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A Multi-Faith Response to the Migrant Crisis: An Examination of the Cooperation between Different Faiths on the Integration of Migrants.

The aim of the project is to establish whether there are any discernible benefits to a multi-faith approach to integration.

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In 2015, Europe experienced a considerable increase in the number of refugees and migrants trying to enter the continent[1]. Violent conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq accounted for the vast majority of the 1.3 million refugees seeking asylum in European countries in 2015[2]. However, violations of human rights in Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia also contributed to the increase, as did continued poverty in Albania and Kosovo[3]. More than a million of the refugees and migrants arrived to Europe by sea in overcrowded boats leading to at least 3770 people drowning, though the exact number is unknown and could be higher[4]. From the outset, European countries struggled to cope with the significant rise in people needing immediate help. The countries, Greece, Italy and Hungary where many of the migrants and refugees first arrived, struggled the most and the significant differences in other European countries’ willingness to offer assistance led to tensions in the EU[5]. While government officials at the state level argued over who should help all the new arrivals in Europe, a wide array of non-governmental volunteer groups and organisations stepped up and provided initial assistance to the refugees and migrants. Groups of volunteers such as the Greek Kos Solidarity Group, the Turkish İmece in Çeşme and Help Refugees in Calais were set up to help feed and shelter the many migrants and refugees[6]. In many countries, faith groups and organisations, many of them with longstanding experience in this area, have also been involved in welcoming and looking after the many new arrivals[7]. Some faith organisations like Islamic Relief and Christian Aid are providing direct help to refugees and migrants whereas others such as the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe have advocated for the implementation of a more humane asylum and migration policy across Europe[8].

The involvement of faith groups and organisations in carrying out work such as helping welcoming and integrating migrants and refugees have already been researched. However, the exploration of multi-faith cooperation on common issues such as the welcoming and integration of migrants and refugees has only just been initiated.

The project was instigated by the European Council of Religious Leaders (ECRL) which commissioned the Winchester Centre for Religion, Reconciliation and Peace (WCRRP) to develop and carry out a research project focusing broadly on multi-religious cooperation on the integration of migrants. The original aims of the project were to establish whether there are any discernible benefits to a multi-faith approach to integration and if there are then what are the factors and conditions which make a multi-faith approach to integration likely to be effective in different contexts. Initial research into multi-religious cooperation on the integration of migrants revealed that this kind of cooperation is still in its infancy and hence it will be some time before a multi-faith approach can be thoroughly assessed. It was decided that a helpful first step would be to identify some applicable case studies and ask the relevant stakeholders about their initial experiences with multi-religious cooperation on integration projects. Consequently, it was agreed that the initial pilot project would focus on three questions: 1) Why the organisation decided to cooperate with other religious organisations on integration? 2) What have the benefits been of working together with another religious organisation so far? and 3) What are the challenges of working together so far? Considering that initial research had shown that most religious organisations involved in the integration of migrants did not cooperate with organisations based on other religions or denominations, it was deemed interesting and relevant to find out why the organisations included in this study had decided to engage in multi-religious cooperation despite this not being the norm. The second question relates to the original focus of the research and initiates the identification of possible benefits of multi-religious cooperation on the integration of migrants. Finally, recognising that organisations involved in multi-religious cooperation are likely to face a range of challenges and that this might prevent or negatively affect multi-religious cooperation, the third question initiates the identification of these different challenges with a view to further explore how these challenges can be overcome.

Case Studies

The criteria for selecting relevant case studies were situations where cooperation between two or more organisations from different religions or denominations has been initiated in order to assist in the integration of migrants. Two case studies namely the UK based project Refugee Support[9] and the Italian project Mediterranean Hope[10] were identified through the WCRRP’s network of contacts.

The Refugee Support is a project run by the British Red Cross, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Surrey that aims at providing emotional and practical support including helping asylum seekers and refugees gain access to important services and adapting to their new life[11]. The British Red Cross cooperates with a wide range of organisations including non-religious organisations such as Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group[12] (SWVG), mono-religious organisations such as the Citylife Church’s City Life Education and Action for Refugees[13] (CLEAR) and multi-faith organisations such as Southampton Council of Faiths[14] (SCoF)[15].

