Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees
At the beginning of Pope Francis’ message for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2018, the Pope cites Leviticus: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
Before dealing with the sensitive topic of the migration crisis, Francis reminds us where all our activity springs from: the Word of God. This word unequivocally reminds the Church, and our own consciences, of our sacred duties of hospitality and charity. A charity that shouldn’t be begged for, but freely given. A form of solidarity grounded in our common participation in the affairs of a world where all are welcomed as “guests and pilgrims”. All are outsiders in search of a place to settle – “every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers” (Epistle to Diognetus V, 5).
The fact that the Word of God introduces the Pope’s message isn’t a mere rhetorical formality. It’s the model for both our personal and community discernments. Holy Scripture helps us place things in the right order. It helps us reconsider the premises upon which our reasoning is founded, as well as the self-sustaining absolutes of our convictions. It isn’t a Word that’s there to be domesticated, but a provocation that calls us to spiritual conversion, renewed understanding and, at times, repentance.
The Pope’s Message revolves around four crucial verbs: “welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating”. The Church’s concern for “migrants, displaced people, refugees and victims of human trafficking”, says the Pope, “must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience – from departure through journey to arrival and return […] with generosity, promptness, wisdom and foresight, each according to their own abilities”.
Speaking about “welcoming” Francis reminds us that if we want to fight human trafficking, we must offer “broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally” together with a “concrete commitment to increase and simplify the process for granting humanitarian visas and for reunifying families”. The Pope’s Message expresses, moreover, a desire for the creation of “humanitarian corridors for particularly vulnerable refugees” and for the possibility of granting special temporary visas to persons that escape conflict in adjacent countries. The Pope emphasises that “collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights” and stresses the “importance of offering migrants and refugees adequate and dignified initial accommodation” that “favour[s] a personal encounter and allow[s] for greater quality of service and increased guarantees of success”.
The second verb, “protecting”, can be understood through its practical proposals, in particular the defence of the most vulnerable. The exponential increase in asylum requests for unaccompanied minors demands, as per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the avoidance of “any form of detention related to migratory status”. Furthermore, it would be good to ensure regular access to primary and secondary education up until legal age requirements, allowing for the completion of studies.
It’s important to establish “temporary custody or foster programmes” for unaccompanied minors separated from their families. Respecting International Law requires the recognition and due certification of all children at birth so as to avoid a situation of “statelessness”.
“Protecting” means acknowledging and appreciating the talents and skills of asylum seekers, whether refugees or migrants. Moreover “adequate consular assistance, the right to personally retain their identity documents at all times, fair access to justice, the possibility of opening a personal bank account, and a minimum sufficient to live on” must be ensured in order to provide a more just form of protection.
Pope Francis interprets the third verb, “promoting”, as an action upholding the integral fulfillment of the human person: “all migrants and refugees – as well as the communities which welcome them – are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator.” This “promotion” must be guaranteed, notably, by freedom of religion and worship, the insertion into the social and labour markets, and the possibility of accessing opportunities for formation and language training. The Pope invites communities to create conditions which favour the full realisation of the human person, in all his or her dimensions.
The final verb: “integrating”. The Pope’s Message reminds us, first and foremost, of the richness of an intercultural encounter. Against a passive form of assimilation, or one which consists in a levelling-out of cultures, the promotion of good practices foster the development of a society enriched by the “multi-faceted gifts of God to human beings”. Pope Francis emphasizes that “this process can be accelerated by granting citizenship free of financial or linguistic requirements, and by offering the possibility of special legalisation to migrants who can claim a long period of residence in the country of arrival”.
Francis concludes his Message by underscoring the Church’s availability – in first person – to work towards the fulfillment of these proposals, reminding us that in order to obtain positive results, every person’s contribution is essential. For the Pope, working to uphold the rights of migrants and the refugees is a “great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will”.
The Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018 not only offers points for reflection but also some practical indications, some possible political solutions to deal with the migration crisis of our time. It isn’t about some utopian appeal to universal brotherhood, but a vision for Europe, and for the world, which roots itself deep in International Law and the Church’s social teaching. It’s a proposal addressed to the entire world, a proposal aimed at initiating processes of integration able to conjugate together acceptance, protection and the integral promotion of the human person.