we broke out into discussion groups and quickly came to the consensus that the situation in Europe is merely the extension of the situations in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Nigeria. Most people do not leave their homes through choice and those who do mostly move to neighbouring countries rather than Europe or the so called developed world.
I would argue that people fleeing to Europe have empowered themselves. It’s easy to see them as a flood of humanity, swarming, as some politicians have told us, but the reality is that every one of them has a story and dignity and by braving the journey across borders they have changed opinions and policy. Which British government would have proposed resettling 20,000 refugees in the past? Which EU Commissioner would otherwise have proposed helping 160,000 people forced from their homes? The only reason they have is because people who are displaced have forced them to make these decisions. That is people power.
Islam teaches us to protect our own dignity as well as welcome those whose dignity is in need of protection. People who are displaced have done their part; it’s now imperative that we do ours.
Members of Islamic Relief’s disaster response team have been working on the ground in Greece with members of the International Rescue Committee, providing vital assistance to their protection programming.