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UNHCR, Vimuttayalaya Foundation launch talks on Buddhism and Humanitarianism


A three-day retreat on Buddhism and Humanitarianism in Asia is taking place this week under the auspices of the UN Refugee Agency and the Vimuttayalaya Foundation. Held in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand, the 7-9 July event brings together some 200 Buddhist monks from countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Speakers include Dr Surin Pitsuwan, the former Secretary General of ASEAN; Sister Chan Kong, the first fully-ordained monastic disciple of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh; and Indrika Ratwatte, the incoming director of UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

Participants at the retreat will discuss the links between humanitarianism and engaged Buddhism, which seeks to connect Buddhist teachings to situations of injustice including those causing global displacement today. 


Monks pledge to deepen ties between Buddhism and humanitarian work

Buddhist monks from across Asia have pledged to continue to strengthen ties between Buddhism and humanitarian work, and to collaborate with humanitarian actors, to work towards bringing about peace, prosperity and compassion to the world.

The declaration was announced at the end of a three-day retreat in Chiang Rai titled “Buddhism and Humanitarianism in Asia”. Co-hosted by the UN Refugee Agency and the Vimuttayalaya Foundation in Thailand, the retreat brought together the Foundation’s vision of engaged Buddhism and UNHCR’s focus on the links between faith and protection. More than 500 participants’ including monks, academics, and students attended from 13 countries including  Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

 “All religions, at the highest level, teach the unity of humanity,” said Dr Surin Pitsuwan, the former Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and a practising Muslim, in his opening speech. “With a growing population and finite resources, we must ask how to protect and care for future generations.”

 Indrika Ratwatte, the incoming Director of UNHCR’s Asia and Pacific bureau, cautioned: “Religious beliefs must not be allowed to become a ground for persecution and a source of displacement. The shared values common to different religious traditions present a strong framework for promoting tolerance and openness towards people of other faiths.”

He further noted that faith-based organisations can play an important part in seeking solutions to refugee situations by promoting reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

With 250 million adherents in South East Asia, Buddhism is a primary religion in the region. Some of its central elements – empathy, compassion and non-discrimination – directly align with the mandate of UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations.  

The Chiang Rai retreat sought to explore the commonalities in the perspectives of Buddhists and humanitarians on four issues: Responding to natural disasters, overcoming armed/communal conflict, social empowerment and environmental sustainability.

In break-out sessions, the participants shared good practices from their own countries relating to such issues as the use social media as a platform for positive change, community led responses, and the role of faith-based organisations in humanitarian settings. Dynamic discussions surrounding armed and communal conflict highlighted the importance of building trust in order to improve cooperation between different actors. Discussions emphasized the desirability of translating Buddhist teachings into concrete local actions. It was agreed that prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable, including refugees, stateless persons, migrant workers and victims of national disasters and conflict is critical.

The President of the Vimuttayalaya Foundation, the Venerable V. Vajiramedhi, closed the retreat on Sunday with words of hope, observing that when people come together there are “many more hands to change the world.” He further encouraged participants to take actions that would allow this generation to be one of “compassion, love and sharing”. 

  • © UNHCR

  • © UNHCR

  • © UNHCR

Topics on the agenda range from responses to natural disasters, to overcoming armed conflict, promoting social empowerment and sustaining the environment. The discussions will be facilitated by entities including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the 3R Foundation.

The Venerable V. Vajiramedhi, President of the Vimuttayalaya Foundation and of the Buddhist Economics Foundation, will close the event on 9 July.

It is hoped that the retreat will lead to the development of a network of Buddhists interested in these issues and provide the foundation for a regional inter-faith conference on similar themes.


For more information, please contact:

Hannah Macdonald,, mobile: +66 64 223 6291

Thanas Jarulratanamedha,, mobile: +66 89 449 5724