The Istanbul Agreements

Oct 27 2015

Every day the churches are taking a clear position on the issue of migrant, justice and solidarity.
It is ironic that the country that identify themselves as the last for the defense of an catholic Europe,
like Hungary and now Poland, are the ones who are more xenophobia and selfish..here the last
declaration from the protestant churches on migrants.

Forced Migration: Pain and Tragedy, Challenges and Responsibilities

The Istanbul Agreements of Churches Witnessing With Migrants (CWWM)

Istanbul, Turkey, 10-11 October 2015

The picture of three-year old Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, face down and lifeless on the shore
after trying to cross to Greece, has been making the rounds of alternative and mainstream
media. It moved people, as it must. It called for change, as it should…Let the tragic pictures
of the death of children not only break our hearts, but also the walls of exclusion and
inhumane migration and refugee policies that do not respect the fundamental rights of
people already forcibly displaced by economic want and wars.
{Eni Lestari, Chairperson, International Migrants Alliance}

Pain and tragedy

1. We are gripped by the horror of suffering and deaths of thousands of human beings
brought about by forced migration and massive displacements occurring in many places
around the world. Such forced migration of peoples stare us in the face. We see this in the
ongoing massive dispersal, displacement and dislocation of peoples across the
Mediterranean, from and within Africa and the Middle East and into Europe, with many of
them braving the elements along great distances, dangerous seas and fortified borders. The
thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing into the US from the Mexican border is
another appalling situation too vivid and horrific to ignore. Equally appalling is the fate of
the Rohingyas of Myanmar and out of Bangladesh whose massive migration by sea have
met largely unwelcoming gestures in the Southeast Asian region. There is also the abuse and
violence against migrants and human beings in various situations of trafficking—a modernday
slavery so abominable that we must eradicate. The pain and tragedy arising out of these
conditions pose challenges and obligations we must fully consider and take to heart.

2. The great loss of human lives and the massive dislocation of populations from their
homes, livelihoods and circles of familiarity are truly painful and tragic. But pain and tragedy
are not going to immobilize and paralyze us. We bear a common responsibility to stop
forced migration as peoples of one planet acting beyond our national allegiances, and
without fear and prejudices. And respond we will, as we already have and are doing. The
urgency of the situation demands the continuation of our acts of mercy, relief and
compassion, even as the tragedy of forced migration compels us to work intentionally on
acts of justice that take into account the historic roots, systemic causes and contemporary
challenges of forced migration.

3. Acts of mercy for migrants and refugees involve the provision of humanitarian services
and necessities like food, shelter, clothing, medical care, psychosocial support and the like.
Acts of justice involve, among others, the advocacy for structural change and systemic
transformation. At the nexus of acts of mercy and justice are acts of solidarity and
accompaniment that make available platforms for migrants and refugees to raise their own
critical voices and decide for themselves how to protect their human dignity and assert their
human rights, and in this context, how to break the walls and prison bars that restrict
freedom of movement.

From New York and Stockholm, to Istanbul

4. We issue this statement, henceforth called the “Istanbul Agreements”, from our sixth
CWWM international consultation assembled in Istanbul, Turkey, on 10-11 October 2015.
CWWM is an international platform for advocacy and forthright action focused on global
migration, particularly forced migration in all its forms. We are organized as a tripartite body
of equals that includes migrants and representatives of migrant-serving and faith-based
organizations from various faith traditions. In our practice of a tripartite arrangement, we
have come to value working together and inclusively on acts of mercy, accompaniment and

5. The “Istanbul Agreements” supplements two CWWM framework documents that include
“The Intersections of Migration, Human Rights and Development Justice: CWWM
Advocacy Paper” (New York, 2013) and “The Stockholm Affirmations: Deepening and
Broadening Advocacy” (Stockholm, 2014). These three documents represent CWWM’s
understanding and critical analyses of forced migration, the forms of advocacy and action
required to address the wanton disregard for human dignity and rampant violations of
human rights that ensue from forced migration, and the crucial work involved in addressing
the historic and systemic roots of today’s forced migration. Together, the CWWM
documents address outrages to the well-being of peoples and the planet by greed,
exploitation and resource extraction. Collectively, they propound a discourse and practice of
development justice whose pillars include redistributive, economic, social, and
environmental justice, and accountability to people.

