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A Moment to Choose: Risking to be with Uprooted People
Statement issued by the
WCC Central Committee in 1995

The urgency of the global situation of refugees, displaced persons and migrants led the Central Committee to adopt unanimously this far-reaching "Statement on Uprooted People" on September 22, 1995. The statement challenges churches worldwide to address uprooted people as a major crisis of our time, and to take bold actions to become the church of the stranger by welcoming and standing with refugees, migrants and other displaced people.

To encourage new and visible action, the Central Committee also called for marking 1997 as the "Ecumenical year for churches in solidarity with the uprooted."

This document sets new terms of reference by defining as "uprooted people" all those who are forced to leave their homelands for political, environmental and economic causes.

Among a number of new concepts included, the statement proposes a major extension of human rights and responsibilities in asserting that people have a right to remain in their homelands, in safety and dignity.

Extensive Consultation
The statement emerged out of an unusually extensive process of consultation and dialogue over the previous 15 months with member churches and related agencies around the world. More than a document drafted by experts, it represents a compilation of the concerns contributed in writing by nearly 100 national and international church bodies in every region of the world. Many of these elaborated their submissions by conducting consultations with their constituents.

A "reference group" made up of church-related experts drawn from six different regions of the world served as the editorial body to assist the Central Committee in drafting the declaration.

The statement is directed to churches, to encourage their full engagement in ministry to uprooted people. It is when churches are fully engaged that their witness and advocacy is credible and effective.

In a resolution accompanying adoption of the statement, the Central Committee called on member churches and related agencies:

  • "to study, affirm and adopt the Central Committee statement;
  • to manifest the commitment of the churches to be on the side of uprooted people by witnessing and serving at all levels of the life of the churches;
  • to indicate how the WCC and ecumenical family can support them in the implementation of the statement;
  • to submit a progress report to the General Secretary by mid-1997 on actions taken."
  • To suggest an initial global campaign around which to mobilize common church action, the Central Committee called for churches "to take immediate action to ensure the safety and reintegration of returnees and internally displaced persons by collecting signatures through local congregations to protest the manufacture of anti-personnel mines."

    We will be pleased to provide further information on the issues and activities outlined in this statement. A resource document prepared to accompany the statement provides extensive background information on the issues raised.

    Rev. Myra Blyth
    Programme Unit IV "Sharing and Service"


    On every continent, people are being torn from their homes by violence and despair. Millions of people have been displaced and wait for a chance to go home. As wars drag on, economies deteriorate and environments become more fragile, solutions for the uprooted are becoming more elusive. Governments in every region are closing their borders. Too many churches are also turning away from the strangers arriving on their doorsteps.

    Behind the massive global dimensions of today's uprooting are individual stories of pain, of families being torn apart, of despair and suffering. More than one in every fifty human beings is now a refugee or international migrant. Most are women, youth, and children. The vast majority leave countries in the South and remain in the South.

    People leave their communities for many reasons and are called by different names -- refugees, internally displaced, asylum-seekers, economic migrants. As churches, we lift up all those who are compelled by severe political, economic and social conditions to leave their land and their culture -- regardless of the labels they are given by others. Uprooted people are those forced to leave their communities: those who flee because of persecution and war, those who are forcibly displaced because of environmental devastation and those who are compelled to seek sustenance in a city or abroad because they cannot survive at home. The focus of this statement is on the uprooted, acknowledging that many others remain in extraordinarily difficult situations.

    Although it has accelerated in recent years, the movement of people has been a permanent feature of human history. The reality is that we all live in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual societies -- though sometimes we don't see the strangers as Christ among us. When churches close themselves to the strangers in their midst, when they no longer strive for an inclusive community as a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom to come, they lose their reason to be.

    We challenge the churches worldwide to rediscover their identity, their integrity and their vocation as the church of the stranger. Service to uprooted people has always been recognized as diaconia -- although it has been peripheral to the life of many churches. But we affirm that it is also an ecclesial matter. We are a church of the Stranger - the Church of Jesus Christ the Stranger. (Matthew 25:31-46)

    As government policies become more restrictive and public hostility against foreigners intensifies in every region, churches are challenged as never before to make a choice: will they choose to be the church of the stranger and take the side of the uprooted or will they choose to turn away or ignore the problem? Will they just refer questions about uprooted to their programme for refugees or will they be the expression of the universality of the Gospel and home to those who seek to claim their human dignity?

