HIAS Launches The Welcome Initiative, Yearlong Refugee-Awareness Campaign

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, today launched The Welcome Initiative, a campaign to raise awareness around issues surrounding the treatment and welcome of refugees. Central to the campaign is the Affirmation of Welcome, a call to action to “welcome the stranger” through protection, communication, and understanding. In a series of simple yet powerful first-person affirmations, the document sets out principles to guide faith leaders in providing welcoming environments for refugees and displaced people, by promoting community understanding and tolerance and combatting xenophobia.

According to Mark Hetfield, President & CEO of HIAS:

“HIAS worked closely with eight other faith-based organizations to develop this powerful resource for faith leaders around the world to foster the meaningful welcome and support of refugees and other displaced people in their communities. We were honored that UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres recently shared his enthusiastic support for the Affirmation. We look forward to working with rabbis and other Jewish leaders across the country to bring this critical message of welcome to their communities and support those already reaching out to displaced people.”

With the launch of this yearlong campaign on June 20—which coincides with World Refugee Day 2013, first established in 2001 by the United Nations—HIAS will wage a vigorous multi-channel online drive to enlist Jewish clergy and their congregations to sign the Affirmation. In pledging to the Affirmation’s principles, the Jewish community will reaffirm its historical values and textual teachings and help raise awareness of the 42 million refugees and displaced persons in the world.

Of these, only 1 in 15 refugees can expect to go home within the decade, frequently languishing in refugee camps or urban settings without basic human rights and security. In addition, those who succeed in reaching countries of safety are frequently marginalized and treated with suspicion, rather than welcome. HIAS recently published a report, “Resettlement at Risk: Meeting Emergency Challenges to Refugee Resettlement in Local Communities,” which explores the recent rise in anti-refugee sentiment in three states. Funded by a special grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the report includes recommendations aimed at mitigating anti-refugee sentiment and strengthening the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, in which HIAS is a major participant.


HIAS’ Welcome Initiative was inspired by a December 2012 dialogue with faith leaders on the theme “Faith and Protection,” organized by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. As the High Commissioner noted in his opening remarks, “…all major religious value systems embrace humanity, caring and respect, and the tradition of granting protection to those in danger. The principles of modern refugee law have their oldest roots in these ancient texts and traditions.”

The Jewish delegation to the December Dialogue in Geneva included HIAS, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, and Rabbi Nava Hefetz of Rabbis for Human Rights in Jerusalem. Rabbis Telushkin and Hefetz put forth the idea of a "Code of Conduct for Clergy" to welcome the stranger, which evolved into "Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders" (the Affirmation of Welcome).

The High Commissioner embraced this recommendation and, in response to this call, from February through April 2013, a coalition of leading faith-based humanitarian organizations and academic institutions (including HIAS, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Jesuit Refugee Service, Lutheran World Federation, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Religions for Peace, University of Vienna Faculty of Roman Catholic Theology, World Council of Churches, World Evangelical Alliance, and World Vision International) drafted “Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders.” The Affirmations, which have been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Russian, and Spanish, inspire leaders of all faiths to “welcome the stranger” with dignity, respect, and loving support. Faith groups around the world will use the Affirmations and supporting resources as practical tools to foster support for refugees and other displaced people in their communities.

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