EU Engagement the Compacts on Migration and Refugees: Worth the Effort?
Should the EU and the Church be involved in the preparation of the Compacts? Mgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission, shares his opinion.
Practical outputs foreseen by the UN Summit
During their September 2016 Summit, UN Member States, including the Members of the European Union, approved, by consensus, the Political Document, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. In so doing, they attested their profound solidarity with millions of people who are forced to uproot themselves from their home countries.
They portrayed today’s migration challenges as “above all moral and humanitarian”; they also promised to “save lives”. They acknowledged a shared responsibility to manage large movements of refugees and migrants in a humane, sensitive, compassionate and people-centred manner. They promised to fulfil their duty through “international cooperation”.
They also took a bold step to back up their lofty words with actions – by committing themselves to develop, during 2017 and 2018, a Global Compact for Refugees (based on the Comprehensive Refugee Framework also urgently requested in the Declaration) and a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration.
Should EU countries become involved in preparing the Compacts?
When Pope Francis received the Heads of State and Government of the European Union, on the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Rome Treaty, he urged: “We cannot understand our own times apart from the past, seen not as an assemblage of distant facts, but as the lymph that gives life to the present.” As an heir of European emigration (my grandparents emigrated from rural and poor Southern Italy in the late nineteenth century) and as a subsequent immigrant both to Italy and to Switzerland, I believe that EU governments, as well as its people of faith and of good will should shape their present-day reactions to forced migrants based on the hindsight of historical memory.
We must remain keenly aware of drivers of migration and refugee flows from time immemorial: proximate threat of persecution, violence, and war; abject poverty, structural injustice; living in “failed states”. Over the centuries, Europe has experienced first-hand these tragic situations and, consequently, its people sought protection, asylum, and permanent resettlement in host countries throughout the world. Engagement in processes to prepare the Compacts on Migration and Refugees offers a Kairos moment for Europeans to help shape the future of migration by building bridges rather than walls, as Pope Francis so often appeals.
My own organization, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), especially through its Brussels affiliate office, has long been engaged in two specific initiatives of civil society networking that might be of particular interest to EU governments and others who will shape the Compacts. They are: MADE (Migration and Development Civil Society Network) and SHARE (the network of cities, regions and local actors, including NGOs, churches, and other faith-based organizations) committed to offer protection and welcome for refugees resettled in Europe.
Will the Church engage in this process?
On so many occasions, and both with words and his own personal actions (including the sponsorship of refugees in the Vatican City), Pope Francis has expressed “particular concern for the forced nature of many contemporary migratory movements, which increases the challenges presented to the political community, to civil society and to the Church, and which amplifies the urgency for a coordinated and effective response to these challenges.”
In reaction to these concerns, Pope Francis has called for efforts by Catholic hierarchy, as well as religious congregations, Catholic Church-inspired organizations, and committed Catholic laity to actively participate in the preparation of these two Global Compacts, in all countries of the world, and at global, national, and local levels. He charged the newly-created Section for Migrants and Refugees, of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, to convene representatives of the above-mentioned groups in order to assemble practical and action-oriented recommendations for the Compacts.
The Section has summarized all the recommendations in a document entitled: Responding to Refugees and Migrants: Twenty Action Points, which constitutes an invaluable advocacy tool for those engaged in the Compact processes. These points are grouped under an overall Road Map in Response to Refugees and Migrants which often is emphasized by Pope Francis:
- Welcoming – Increasing safe and legal routes for migrants and refugees;
- Protecting – Defending the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees;
- Promoting – Fostering the integral human development of migrants and refugees;
- Integrating – Greater participation of migrants and refugees to enrich local communities.
I will conclude with a strong exhortation that is so typical of Pope Francis: “I believe that conjugating these four verbs, in the first person singular and in the first person plural, is today a responsibility, a duty we have towards our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.”
Mgr. Robert J. Vitillo
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.