6. In New York (2013), we asserted that the magnitude of neoliberal globalization, and the
deepening structural inequalities within countries and between countries and regions, have
unduly privileged profit, greed and unsustainable development practices, including the
commodification of human beings and the commoditization of their labor and services. In
Stockholm (2014), we affirmed that it is not possible to understand the realities of forced
migration without understanding the intersectionalities of racialized, gendered, sexualized,
and securitized migration. New York underscored the crucial role of human rights and the
centrality of the personhood of migrants (notion of being). Stockholm affirmed that
migrants, their being and their labor, cannot be commodified and commoditized; they must
decide for themselves their lives and labors, and freely determine their destinies (notion of
becoming). In Istanbul (2015), we gave time to understand the nexus, but also wide swath,
between public policy formulation, legislation and implementation on one hand, and the
engagement of migrants themselves as deciders of their lives, labors, and destinies on the
other hand. Even as migrants, refugees and asylum seekers negotiate the ambiguities and
formalities of public policy formulation and legal and judicial systems, they also forge
identities so as to claim their dignity, they struggle so as to protect their human rights, and
they organize so as to forge associations and circles of familiarity that are meaningful and
sustain them in their struggles (notion of belonging).

7. In Istanbul, we agreed that the just, durable and sustainable solution to forced migration
involves sustainable development that prioritizes the rights of peoples, protects their
environment, and promotes democratic space at all levels of participation and governance,
which in turn prospers sustainable peace. This form of sustainable development focuses on
freeing peoples from poverty and hunger and protecting the planet from development
aggression, global and structural inequalities, and neocolonial plunder and exploitation,
including extractive practices and policies. This is development that truly eliminates the
reason for forced migration and massive displacements.

8. At CWWM, our public policy involvements, our advocacies, and our solidarities need to be
intentional about focusing on the actual, material, concrete, sensuous human bodies of
human beings and how such bodies respond to the violations of their dignity and the
exploitation of their labor and services as they negotiate the workings of market and capital.
Hence, the Istanbul consultation examined the metaphors of the body and the “body
politic” to understand more fully the dynamics of “global capitalism” and its consequences.
This difficult but needed discourse provided the opening for how to ground and orient our
understanding of migration, immigration, and emigration, but also, and perhaps more
important, to strengthen our resistance to the objectification, reification, and
commodification of human beings and nature arising out of the estrangement intrinsic to
the dynamics of capitalism’s relations of production, reproduction, and representation.
Realities and challenges

9. And yet, we were made painfully aware that migrants and their advocacies for their
immediate welfare and struggles for social justice are being challenged, even ignored.
Increasingly, nation-states are using the phantoms of jobs scarcity and dwindling resources
to justify clamping down on refugee and migration flows, and the reduction, if not abolition
all together, of various forms of social safety nets and public services. As economic and
other crises rage with so-called sluggish economic recovery, refugees and migrants are
being used as convenient scapegoats, blurring, if not totally skipping over, the reality that
skewed economic policies and the lack of political will and the courage to forge human
solidarity beyond national allegiances are at the root of the problems related to forced

10. The same neoliberal-driven economics that uphold labor export is forcibly driving
millions of people from their homelands who are seeking a safer and more secure life, if not
for them, also for their families. Extreme poverty and unemployment, global economic
exploitation, militarization, environmental degradation, resource grabs, longstanding wars
and conflicts in many countries and regions, and political and religious persecution, severally
or collectively have resulted in a combination of internal displacements and forced
migration of hundreds of thousands of peoples from their countries and across lands,
borders and dangerous seas. In their wake are migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and a
variety of human trafficking conditions (sex, child, labor, drugs, and human organs) and
various forms of sexual and gender violence. Climate change that has resulted into
environmental degradation is reshaping our planet that is home to diverse species and
humanity itself, and producing what we call today as climate refugees.