Mediterranean Hope was established by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy in a response to the many migrants arriving on the coast of Sicily by sea in 2013[16]. The project consists of four related parts. The Observatory on Mediterranean migration, based in Lampedusa, is one of these parts and it focuses on analysing and distributing information on migration flows in the Mediterranean to organisations that help receive the migrants. Another part is the House of Cultures based in Sicily, that offers food and shelter to vulnerable migrants and promotes cultural and social actions such as intercultural exchange, dialogue and integration. Connected to the House of Cultures is the third part called the relocation desk that is a guidance and counselling service for transitioning migrants and that also facilitates contact to other protestant communities in Italy and elsewhere that are willing to help with the settlement of the migrants. Finally, the fourth part Humanitarian Corridors aims at offering humanitarian protection to migrants by providing them with a visa to Italy and facilitating a safe journey to Europe before they attempt to cross the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. The Community of Sant’ Egidio[17] is helping out with this part of the project.

Many more religious organisations involved in the integration of migrants were identified but none of them cooperate with an organisation from a different denomination or religion. Hence, a Google search was undertaken in order to identify more case studies. Three more case studies were identified namely a Swedish project called Goda Grannar (Good Neighbours), a German project called Weisst Du Wer Ich bin?[18] (Do you know, who I am?) and a Polish project called Dialogue for Integration – a Multi-Faith Approach. 

The Swedish project was established during the autumn of 2015 when a large number of migrants arrived to Stockholm central train station[19]. A local mosque[20] initially decided to provide food and shelter to some of the migrants. A local church[21] wanted to help out as well and rather than starting their own project they decided to contact the mosque. This led to a cooperation that helped thousands of transiting migrants. Both the church and the mosque soon realised that providing shelter and food were only the first steps and that there were other ways they could help the migrants in the longer term. Hence, the two institutions decided to set up the project Goda Grannar (Good neighbours) that include language classes and a service that provides legal advice as well as information about the community, which local or national authority should be approached about different issues[22].

The German project Weisst Du Wer Ich bin? was initiated in 2016 but it is a relaunch of an interfaith dialogue project that ran from 2004-11. The participating organisations are the same for both projects namely The Council of Christian Churches in Germany[23], Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs[24], The Islamic Council for Germany[25], The Council of Islamic Cultural Centres[26], The Central Council of Muslims in Germany[27] and The Central Council of Jews in Germany[28]. The project aims at encouraging Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities and organizations to cooperate on projects that focus on assisting migrants in the integration process[29]. The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior who has made €500.000 available for multi-religious (at least two organizations of different religious affiliation) initiatives locally active in the integration of migrants. A wide range of multi-religious projects all over Germany has benefitted from this funding[30].

The Polish project “Dialogue for Integration – a Multi-Faith Approach” was initiated by Afryka Connect Foundation, an organisation that was set up to promote better relations between mainly African migrants and the local population in Poland[31]. The organisation hosted seminar meetings in four different cities (Krakow, Lodz, Wroclaw and Poznan) where members of different religious communities, local community leaders and representatives from local governments and non-governmental organizations were invited to discuss the role of religion and religious communities in the process of integrating migrants[32]. The aims of the project were to improve integration by supporting networking and exchange of knowledge and ideas between relevant stakeholders, building the capacity of religious communities and attempting to develop shared recommendations on the role of religious communities in promoting integration. The outcomes of the seminars were presented at a national conference roundtable meeting in Warsaw in November 2016.

Research Methods

Semi-structured interviews with representatives from the different projects were conducted in the end of 2016. When possible the interviews were conducted face-to-face however, because of budget constraints some interviews were conducted over the internet using Skype and Adobe Connect. The representatives were chosen as interviewees because they are directly involved in the work their organisations carry out on the integration of migrants and hence, they are considered to be in suitable positions to elicit information about these projects. This approach obviously has some short-comings such as the answers only being recalls of experiences and answers being conscious replies which may or may not reflect the respondent’s actual understanding or interpretation of a given situation, that will have to be addressed by means of among others examining where the interview data intersects with other interview data from the same organisation and/or with documentary data. Semi-structured interviews as opposed to more heavily structured interviews have been chosen as the preferred interviewing method because it is envisaged that only by allowing interviewees to speak more freely can new unexplored information be elicited.

The results of the pilot study are presented in the two files that have been added above.

[1] BBC (2016): Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts. BBC 4 March 2016. Accessed at:

[2] UNHCR (2015): Europe refugees and migrants emergency response: nationality of arrivals to Greece, Italy and Spain, January – December 2015. Accessed at:

[3] BBC (2016): Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts. BBC 4 March 2016. Accessed at: and UNHCR (2015): Europe refugees and migrants emergency response: nationality of arrivals to Greece, Italy and Spain, January – December 2015. Accessed at:

[4] IOM (2016): IOM Counts 3,771 Migrant Fatalities in Mediterranean in 2015. Press release 01/05/16. Accessed at

[5] BBC (2016): Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts. BBC 4 March 2016. Accessed at:

[6] Gunter, Joel (2016): Migrant crisis: Greek volunteers welcome Nobel nomination. BBC 1 February 2016. Accessed at: and Löffler, Juliane and McVeigh, Karen (2016): What's in it for them? The volunteers saving Europe's refugees. The Guardian, 9 June 2016. Accessed at:

[7] See among others:; Hough, Michelle (2016): Vatican on importance of religious organisations in migrant crisis. Caritas 26 September 2016. Accessed at:



[10] See:


[12] See:

[13] See:

[14] See:

[15] Interview with Red Cross representative, 18th November 2016.




