NEW YORK, APRIL 10, 2008 (Zenit.org).- As the world’s cities, for the first time in history, boast more inhabitants than the globe’s rural areas, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations says that the needs of urban migrants need to be met.
Archbishop Celestino Migliore affirmed this Wednesday at the Economic and Social Council’s 41st session of the Commission on Population and Development. The topic at hand was world population monitoring, focusing on population distribution, urbanization, internal migration and development.
The archbishop noted the session’s timing “at this historic juncture when, for the first time in history, the number of urban inhabitants will surpass the number of people living in rural areas.”
“This session therefore calls on us to reflect on this phenomenon and take stock of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead,” he said.
The prelate affirmed that the urbanization of populations provides new opportunities for economic growth: “With access to higher wages and better social services such as education, health, transportation, communications, safe water supplies and sanitation, migrants from rural to urban settings are more likely to advance their personal and social development.”
Still, the Holy See representative urged, “We must place the needs and concerns of peoples first.”
Archbishop Migliore cautioned against a reversal in priorities.
“Placing the human person at the service of economic or environmental considerations creates the inhuman effect of treating people as objects rather than subjects,” he said. “Migration and the urbanization of societies should not be purely measured in terms of their economic impact. In finding ways to address the serious challenges posed by massive internal and transnational migrations, let us not forget that at the heart of this phenomenon is the human person.
“Thus we must also address the reasons why people move, the sacrifices they make, the anguish and the hopes that accompany migrants. Migration often places great strain on migrants, as they leave behind families and friends, sociocultural and spiritual networks.”
Archbishop Migliore cited the secretary-genera’s report in noting the many challenges that also come with urbanization.
“Indeed,” he said, “new environmental, social and economic problems emerge with the birth of mega cities. But one of the most pressing and painful consequences of rapid urbanization is the increasing number of people living in urban slums. As recently as 2005, over 840 million people around the world lived in such conditions. Lacking in almost everything, these individuals can lose their sense of self-worth and inherent dignity.”
The archbishop noted some of the problems faced by slum-dwellers, “trapped in a vicious cycle of extreme poverty and marginalization.”
“They squat on state or other people’s properties. They feel powerless to demand even the most basic public services. Children are not in schools, but in waste dumpsites eking out a living from scavenging. Policy makers and civil society actors must put these people and their concerns among the priorities in their decision-making.”
Archbishop Migliore also contended that residents of rural areas not be forgotten. “If we are to achieve the [millennium development goals] by 2015, greater concern must be given to those communities, in which approximately 675 million still lack access to safe drinking water and 2 billion live without access to basic sanitation. National and international policies would do well to ensure that rural communities have access to higher quality and more accessible social services.”
He concluded by affirming the Holy See’s commitment to “addressing the concerns of all migrants and to finding ways to collaborate with all, in order to ensure a proper balance between the just concerns of state and those of individual human beings.”
“Helping migrants meet their basic needs does not only aid their transition and help keep families together,” the prelate stated. “It is also a positive way to encourage them to become productive, responsible, law-abiding and contributors to the common good of the society.”