This Workshop was convened at the Refugee Hosts International Conference on the 25th October 2019, from 14.15 -15:45

Chairs and Facilitators: Prof Alastair Ager (Refugee Hosts – Queen Margaret University) and Dr Anna Rowlands (Refugee Hosts – Durham University)

Dr Olivia Wilkinson (Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities)

Atallah Fitzgibbon (Islamic Relief Worldwide)

Fernando Espada (Save the Children UK -Humanitarian Affairs Team)


You can watch the live stream video of this workshop and access presentation slides below :



Access Prof. Alastair Ager and Dr. Anna Rowland’s presentations slides, here.

Access Atallah Fitzgibbon’s slides, here.

This workshop session drew upon – and sought to extend – insights from material that Professor Alastair Ager and Dr Anna Rowlands have used to formulate a Religious Literacy Handbook on refugee hosting in local communities, as an output from our Refugee Hosts research. The workshop presented research findings from our interviews with the representatives and members of Faith Based Organisations, Non Governmental Organisations and local communities, integrated with the findings and case studies from similar recent projects.

Panellists contributing to the workshop prepared short responses to the findings of the research and presented their own case studies relating to faith and local community responses to refugees. This session principally drew on the Middle East focused work that we have undertaken through the Refugee Hosts project, but also on a wider range of global perspectives.

Biographies and links to presentation abstracts can be found below, in addition to a recommending reading and listening list, including blog posts and appearances on the radio by panelists:

Prof Alastair Ager (Refugee Hosts – Queen Margaret University)

Alastair Ager is Director of the Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh and Professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. He has worked in the field of health and development for over 30 years, after training in psychology at the universities of Keele, Wales and Birmingham. He has worked as Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Malawi; Senior Research Manager for health and education research with the UK Department for International Development; and Executive Director of the Global Health Initiative and Director of the DrPH in Leadership in Global Health and Humanitarian Systems at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. He has worked as a consultant with a broad range of agencies including UNICEF, UNHCR, WHO, Save the Children, World Vision and ChildFund International.

Alastair is active in five major areas of research: the engagement of local faith communities in humanitarian response (in collaboration with the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities and a range of faith-based, secular and academic partners); the evaluation of humanitarian programming (particularly with regard to protection and psychosocial support of refugee children); health systems resilience in contexts of crisis (especially through work in northern Nigeria and the Middle East); the adjustment and well-being of humanitarian workers (in collaboration with the Antares Foundation); and health research capacity strengthening. His work is currently funded by DFID, the Wellcome Trust, the US National Institutes of Health, the ESRC and the AHRC.

He is author of over one hundred scholarly publications including papers in Science, The Lancet, the British Medical Journal, Social Science and Medicine, Health Policy and Planning and the Journal of Refugee Studies and the book Faith, Secularism and Humanitarian Engagement (Palgrave, 2015), co-authored with his son, Joey Ager.

Dr Anna Rowlands (Refugee Hosts – Durham University) 

Dr Anna Rowlands is a Political Theologian with a background in the social sciences as well as theology. She is Lecturer in Contemporary Catholic Theology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Catholic Studies in the Dept of Theology and Religion, Durham University, UK. She has worked in the area of theological ethics and human migration for nearly a decade, working in particular on questions of European policy, immigration detention and narratives of the good. She is the co-author of a comparative piece on Christian and Islamic traditions of thought on migration, and has researched and written on community based responses to migration in a UK setting. She is an editor of T&T Clark Reader in Political Theology (2016) and Anglican Social Theology (2014), and the author of the monograph Catholic Social Teaching: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury: 2017). She works with a number of UK faith-based organisations in the field of migration and development work. She has additional research interests in the work of Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil and Gillian Rose (on whom she completed her PhD research). Her interests lie at the intersection of theological metaphysics and ethics, political theory, the practice of the church and the practice of politics. She also has a long term commitment to working as a community organiser.

Fernando Espada (Save the Children UK – Humanitarian Affairs Team)

Fernando Espada is Head of Humanitarian Affairs at Save the Children UK and an editor of the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs. With almost two decades of experience in non-profit organisations, he was Senior Research and Policy Associate at DARA and Deputy Director of the think-tank FRIDE. Fernando is co-author of The Echo Chamber: Results, Management and the Humanitarian Effectiveness Agenda, editor of Essays on Humanitarian Effectiveness, and co-author of OCHA’s report Saving Lives Today and Tomorrow: Managing the Risk of Humanitarian Crises. Fernando has conducted research about humanitarian crises and responses in countries such as the Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Haiti, Liberia, Pakistan or Yemen.

Dr Olivia Wilkinson (Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities)

Dr Olivia Wilkinson is the Director of Research for the Joint Learning Initiative, and a research consultant working on issues of religion and culture in humanitarian and development work. She is a graduate of the University of Cambridge (Theology and Religious Studies), UniversitéCatholique de Louvain (NOHA Masters in International Humanitarian Action), and her PhD research was at Trinity College Dublin on secular organisations and local faith communities in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan.

Atallah Fitzgibbon (Islamic Relief Worldwide)

After 12 years of working in the voluntary and public sector in the UK followed by 24 years experience in humanitarian aid work, Atallah has worked at senior management and director level managing international programmes, spearheading organisational and performance improvement and leading on strategy and policy development. At Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) Atallah has worked as Programmes Director, Performance Improvement Manager, Head of Policy & Strategy and Global Advocacy manage.  He is currently leading IRW’s engagement and partnerships on faith-based approaches to tackling the major challenges of our time.

Atallah has led the development of Islamic Relief’s last two global strategies between 2009-21, which has involved leading on the drive to improve faith literacy and localisation within IRW’s work and the development of IRW’s conceptual framework and theory of change on human development. As Global Advocacy Manager Atallah focussed heavily on refugee protection, and co-chair’s the JLI Learning Hub on Forced Migration.  As Co-chair Atallah has been active in recent initiatives and research that has focused on the role of faith-based actors in refugee protection and is active both in the World of Neighbours initiative in Europe as well as KAICID’s Network for Dialogue which explores the role of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue for the social inclusion of migrants and people seeking refuge in Europe

Recommended reading list:

Ager, A. (2019) Research impact and policy influence: On bricks and visions. 

Carpi, E.  (2018) Does faith-based aid provision always localise aid?

Eghdamian, K. (2018) How to overcome religious prejudice among refugees

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Employment and pension rights in the context of the localisation of aid agenda.

Goodwin, E. (2019)  Engaging with religion at the local level for Mental Health and Psychosocial Well-Being following humanitarian crises

Harsch, L. (2019) Soundscape: Faith Communities in Hamra

Lauterbach, K. (2019) ‘A Refugee Pastor in a Refugee Church’ – Hybrid Forms of Faith-Based Hosting in Kampala, Uganda

Rayes, D. (2018) In God We Trust: Faith communities as an asset to refugee youth in the United States

Rowlands, A. (2018) Faith and Displacement: Introducing the Series

Schmidt, K. (2019) Developmentalising humanitarian space:  Questioning the value of development approaches to protracted displacement. 

Taylor, K. (2018) Belgian Refugees in Glasgow: Local Faith Communities, Hosting and the Great War 


Or you can listen to Prof Lyndsey Stonebridge and Dr Anna Rowlands discussing more on these themes, here.