PC(USA) employees lead workshops and discussions during Rome conference on migrant and refugee justice

‘People on the Move’ consultation brings church partners in the Middle East and Europe together

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Several Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers and other employees are moderating workshops and leading discussion groups at the People on the Move partner conference which convened Sunday in Rome, Italy.

The conference, hosted by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, includes PC(USA) and Global Ministries United Church of Christ partners in Europe and the Middle East. It offers partners a chance to contextualize and share their work on internally displaced, migrant and refugee justice issues. The consultation and listening session, which intends to center the voices of migrants themselves, runs through Thursday.

According to Luciano Kovacs, PC(USA)’s area coordinator, Middle East & Europe, who opened the conference on Sunday morning with remarks, the conference has the following objectives:

  • Make space for marginalized people’s voices who are on the move, allowing them to speak for themselves
  • Commit to a mutual partnership in solidarity where partners learn, advocate, and grow together
  • Develop contextual action steps by hearing from impacted persons and those gathered in the global ecumenical community.

Luciano Kovacs

“Church leaders gathered at this consultation will explore root causes centered on racism, poverty, militarism and ecojustice,” said Kovacs. “We’ll also explore how these factors impact, influence, and interact with forced migration and people on the move by looking at case studies and what organizations are doing to welcome people on the move and building vibrant communities for displaced persons.”

In addition to Kovacs, a number of PC(USA) mission co-workers and employees are moderating workshops and listening sessions or are participating in plenaries and panel sessions. They include Alethia White, co-regional liaison for Northern and Central Europe; the Rev. Dr. Elmarie Parker, regional liaison to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; Amanda Craft, manager for immigration advocacy for the Office of the General Assembly; Susan Krehbiel, associate for migration accompaniment in Presbyterian Disaster Assistance; Doug Dicks, regional liaison to Israel, Jordan and Palestine, Ellen Smith, regional liaison for Central & Eastern Europe, and Emma Johnston, mission specialist for the Middle East and Europe with the World Mission ministry.

The conference focuses on different topics each day. On Monday, speakers and practitioners were addressing root causes for migration and talking about experiences of leaving one’s country. White noted that Monday’s opening remarks were not about statistics, but rather a chance to get to know people.

Alethia White

“This morning we were each introduced by our names, professions, and personal interests. I wish to challenge myself and others to remember that behind every single number in the refugee system is an individual personality with likes, dislikes, hobbies, dreams, and their own world of experience,” said White. “Collectively we must not ignore these individuals. Collectively we must dismantle the walls of fear and misunderstanding that stand in the way of learning the name of a ‘refugee’ or ‘migrant.’ And collectively we as a church must advocate for better policies and treatment for all.”

Tuesday’s presenters will emphasize the challenges faced by people arriving in a new country. Partners will explain how they welcome people into their midst and advocate for receiving migrants with dignity.

On Wednesday, the conference will focus on advocacy work and tools in Europe and the United States as well as in international contexts. At the conference’s conclusion, participants will work on proposals to discern how to continue to work collectively and fully engage in advocacy at various levels.

“We hope that this important event will generate new ideas on how to engage constituents and national staff on making true the General Assembly mandate to be an accompanying and sanctuary church,” said Kovacs.

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