    Koinonia is costly and challenges us to risk the consequences of giving of ourselves for others. In some countries, to work with the uprooted is dangerous. In many places, to respond to the uprooted is not popular with local congregations who are concerned with the many pressing problems 'among our own people.' When we challenge the causes of injustice that uproot people, the church must be prepared to pay the price of confronting established powers and privilege.

    This statement is directed to churches. As a Christian household, we must acknowledge and confess our failings. And we must move on to conversion and renewal. The credibility of our witness and advocacy must be based on our experience and engagement as well as on our convictions.

    Uprooted people remind us that ours is an unjust world. The deterioration of social, political and human rights conditions makes it imperative that we confront the sinfulness of unjust systems and structures.


    The multiple causes of forced displacement:

    1. War, civil conflict, human rights violations, colonial domination and persecution for political, religious, ethnic or social reasons characterize every region and are major causes of forced human displacement today.

    Previously suppressed ethnic and national conflicts have exploded into open warfare over the past decade. Religion and ethnicity are used to uphold narrow nationalistic goals and divide pluralistic societies. Civilians are increasingly the victims of the violence -- due in part to the widespread availability of weapons and anti-personnel mines. Millions have been uprooted by the violence: 30 million are internally displaced within their countries' borders while another 19.5 million have become refugees in other countries.

    Violence directed at persons, communities and entire peoples often involves destruction of the social fabric, the economic infrastructure and the natural environments of nations. This destruction of community is the most dramatic cause for forced migration.

    In war and conflict situations sexual violence against women and girls becomes a strategy of warfare in which rape of women and girls is used to further political agendas, to humiliate men as well as women, and to displace and destroy community life.

    Widespread violations of human rights remain a powerful motivation for seeking asylum. In many countries, women, men and children are denied fair trial, tortured, abducted, and assassinated. Women and girls are often sexually abused and violated.

    The deliberate displacement of indigenous and colonized peoples in order to expropriate their lands and resources continues to be a brutal form of forced uprooting of people.

    2. Severe breakdown of economic and social conditions that once provided people with the means to survive in their traditional communities and in their own countries is accelerating the movement of people.

    Underlying this breakdown in conditions is the globalization of the world economy. This process continues to reproduce great and growing inequalities in wealth and incomes within and among countries. Emerging trade relations are working to the disadvantage of economically weaker countries.

    Major technological innovations are making production and services more "efficient" but contribute to jobless growth. Permanent unemployment is increasing in all regions, leading to increased marginalization, exclusion and movement of people. Capital intensive investment provides too few job opportunities for the growing number of working-age people.

    Burgeoning debt, coupled with externally imposed structural adjustment measures and restrictive fiscal policies are making it difficult for people to survive. At the same time many governments are divesting themselves of responsibility for social programmes. The choice by governments to reduce expenditures on social needs such as health and education while maintaining or expanding military spending contributes to impoverishment and, ultimately, to destabilization.

    The human impact of structural adjustment programmes is particularly evidenced by the rise in infant mortality and malnutrition, preventable diseases and illiteracy among the "developing" world's children. The major burden is placed on women -the main providers of food- who struggle to make ends meet to feed their families. More and more people have no option but to leave their communities in search of work and food.

    Some 10 million people are displaced each year as a result of intentional "development" schemes, which include flooding of large areas by dams and replacement of subsistence farming by mechanized agribusinesses.

    3. Environmental devastation has emerged as a powerful motivation for large-scale human displacement.

    Destruction of our natural environment - including deforestation, loss of top soil, desertification - and degradation of agricultural land beyond restoration are making traditional environments unlivable. Estimates indicate that today, there are 10 to 25 million people who have been displaced for environmental reasons.

    Manufacturing, testing and deployment of weaponry in both "peacetime" military exercises and in war have serious effects on the environment and make sustainable land use for agriculture and human survival impossible. Renewed nuclear testing continues to threaten survival of communities and produce permanent displacement of people.

    Rising sea levels and increased intensity of storms, cyclones, tidal waves and earthquakes forecast greater displacement in the near future. These anticipated results of global warming, if not arrested, will lead to the disappearance of island nations and other densely populated lowlands within the next decades.

    Depletion of natural resources, coupled with economic degradation not only forces people to leave their communities, but also contributes to conflicts over increasingly scarce resources.