11. As CWWM, we reiterate again that all human rights are migrant rights; that human
dignity is inalienable and indivisible. It bears repeating in this moment of urgency that this
current massive dispersal, displacement, and dislocation of peoples has clear, although
complex, historical roots of injustices brought about by slavery, colonialism and racism even
as neoliberal globalization exhibits contemporary forms of economic exploitation, political
oppression, cultural subjugation, and intervention and occupation by enriched and powerful
countries that we must confront.

12. Among several issues we discussed included, among others, the following: 1) the
massive migration across the Mediterranean, from Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa
(Syrians, Somalis, Afghans, Eritreans) of peoples fleeing brutal dictatorships, political and
sectarian repression, extremist violence and ethnic and/or religious cleansing, arriving on
the shores of Europe, if they survived drowning at sea; 2) the decades of migration of some
seven million Palestinians living as refugees within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and
into neighboring host countries [Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria] resulting
from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, demonstrates how forced migration also
happens within the same region and has long term impacts on host countries; 3) two cases
of various forms of violence and physical abuse against domestic workers from Indonesia
and the Philippines, illustrating the success of organized global solidarity and action; 4) two
cases of human trafficking, one from Cameroon into the United States and another from the
Philippines to Canada, both cases demonstrating the importance of perseverance in running
after human traffickers and the necessity of community support in fighting against human
trafficking especially in the courts; 5) the gender dimensions and concerns of the invisible
African women hidden away in crammed housing in Italy’s Lampedusa, especially cases
involving women and girls who are brutalized, raped, trafficked for sex, and enslaved as
domestic labor and how national policies are reinforcing such practices; and 6) the Lumads,
indigenous peoples of Mindanao, southern Philippines, who have been internally displaced
in different parts of the Philippines after fleeing from escalating militarization and violence,
rape and harassment by mining and other business interests in their ancestral domains, and
from attacks on their schools and communities, that have also led to extrajudicial killings of
their peoples and leaders.

13. We realized that in situations of forced movement and displacement of peoples, human
security and human rights are also compromised. The situation in Europe is a case in point.
Even more so than previously, forced migration is challenging the migration policies of
migrant-origin and migrant-destination countries. The closure of borders and heightened
restrictions in the entry of foreign nationals—be they migrants displaced by economic
hardships, or refugees and asylum seekers fleeing from wars and political strife and religious
persecution—are slowly creeping not only into Europe but also in other destination
countries of many who are forcibly displaced from countries of birth or transit. The United
Nations has proclaimed the European migration crisis a global threat. For the European
Union (EU), it is primarily a regional unity and security issue. But this unity and security are
now fractured by national policies that are fueled by statist, populist, xenophobic and
discriminatory ideologies and practices that threaten national and regional, if not, global
peace and security. In turn, some European countries are devolving into fortress states,
threatening if not deploying police and military action against those who seek to cross their
borders and those who aid them, emphasizing that border crossings are potential security

14. While the migration crisis has led to considerable challenges in countries affected by it,
we underline that in cases like Europe, it is a crisis which is manageable for a regional
community which has the size and wealth of EU. At the same time we call on public
authorities and all stakeholders to acknowledge and put into practice the rights which
migrants, refugees and asylum seekers already have under domestic, regional (EU and
African Union) and international laws. We believe that in order to solve the crisis, we must
not do any more harm and avoid the unnecessary loss of lives. A new system of safe and
legal passage must be put in place, including provisions about resettlement, family
unification, humanitarian visas, and suspension of visa obligations.

Responsibilities and tasks ahead

15. Our understanding of forced migration, and the responsibilities and obligations to
address it, were informed by the stories, narratives and expertise shared by our participants
representing themselves and organizations from and based in regions and countries,
including Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, El
Salvador, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Indonesia, Italy, Lebanon, Nepal, Netherlands,
Norway, Philippines, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United
States of America, and Zimbabwe.