[19] Interview with one representative from the church and one representative from the mosque, 21st November 2016.

[20] See:

[21] See:


[23] Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Deutschland. See:

[24] Türkisch Islamische Union der Anstalt für Religion. See:

[25]Islamrat für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. See:

[26] Verband der Islamischen Kulturzentren. See:

[27] Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland. See:

[28] Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland. See:





Explain your idea

Our pilot study indicates that adopting a multi-faith approach (where organisations representing different faiths cooperate) to welcoming and integrating migrants have significant benefits but we need to collect more data in order to validate that this approach is potentially better than an approach where only one faith organisation is involved. Welcoming and integrating migrants is vital for countering xenophobia and building peaceful communities all over Europe and since European governments already have a lot of competing priorities the involvement of non-governmental organisations is very important. The involvement of faith groups in this kind of work is not new but multi-faith cooperation on issues like this is. The aim of the next phase of our project is two-fold namely to conduct more research on this kind of cooperation as well as promote this kind of cooperation. In order to promote multi-faith cooperation on the welcoming and integration of migrants the plan is to develop a homepage where organisations involved in this kind of work can share their best practices and network. The hope is that multi-faith cooperation will become the norm rather than the exception as is currently the case. The pilot study showed that a lack of a platform where faith organisations can meet and get to know each other is one of the main obstacles for this kind of work. Hence, a homepage will be an important first step. Concerning research the researchers would like to expand the scope of this project significantly. We would like to identify and interview more faith organisations involved in this kind of work and we would like to follow the work of those organisations included in the pilot study over a period of three years in order to establish a better picture of this kind of work in general and the benefits of this approach in particular.

Who Benefits?

First and foremost we hope that the migrants, who arrive to Europe in a desperate situation and in deep need of assistance, will benefit from a multi-faith approach to welcoming and integrating them since we hope that this approach is better. To quote an Iraqi migrant: “In Stockholm at the station I was met by volunteers with food and water. They asked where would I prefer to go, the mosque or the church? I said the church,” “It was a beautiful feeling. Back home Muslims are not allowed to go to churches. Some refugees came to the church just because they wanted to find out what it was like. They found people respected them, even though they were Christians and we were Muslims.”The welcome he received was overwhelming, Mohammad says. “Everyone was treated like a king at the church, I felt like a real human being for the first time in my life, I wasn’t used to it. They were really good people.” Faith organisations and governments will also benefit from this project.

How is your idea unique?

The multi-faith aspect of this research project is unique as this kind of cooperation is still in its infancy and hence research in that can aid this kind of work is essential. I work for the Winchester Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace, a research centre with a long-standing expertise in research focusing on religion and peacebuilding. The centre has a well established relationship with the European Council of Religious Leaders that are also a partner in this project. This organisation has unique links to faith communities throughout Europe and hence, they are in an excellent position to assist in and help promote this very important research project. The two researchers involved in this project Dr. Mark Owen who is also the director of the centre and Dr. Majbritt Lyck-Bowen have a proven ability to carry out research of an outstanding standard.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

We are Dr. Mark Owen and Dr. Majbritt Lyck-Bowen from the Winchester Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace, Hampshire, UK. See: Our partner is the European Council of Religious Leaders: We are going to carry out the research and set up the homepage. The European Council of Religious Leaders will assist us in identifying projects, disseminating the results of our research and in promoting the idea of multi-faith cooperation.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we are a formal initiative through a university.
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Attachments (2)

Policy Paper Final draft.docx

This policy paper is based on the results of the pilot study.

Brussels presentation add.pptx

This is a presentation of the result of our pilot project. See:

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk

Dear Majbritt,

You may be interested in my Refival initiative, which includes a multi faith inclusion component ( Do you see options to cooperate? My background is a business development one and I therefore focus on the D of R&D....... Refival is a business strategy and improves the quality of integration whilst saving/reallocating money.... In principle it can finance itself at self as soon as the proper policies are in place....

Best Regards,

Hans van Nieuwkerk
Budapest, Hungary