    The turning away from uprooted people:
    As the numbers of uprooted people increase worldwide, the will to provide protection for them is declining sharply. Governments in all regions, led by those in countries of the industrialized North, are imposing restrictive immigration controls and draconian "deterrence measures" to prevent the arrival of asylum-seekers and migrants. As a result, people in need of protection for their lives and human rights are being formally excluded and stigmatized by governments.

    There is a global trend of turning away from taking responsibility to address both the causes and consequences of forced human displacement. While societies ultimately cannot cope with unlimited numbers of displaced people, too little attention and too few resources are directed to preventing and resolving the conditions which uproot people in the first place.

    In all regions of the globe, public solidarity with those fleeing violence and poverty is eroding. A dangerous rise in racist and xenophobic hostility is often expressed in violence against refugees and immigrants. They frequently become scapegoats for many social and economic tensions in society and targets for growing hatred.

    In many countries, the combination of public hostility and restrictive governmental measures is posing a threat to democratic values and jurisprudence. Measures proposed or implemented to control access by foreigners usually also restrict civil and human rights of citizens and residents.

    International legal standards are not upheld with regard to the particular needs of uprooted women and children for protection.

    Today, some religious leaders either avoid or choose not to take stands against community violence towards foreigners or "others". oo many religious institutions, including churches, remain indifferent. Too few congregations welcome or include newcomers of different racial, ethnic, national origins. Numerous churches and individual Christians remain associated with structures that exclude and oppress people.

    The human consequences of uprooting:
    For those uprooted from their communities, the loss of human dignity is an overpowering consequence of displacement, regardless of class or gender. This loss of dignity is often exacerbated by paternalistic attitudes on the part of those trying to help.

    Uprooted people experience multiple losses: of family, friends and community; of familiar spiritual, religious and cultural structures that nurture and define basic human identity; of social status; of property, employment and economic resources. They usually have to deal with many consequences of displacement all at once. For rural and indigenous people, loss of land results in loss of economic power, cultural and spiritual identity.

    Violence, rejection and racist hostility against uprooted people compound traumas of forced migration by restricting mobility, participation in society and the ability to obtain employment and services in places of transit or refuge. This violence and injustice is a part of the rising tide of racism and xenophobia world wide which determines the privilege and security for some but consigns others to insecurity and exclusion.

    The disruptions facing people fleeing persecution and warfare are especially severe. Women and children are the most affected. The threat and effects of sexual violence against uprooted women and girls violates their human dignity and integrity and undermines their participation in society. Their physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing is undermined.

    The organized trafficking of men, women and children is a renewed form of slavery, with the attendant destruction of the dignity and well-being of individuals and families.

    The forceful separation of children from family and community support systems makes them particularly vulnerable to threats to life and security. Interruption in education results in gaps of knowledge when children remain in refugee camps and in war or conflict situations. This has long term consequences for children and their societies.

    The violence and injustice which uproots people and the resultant human suffering challenge us to restate our convictions as the basis for Christian response.


    1. We affirm the sacredness of all human life and the sanctity of creation.

    "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth... and God saw it was good....So God created humankind in his image..." (Genesis 1)

    All people are made in the image of God. Respect for the human dignity and the worth of every person regardless of age, abilities, ethnicity, gender, class, nationality, race and religion is foundational to our faith. Our faith compels us to ensure that human life, physical security and personal safety are upheld in law and institutions.

    No society can live in peace with itself or with the world without a full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person and of the sacredness of human life.

    With the gift of the resources of the earth goes the responsibility to safeguard and nurture creation. When creation is not nurtured, people are displaced.

    Christians are encouraged by the prophetic tradition and by Revelation chapter 21 which gives us an image of a God who is continually "making all things new", and who summons us to participate in His work of renewal.

    2. The Biblical values of love, justice and peace compel us to renew Christian response to the marginalized and excluded.

    "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind' This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39)

    The realm of God is a vision of a just and united world. The challenge of prophesy and of Jesus' teachings is to liberate and equip Christians to have the courage to work for alternative community, to work for peace and justice which is to address the causes which uproot people.

    At the heart of Jesus teaching is the commandment to love God and to love one's neighbour as oneself. Christians are called to respond to the Good News of God's option for the marginalized and excluded. Jesus' love is unconditional. Jesus did not hesitate to pay the price of self-giving love.

