Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, spoke November 14, 2019, on “Pope Francis and The Global Challenge of Migration” at the McMillan Center for International and Area Studies, Yale University.
Following is his address:
Dear Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am quite certain that I am neither the first Catholic nor the first member of the Catholic clergy to speak at Yale, an institution originally founded by Puritan Congregational clergy to form ministers to purify Anglicanism from any remaining vestiges of the Roman Catholic Church! And so I would like to begin by thanking you for this kind invitation, and by expressing deep appreciation for your interest on migration as a global challenge.
I will consider the global challenge of migration from the perspective of Pope Francis and the Holy See, whom I represent at the United Nations.
Migration is as old as humanity itself. At the dawn of the historical part of the Bible, we have Abraham who, with his family, migrated from Ur of the Chaldeans, from what is now Iraq, and settled in Canaan. What better biblical images of the phenomenon of migration can there be than the migration of the entire House of Israel to Egypt in flight from famine and to reunite with Joseph, and the reverse migration, the Exodus, of the Jewish People from Egypt back to Canaan to emancipate themselves from tyranny and slavery.
This “round-trip migration,” so to speak, tells us what are some of the primary drivers of migration, namely: family unification, with the whole family of Jacob joining Joseph in Egypt; poverty and want, as a result of the famine in Canaan; gross violations of human rights leading to violent conflicts, when the Israelites were reduced to slavery and hunted down into the Red Sea by Egyptian forces; and, biblically and literally speaking, the longing for a Promised Land.
The Pentateuch, in particular, the Books of Deuteronomy, Exodus and Leviticus, are replete with injunctions to welcome strangers, because, as Moses repeatedly reminded them, “You yourselves were also strangers in a foreign land.” As the International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, Rabbi David Rosen has said, Judaism has an ancient history as migrants that informs the Jewish teaching to help others in vulnerable situations. The “eternal painful memory” of the Holocaust, the Rabbi added, “demands of us even greater solidarity with and support for migrants and refugees so that they are not the victims of the violence as we have experienced it.”
The other major religions have similar injunctions on welcoming and caring for the strangers. For us, Catholics, one of the most explicit teachings of Jesus on this is found in the Parable of the Last Judgment, in which Jesus identifies himself completely with the stranger, when he says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
During the last centuries BC and the first centuries AD, the Jews and the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans were all over the Mediterranean Basin. In the early Middle Ages, the barbarians were not only at the gates; they settled down among the ruins of the bygone Roman Empire. The New World was born from movements of peoples, with Christopher Columbus in Hispaniola in 1492, Vasco da Gama rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, and Ferdinand Magellan literally in my backyard in the Philippines in 1521 (I was born a couple of miles from where he got killed in the Battle of Mactan). We would not have time to discuss the vices and virtues of the centuries of colonization. Suffice it to say at this moment that these historical landmarks ushered in transcontinental migrations.
Fast forwarding to the last three centuries in the United States, we had the English, the Irish and the Italians rapidly populating New York and the New England States, the Nordics, and the Germans and the Poles in the Great Lakes, and the Chinese, Filipinos and many other Asians showing up in California. The Indios and the Latinos filled large parts of what is now the South West. And the Africans were forcibly brought across the Atlantic to the American South and beyond as slaves. These voluntary and involuntary migrations were the tesserae of what has become the prosperous and beautiful mosaic that is the United States of America.
Today, consider these data: in 2017, 258 million people crossed international borders, a fifty percent increase compared to the year 2000. Around 68.5 million were forcibly driven from their homelands due to wars, persecutions and other gross violations of fundamental human rights. The number of refugees grew from 15.4 million in 2010 to 25.4 million in 2017, a dramatic increase of more sixty percent in seven years. Added to those are some 41 million people who are presently being trafficked and enslaved, mainly for sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Who are these people on the move and why do they move? Many factors drive migration. There are the push factors or the factors that compel people to leave, like war and conflict, extreme want, insecurity, human rights violations, lack of opportunity, as well as natural catastrophes caused by both sudden and slow onset disasters provoked by climatic changes. Then there are the pull factors, factors that attract people to go to a specific destination, like the search for better opportunities, a life in larger freedom, family reunification, or changes in labor markets.
In brief, the phenomenon of massive movements of populations for all these reasons is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and one of the defining priorities of Pope Francis and the international activities of the Holy See.