16. The Istanbul consultation directed us to develop strategies, mechanisms and protocols
on how to respond to urgent life and death situations facing migrants, their families and
communities, while continuing public policy advocacy and organizing at all levels to achieve
the longer term struggle for social justice. We will be sure to undergird the intersections of
migration, human rights, and development justice, moving beyond protection towards
recovery, restoration and transformation of migrant’s lives and well-being. This includes
commitment to truly eliminate hunger and eradicate poverty for all, by achieving food and
jobs security, among others. It is in this light that we will engage critically with local,
national, regional, international, governmental, nongovernmental, intergovernmental, and
multilateral groups and mechanisms, including the United Nations and its related bodies, to
work for the welfare and human rights of migrants and their families and communities. The
same manner of engagement will include the processes and mechanisms to implement and
realize all internationally agreed development goals, including the newly agreed Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) and its 17 goals and 169 targets, acknowledging how fragile and
threatened are the political will and promises, and the economic and political
infrastructures, which undergird them. It is in this context that our engagement with the
Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and its voluntary, inter-governmental,
non-binding and informal consultative process may be assessed. The CWWM met in Istanbul
prior to the 8th annual meeting of GFMD and a few of our participants attended its Civil
Society Days. While we welcome the GFMD giving increased attention to forced migration,
we reiterate our opposition to any policy that consigns migrants to tools for development,
where their bodies and services are treated as pure commodities to be managed and traded
in the marketplace.

17. In Istanbul, we also celebrated the many forms of solidarious acts of accompaniment,
empowerment and capacity building rendered by our faith bodies, together with grassroots
and nongovernmental organizations. Christians and their churches, and other faith
traditions across Europe, have played essential parts in rendering an inclusive welcome and
radical hospitality to newly arrived migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Remarkable
work is being done especially in frontline countries like Italy and Greece, where there is
advocacy within Europe for the adoption of models of action, including the declaration of
“humanitarian corridors” and “channels” for safe passage or issuing “humanitarian visa”
based, for example, on EU Visa code, for those who need and deserve immediate
humanitarian protection. Faith bodies and civic organizations in countries like Austria,
France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Turkey, have acted with compassion to the
migration crisis, opening doors to those in need and planning for sustainable and just
resettlement. We celebrated and expressed solidarity with the churches and ecumenical
bodies in focal points such as Lampedusa, Lesbos, Ceuta, and in the Hungarian borders that
have granted assistance to and solidarity with migrants. Their work and ministries on all
sides of the Mediterranean—Africa, Europe and the Middle East—is longstanding and
therefore not new. What is new that led to the recent dimension of emergency in Europe is
the heightened and offensive rejection of migrants and the hermetic closure of its borders.

The demonstration of shared responsibility and obligation by many peoples and
communities is testament to the actual living out of radical hospitality and inclusive
community in our world. We resolved in Istanbul to share as many of our stories and
narratives, singly and collectively, utilizing many forms of communication tools, to tell of the
great, albeit daunting, tasks being done and are lying yet ahead.

18. For the worldwide ecumenical and faith traditions, we are challenged even more to
speak prophetically. For the global grassroots movement of migrants and refugees,
including survivors of human trafficking, gender-based violence, and religious and political
persecution, we are challenged to vigilantly reclaim our human rights and speak with
forthright determination of our struggles and hopes in our places of work, countries of
transit and destination, and communities of belonging. We will no longer allow ourselves to
be defined by our stations and status in life as migrants and refugees except by our common
and inalienable dignity and indivisible human rights as human beings.

19. For the faith-based institutions in the CWWM, this moment is about God’s order of
justice and peace, and a summons to our faith and resources in the service of God’s people,
not the least the migrants. For all of us at CWWM, this moment is about the cry, call, and
struggle of the people called migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, survivors of human
trafficking, and their movements for justice, peace and sustainability. We claim our
responsibility to respond with duty and obligation, even as we realize that religious
institutions and social movements—including their structures, efforts, mechanisms and
processes—remain largely inadequate in responding to such a moment and struggle. We
pray we will seize the moment, grasp the tasks ahead, and all rise to the occasion.

20. What we already do to address forced migration and massive displacements must be
heightened and sustained. Together, we reaffirmed the collective work we do through
CWWM and resolved to improve upon the structure, network and resources that make this
joint work possible. For the church and the ecumenical communities, we must make visible
God’s justice and accompaniment in the struggles and hopes of the displaced, dislocated
and dispersed. For the migrants and refugees, we must persevere in organizing our ranks
and reclaiming our dignity and asserting our human rights. For everyone, celebrating
strength in our unity and solidarity to establish just, peaceable, durable and sustainable
communities for all gives us the fortitude and courage to forge ahead.
The time to act decisively is long overdue and cannot be delayed.