    The prophet Micah (6:8) summons the faithful to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. There is no peace without justice nor full justice without peace. (Amos 5:24) Our faith compels us to struggle for justice and peace for all; to work for a world where economic, political and social institutions serve people rather than the other way around.

    In the jubilee tradition (Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 61:1-2), compassion is linked to recommitment to justice and peace. The jubilee is a new beginning, a starting point for a process of reconciliation and rebuilding community, giving birth to new hope.

    3. The Biblical challenge to build inclusive community requires us to accompany the uprooted in service and witness.

    So then you are no longer strangers and aliens in a foreign land, but fellow citizens with God's people, members of God's household. (Ephesians 2:19)

    Jesus himself was rejected by many of his own people, because he identified with the marginalized and excluded. The Gospel tell us that Jesus made the love for strangers and enemies a hallmark of the inclusive community of the children of God. In this, He followed the Old Testament tradition of receiving the stranger. (Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 24:14-19; Jeremiah 5-7)

    Christians are called to be with the oppressed, the persecuted, the marginalized and the excluded in their suffering, their struggles and their hopes. A ministry of accompaniment and advocacy with uprooted people upholds the principles of prophetic witness and service - diaconia. We cannot desert the "needy", nor set boundaries to compassion. (Hebrews 13:2, Luke 10:25-37, Romans 12:13)

    While God's people chose to sojourn to pursue their call to mission, service and promise, the faith journeys of people who suffer uprooting are a heritage of the whole church. As our understanding of God's love has been illustrated throughout the history of the church by Old Testament stories of exile, so too must the church today receive the word of God through the witness of uprooted people.

    Proclaiming the Gospel of hope for all people and remembering the communion in Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, churches live their vocation as viable and inclusive communities, accompanying people, sharing their hope and suffering, and providing space for them.

    Our Christian convictions compel a renewal of church action to uphold life and dignity, to work for justice and peace, and to create community with uprooted people.


    Action begins with self-critical review of the successes and failures and a renewal of churches' responses to uprooted people and the causes of their displacement. Renewal requires bringing theological and Biblical reflection on the causes of displacement and needs of uprooted people into the centre of the life of the church. Issues of uprooted people must be brought to policy and decision-making bodies and to groups which allocate resources. Church bodies and programmes addressing these concerns must be established or strengthened.

    The task is ecumenical and global. Churches must work together and in partnership with other sectors of civil society. Many different organizations are deeply engaged in solidarity with uprooted people; no one sector can respond alone to the systemic causes of uprooting.

    Seeking viable solutions to the causes and consequences of uprooted people means also to engage with governments. This requires that churches examine how they can maintain their convictions while negotiating compromise which is part of national and international policy debates.

    We challenge ourselves, the member churches of the World Council of Churches and related ecumenical organizations to join in campaigns to uphold life and dignity, promote justice and peace in our world, and accompany uprooted people.

    The actions which Christians and churches can take will vary across the different national and regional contexts and will differ according to the capacity of churches. We ask churches to support each other and work together.


    We challenge member churches to protect and promote respect for all uprooted people: refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants.

    A. Protecting Lives and Safety
  • Offer shelter or refuge for uprooted people.
  • Provide sponsorship for refugee settlement.
  • Extend sanctuary to people in danger.
  • Ensure protection of uprooted women and girls against all forms of violence.
  • Advocate for full legal protection of uprooted children and children in armed conflict.
  • Challenge government policies which seek to limit protection of uprooted people.
  • B. Defending Legal and Human Rights
  • Assist individuals and families to pursue legal procedures to claim asylum or safe haven.
  • Advocate at borders, airports,refugee camps where uprooted people are at risk of abuse.
  • Support migrants and displaced persons to claim their rights as human beings according to national and international standards.
  • Engage with governments to provide protection by using relevant international instruments.
  • Speak out, make declarations, and adopt resolutions to condemn and delegitimize violence against foreigners.
  • C. Promoting International Standards
  • Promote ratification and full implementation of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
  • Promote ratification and implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
  • Utilize the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in ministry and advocacy with uprooted children.
  • Participate in efforts to develop international and national mechanisms to provide protection for uprooted people --those internally displaced or who cannot be voluntarily repatriated-- not included under existing standards.

    We call on churches to take action to address the root causes of forced displacement.