How does the Holy See consider migration? What approach does the Holy See recommend? For the sake of time, I will answer these questions briefly:
Without pretending to be exhaustive, I would summarize the Holy See’s understanding of migration in three points:
First, as I have just tried to illustrate from Abraham to the UN’s 2017 statistics on migrants and refugees, migration is not a new phenomenon. Migration is both a natural human response to crisis and a testament to the innate desire of every human being for happiness, freedom, greater opportunities, and a better life.
Second, the Holy See believes in both the right to migrate and the prior right not to migrate. Voluntary, safe, orderly, regular and well-managed migration contributes to development and to cultural enrichment. During the negotiations leading to the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the Holy See suggested a phrase that is now enshrined in the Declaration. It is an appeal to the international community together to “create conditions that allow communities and individuals to live in safety and dignity in their own countries.” The Holy See was also a principal contributor to what is now Paragraph 13 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which states, “We must work together to create conditions that allow communities and individuals to live in safety and dignity in their own countries.” In order to achieve these conditions, the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin must be minimized (Objective 2). I was pleased to find in the Global Compact a “mantra” of the Holy See during the process leading to the Global Compact, namely, that “migration should never be an act of desperation.”
Third, the fundamental human rights of all migrants regardless of their migration status must be respected. During the negotiations on the Global Compact on Migration, the Holy See requested an explicit enumeration of services that must be provided to migrants as flowing from their fundamental human rights, and thus cannot be denied to them. While there was no consensus on this, there is nevertheless the explicit commitment “to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their migration status, can exercise their human rights through safe access to basic services.”(Objective 15)
With regard to the approach the Holy See recommends to deal with the global phenomenon of migration, there is a phrase that we beat to death at the United Nations almost in every turn, namely, that a global challenge demands a global response! The phenomenon of migration is global that clearly demands a global response. In a phrase, this means shared responsibility.
While recognizing and respecting the sovereign right of individual States to make their respective policies on migration — evidently according to their respective international obligations, international law, and international humanitarian law — the Holy See is a strong believer and supporter of regional and global frameworks to make migration, safe, orderly and regular. Thus, from the very outset, the Holy See was very supportive of the whole process leading to both the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees.
Pope Francis has summarized in four verbs the overall approach of the Catholic Church to the global challenge of migration. These four verbs are to welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate.
To welcome. This means to offer migrants broader options to enter destination countries safely and legally and to assure that their repatriation, which is normally voluntary, is carried out under just and safe conditions. Migrants must be guaranteed personal safety and access to basic services regardless of status. In all instances, the centrality of the human person obliges us to treat every migrant with dignity and respect.
To protect. All necessary steps must be taken to defend the fundamental human rights and dignity of migrants regardless of their migratory status. Such protection begins in the country of origin and consists in offering reliable and verified information before departure and in providing safety from illegal recruiters, human smugglers, and traffickers. This protection must continue as migrants move through countries of transit and arrive in countries of destination. In safeguarding the fundamental dignity of every migrant, we must strive to find alternative solutions to detention. The Holy See does not see detention of a migrant child as in the best interests of the child, as defined in the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
To promote. Going beyond the protection of the rights and dignity of migrants, effective policies and programs should be in place as much as possible to ensure that migrants are enabled to contribute to or earn their upkeep, exercise their fundamental freedoms, improve their skills and better their education, participate in the social life of their host communities, and contribute to the common good.
Lastly, to integrate. When migration is well managed and a culture of encounter is fostered, migrants make a positive contribution to the economy, to social and cultural life, to enriching communities. Integration is not assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity; rather, it is a process of mutual knowledge and reciprocal openness to what is good and positive from each other’s cultural identity. We all know integration is a huge challenge that in many instances, where failure to fit in can lead to social exclusion and social disharmony. To minimize the negative impacts of migration, community-level initiatives and legislative measures are both needed to achieve integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to end by emphasizing that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a historic advance in our shared responsibility to act in solidarity with people on the move, especially those who find themselves in very precarious situations. The Global Compact will serve as the international reference point for best practices and international cooperation in the global management of migration, not only for Governments but also for non-governmental entities among which are faith-based organizations, who are truly among the most effective organizations on the ground assisting migrants in difficulty. Our shared responsibility can only materialize if all of us commit ourselves to concretely doing and giving our share. Whatever our part in this shared responsibility, our response must be primarily motivated by our deep sense of common humanity with the migrant and not by contingent calculations that could violate their human dignity.
Thank you for your attention.
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