Safe journey: Vatican pushes for global compacts on migration, refugees

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While encouraging
Catholics to reach out to migrants and refugees, the Vatican is reaching out to
governments as they struggle to work out international policies and principles
for dealing with the large number of people fleeing violence and poverty.

The involvement of the church and church agencies in the
U.N. process for drafting the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration
and the Global Compact on Refugees goes hand in hand with the much more personalized effort to encourage
individual Catholics to meet a migrant or refugee and listen to that person’s

Pope Francis launched Caritas Internationalis’ “Share
the Journey” campaign Sept. 27, inviting all Catholics to extend a hand of
welcome to a migrant or refugee.

The pope himself oversees the Migrants and Refugees Section
of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and he has
approved specific “action points” or concrete proposals the Vatican
wants to see incorporated into the global compacts.

The 20 points, drafted in consultation with several bishops’
conferences and Catholic organizations working with refugees and migrants, are
explained in separate notes. One, addressed to bishops and other pastoral
leaders, aims to educate Catholics and build public support for policies to
guarantee an appropriate welcome, protection, promotion and integration of
migrants and refugees. The other is addressed more specifically to politicians
and those involved in drafting the compacts.

In his message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018,
a text released in August, Pope Francis mentioned several of the action points,
including pleas to expand the pathways and processes for legal migration; to
end the practice of putting unaccompanied minors in jail-like detention centers;
and to halt “collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees.”

Scalabrini Father Fabio Baggio, undersecretary for migrants
and refugees, said the action points “respond to the need for
concreteness” in applying principles that, in many ways, already are
enshrined in international law on human rights, human dignity, migration and the
rights of refugees.

The specific suggestions, he said, are based on the
“best practices” seen in many countries, particularly for protecting
the most vulnerable migrants and refugees, such as unaccompanied minors.

The Vatican position recognizes “the right of every
state to manage and control its borders,” but it also insists nations live
up to the obligations they accepted when becoming parties to international
agreements on human rights, the protection of refugees and the rights of

The very specific suggestions include items like having
countries “with significant labor migrant outflows” set up a system
to provide potential migrants with information about their rights and
obligations; working to develop a system to evaluate and recognize university
and professional degrees earned in another country; and increasing development aid
to poor countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

Lobbying and education go hand in hand for the Vatican, Father
Baggio said, because “correct information is essential in this
process,” especially to counteract a series of false claims and
presumptions about migrants that feed people’s fears and move them away from the
Christian obligations to welcome the stranger and help those in danger.

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, a U.S. priest who is secretary
general of the International Catholic Migration Commission, gave one example of
where accurate information is needed.

“There is fear among some governments and local
populations that refugees and migrants bring infectious diseases into host
countries,” he told Catholic News Service.

But “scientific epidemiological studies have
demonstrated that this is not the case,” he said. “There have been
recent outbreaks of measles in Europe, for example, but public health experts
maintain that these outbreaks are due to the fact that many Europeans have
decided that their children should not be vaccinated against measles, while
most refugees and migrants are vaccinated upon arrival in the host

Asked what “Catholics in the pew” can or should
do, Msgr. Vitillo said he hoped they would understand “the Gospel mandate
to treat all with the same love and mercy that we ourselves receive from our heavenly
Father” and, therefore, would “avoid all hateful or exclusionary
treatment of refugees and migrants.”

“I hope that ‘Catholic in the pews’ will develop an
acute awareness of the blessings and gifts — cultural, social, and spiritual —
that refugees and migrants bring to their host communities, just as many of our
own ancestors were welcomed by host communities in the distant, and
not-so-distant, past,” he said.

And, finally, he said, “I hope that ‘Catholics in the
pews’ will pray and act to effect peace in the world and to promote integral
human development, so migration could become a choice, freely taken in orderly
and regular fashion, with the promise of decent work with just pay and decent
work conditions, rather than to be violently forced on people for their own
survival or that of their families.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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