For more information about Churches Witnessing With Migrants, visit:


(Organizations and associations are listed only for attribution and identification and not
necessarily an indication of official representation)
Talvikki Ahonen, Finnish Ecumenical Council (Finland)
Rev. Ursula August, Lutheran Church in Turkey (Germany/Turkey)
Rev. Liberato C. Bautista, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist
Church (Philippines/USA)
Rev. Marta Benavides, Servicios Ecumenicos para Reconciliacion y Reconstruccion | Siglo
XXIII (El Salvador)
Ramon Mari D. Bultron, Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (Philippines, Hong Kong SAR)
Evelyn Chumbow, National Survivor Network | ATEST (Cameroon/USA)
Joanna Concepcion, Filipino Migrant Center, Long Beach, California (Philippines/USA)
Monica Emiru Enyou, National Association of Women’s Organizations in Uganda (Uganda)
Prof. Hsia, Hsiao-Chuan, TransAsia Sisters Association (Taiwan)
Santha Fernando, National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka)
Tamar Karasu, Bible Society in Turkey (Turkey)
Anisur Rahman Khan, IMA Research Foundation (Bangladesh)
Aysu Kirac, Hayata Destek/Support to Life, (Turkey)
Dalia Lakiss, World Student Christian Federation-Middle East (Lebanon)
Eni Lestari Andayani Adi, International Migrants Alliance (Indonesia/Hong Kong SAR)
Rev. Alejandra Gabriela Lio, Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (Argentina/Italy)
Rev. Stuart Lyster, St. Stephen’s United Church (East Delta, British Columbia), United Church
of Canada (Canada)
Jimarie Snap T. Mabanta, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (Philippines)
Rev. Tsaurayi Mapfeka, General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church
Dr. Ida Magdalena Molina Riofrio, Independent Consultant (Ecuador)
Dr. Torsten Moritz, The Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, Belgium
Dr. Michael Nausner, Reutlingen School of Theology (Austria/Sweden/Germany)
Dr. Stefan Rother, University of Freiburg (Germany)
Rev. Eilert Rostrup, Karibu Foundation (Norway)
Rev. Dr. Lester Edwin J. Ruiz, Association of Theological Schools in the United States and
Canada (Philippines/USA)
Rita Anastacio Sadorra, Migrante International (Philippines)
Roberto Savio, Other News | Founder, Inter Press Service (Argentina/Italy)
Dr. Lia Dong Shimada, Susanna Wesley Foundation/University of Roehampton (United
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, Association of Indonesia Migrant Workers (Indonesia)
Malick Sy, Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs du Sénégal (Senegal)
Mervin Sol H. Toquero, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (Philippines)
?erife Ceren Uysal, Ça?da? Hukukçular Derne?i Genel Merkezi / Progressive Lawyers
Association (Turkey)
Hellen Grace Akwii-Wangusa, National Association of Women’s Organization in Uganda
Sophia Wirsching, Brot fur die Welt | Bread for the World (Germany)
Christian Wolff, DanChurchAid (Denmark/Germany/Nepal)


Rev. Liberato C. Bautista (General Board of Church and Society of
The United Methodist Church), LBautista@umc-gbcs.org
Ramon Bultron (Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants), rbultron@gmail.com
Tabitha Kentaro Sabiiti (All Africa Conference of Churches), tabitha@aacc-ceta.org
Rev. Milton Mejia (Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias), miltonmej@gmail.com
Doris Peschke | Dr. Torsten Moritz (The Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe)
Rita Anastacio Sadorra (Migrante International), rina.anastacio@gmail.com
Asfaw Semegnish (World Council of Churches), Semegnish.Asfaw@wcc-coe.org
Mervin Sol H. Toquero | Jimarie Snap Mabanta
(National Council of Churches in the Philippines)
Sophia Wirsching (Brot fur die Welt), sophia.wirsching@brot-fuer-die-welt.de
Secretariat: cwwm2013@gmail.com

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