South African Archbishop Appointed to Global Body Advocating for Displaced People’s Rights

South Africa's Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, OMI/ Credit: Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC)

The Archbishop of South Africa’s Archdiocese of Johannesburg has been appointed as a member of the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders that seeks to address the root causes of conflict and displacement in the world.

According to a Tuesday, April 20 report obtained by ACI Africa, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale was appointed to the Council by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), one of the founding bodies of the entity.

The Archbishop, a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), accepted the appointment during the virtual inaugural meeting of the Council members held on April 13, Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini says in the report.

During the meeting, the pioneer Council members “made individual commitments in the promotion of peace, and expressed their commitment of support to the forcibly displaced people in their respective countries and regions,” the report published by Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) indicates.

"If religious leaders use their platforms to promote language that supports protecting, welcoming and integrating, it will raise awareness in communities of the moral obligation to welcome and protect,” Archbishop Tlhagale is quoted as saying during the meeting.


The 73-year-old South African Archbishop who is the Liaison Prelate for Migrants and Refugees at the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) “is very positive of this initiative and counts on the support and commitment of all stakeholders from the Southern African Region to make a difference to the lives of many refugees and displaced person,” the report further notes.

Established on 14 September 2020, the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders is an initiative of UNHCR in partnership with Religions for Peace, a global, multi-religious movement representing over 90 of the world’s faith institutions and traditions.

The over 20 Council members jointly identified by the leadership of both UNHCR and Religion for Peace will be expected to strengthen efforts to address the root causes of conflict and displacement, and to support peacebuilding, inclusion and reconciliation efforts.

“Members will have a demonstrated record of serving as strong advocates for conflict prevention, reconciliation and peacebuilding in challenging humanitarian as well as forced displacement contexts,” UNHCR officials said in their 14 September 2020 report announcing the establishment of the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders.

The report further indicates that the Council’s members who are expected to serve for a three-year term leading up to the 2023 Global Refugee Forum “will have experience in building a culture of peace that protects the most vulnerable, especially those at risk of gender-based violence.” 

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According to the leadership of UNHCR, the Council’s objectives “include generating multi-religious advocacy and synergizing efforts to support forcibly displaced and stateless people at global, regional and national levels.”

Statistics from the refugee agency indicate that by mid-2020, there were over 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world.

“The human and economic cost requires a more collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach, engaging all sectors of society,” the leadership of the UN body says in the report referencing the global statistics of forcibly displaced people.

The formation of the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders is in response to the Global Compact on Refugees, which was affirmed by the UN General Assembly in December 2018.

The Global Compact on Refugees recognizes that “faith-based actors are important contributors to good relations and peaceful co-existence ... They are critical in serving and advocating for refugees and internally displaced people, as well as their host communities,” UNHCR officials say in the September 2020 report.


“Faith leaders have much to contribute in the efforts to tackle today’s global humanitarian and displacement challenges,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi was quoted as saying in the report.

He added, “This Council will now provide us with a global, multi-religious platform to engage with faith leaders in support of those forcibly displaced and their host communities.”

On her part, the Secretary General of Religions for Peace, Azza Karam, said that the Council “will strengthen the shared commitment and intentionality of UNHCR and multi-religious institutions collaboration, fostering systematic inclusion of refugees and migrants in all societies, and advocating for their concerns within and across all communities.”