From Tirana: The Migrant Crisis

09/08/2015 09:40 am ET Updated Sep 08, 2016

Jurgen Johannesdotter, a German Lutheran bishop, told me proudly that an American journalist congratulated him on the entry of a third German word into the international vocabulary (alongside Kindergarten and blitzkrieg): willkommenskultur, a culture that welcomes.

At the annual gathering organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio, this year in Tirana, Albania, the focus is religion and peace. Amidst dozens of world crises, with eye-witnesses to represent many of them, Europe's migrant crisis tops the agenda. It is close at hand, the drama unfolding hour by hour. Europe's leaders huddle in meeting after meeting to solve the crisis. But the sense here in Tirana is that the people of Europe have moved out in front of their leaders, acting with humanity, energy, and compassion. Communities (including churches and mosques) and individuals are organizing to offer toys to children arriving by convoy, mount soup kitchens, and open their homes. There is a special pride that this response seems to outstrip fear and xenophobia. People's decency and their core values, spiritual and secular alike, can overcome.

But as the crisis unfolds, all are grasping, not only for solutions but to understand a crisis that caught Europe unprepared. At a discussion this morning that included political leaders, activists, and migrants, , the plaintive question was asked repeatedly: why did it take the image of a lifeless child on a beach to awaken people to the magnitude of what is happening? What can be done to welcome a tsunami of refugees? And what must be done to solve the conflicts that contribute to the desolation and resulting desperation that has caused them to abandon their homes and countries?

As a reminder, the number of people in the world who are refugees or internally displaced is higher than it has been since the end of World War II: some 60 million people in 2014 (and rising). That means 42,000 people newly displaced every day. Of these, 51 percent are children, 52 percent are from Syria, Iraq, and Somalia.

Personal testimonies are heart-rending and bring statistics into focus. Calls for political action and spiritual support reflect keen awareness and a wish to respond. Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, combines deep spirituality with an eminently practical approach. She offered a list quite specifically directed to action at a global level, but a list that could engage each one of us. The panel's chair (Crescenzio Sepe, Cardinal, Archbishop of Naples) aptly described it as ten commandments. With her permission (and in hopes that she will elaborate the list further), they are summarized here:

(1) Recover and articulate the faith narratives that support action to address the refugee crisis; this can bolster community understanding and commitment.
(2) Take special measures to protect against trafficking: that means above all training relevant staff, communities, and government officials so that they can identify those who are most vulnerable to trafficking.
(3) Make urgent provision to meet immediate needs: for food, for nutrition, non-food needs like shelter, sanitation, medications, and medical care.
(4) Develop ways to provide the refugees with accurate information. They arrive after long and arduous journeys, often with little knowledge of where they are much less the rules and rights that apply.
(5) Education needs to be part of the response, as part of social protection but also to address the special needs of children. Jordan has a special program for schooling as a second shift in existing schools. Psycho social support is urgently needed.
(6) There are long lists of capacity strengthening actions to be taken: of border police, in schools, even in grocery stores. And there is an urgent need here and elsewhere for collaboration.
(7) Advocate for assistance to host countries that are welcoming refugees; some neighboring countries are near a breaking point.
(8) Advocate for more intensive diplomatic and track two efforts to bring conflict to an end.
(9) The United Nations Agencies involved are in urgent need of funding. Even funding that is promised has not arrived. As a result programs are being cut far below even minimum needs; and
(10) Look more closely at and push for action on the causes of conflict, that include poverty and injustice, lack of employment, and services.

It's a formidable list, but an excellent place to start.