    A. Studying the political, economic, social and environmental reasons for uprooting
  • Listen to and understand stories of uprooted people about the reasons they left and their hopes for return.
  • Examine the role of governments in creating situations which uproot people.
  • Assess the churches' possibilities to confront root causes.
  • B. Engaging fully in peacemaking and conflict resolution
  • Conduct education on peace and global responsibility in churches.
  • Work with trained practitioners of conflict resolution, mediation and negotiation to create safe social spaces for humanitarian relief, in refugee camps and for the reconstruction of civil society.
  • Establish "communities of peace".
  • Build alliances with community based groups, organizations, and trade unions active in human rights, economic justice, racial and ethnic justice and peace.
  • Advocate for responsible international action, particularly through th United Nations, to prevent and to resolve conflicts so as to enable people to stay or return to their home communities.
  • C. Working for Economic and Social Fullness of Life
  • Support local alternatives for economic self-reliance.
  • Promote respect for the rights and full participation of women as part of building viable communities.
  • Establish dialogue with environmental concerns groups and legal experts to consider ways of addressing environmental causes of displacement.
  • D. Promoting the right of people to remain in safety and dignity in their homeland
  • Urge that trade, aid and investment policies support creating sustainable conditions for people to remain.
  • Advocate for the rights of indigenous and colonized peoples to remain on or return to their lands.

    We call on churches to accompany uprooted people, by providing diaconal services, support and solidarity without discrimination.

    A. Accompanying uprooted people in decisions to remain, leave and return
  • Maintain an active presence with people who choose to remain in or leave their homeland.
  • Advocate and monitor the safety of return and reintegration in sustainable communities, including accompanying uprooted people back to their homelands and reporting on that process.
  • B. Providing services to respond to material, social and spiritual needs
  • Ensure the full participation of uprooted people in planning, implementation and evaluation of programmes and services and ecumenical initiatives.
  • Provide pastoral care and crisis intervention services to individuals and families.
  • Promote the availability of programmes meeting the specific needs of uprooted women, and empower their participation in community.
  • Advocate that children separated from their families remain in family-like situations.
  • Encourage the availability of programmes essential for the spiritual, emotional, physical and educational development of uprooted children.
  • Advocate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration and other international organizations for adequate provisions of material assistance and promotion of human dignity of uprooted people.
  • C. Supporting initiatives of uprooted people
  • Provide community development opportunities to
  • Empower individuals and organizations of uprooted people to define and respond to their own needs and issues.
  • Support uprooted people from different faiths to practice their religious beliefs.
  • Build alliances with organizations and communities of uprooted people.
  • D. Being Church Together with Uprooted Christians
  • Take the necessary steps to welcome and encourage uprooted Christians to participate fully in the life of the church - from the congregational level to national leadership.
  • Embrace the diversity of Christian traditions.
  • Facilitate uprooted Christian communities to re-establish their congregations.
  • Work with other churches in developing initiatives with uprooted people.
  • Receive the spiritual gifts of uprooted people.
  • E. Engaging in Living in Diversity
  • Convene and participate in encounters between host and uprooted people to break-down prejudices, fears and myths.
  • Organize campaigns to counter and prevent racism, xenophobia and hostility towards uprooted people.
  • Promote international exchanges of church personnel with and between regions.
  • F. Restoring Public Solidarity
  • Promote establishment of "Refugee Day/week" and/or "Migrant week" in churches, communities and countries.
  • Hold inter-faith dialogue and where possible, services and prayers.
  • Develop educational and awareness building activities on uprooted people for the whole life of the church.


    Even as many in our societies turn away or ignore the strangers in their midst, some Christians and some churches are choosing to be on the side of uprooted people. Some churches have identified themselves with strangers and exiles for centuries.

    Signs of hope are emerging in community and church initiatives around the world to create new ministries, new vehicles of ecumenical cooperation, and new ways of upholding human dignity and creating sustainable community:

  • In numerous risky situations, Christians and churches are taking stands to be on the side of the uprooted. Some have opened their church buildings and their homes to uprooted people.
  • A number of Christians and churches have assumed great risks by acting in civil disobedience to protect the uprooted.
  • Many churches and community groups are seeking to aid and protect those whose lives and safety are at risk because of forced repatriation or abuse.
  • Some churches are daring to confront the racism and xenophobia among their own membership.
  • Survival strategies of uprooted women and men point to their ability to resist assaults to their dignity and to mobilize themselves to address their concerns.

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