Pope Francis: It’s Not Just About Migrants; The Future of Humanity Is at Stake

“It is not only the cause of migrants that is at stake; it is not just about them, but about all of us and about the present and future of the human family,” says Pope Francis in a message for the upcoming World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which this year will be marked on 29 September.

In his message, the Holy Father reflects on the theme he has chosen for the World Day: “It is not just about migrants.”

For the Holy Father, the issue of migrants and refugees is also about “extreme individualism” in the most economically advanced societies. This attitude, “combined with a utilitarian mentality and reinforced by the media, is producing a ‘globalization of indifference’.”

And, he says, it is about us – about fears which can “condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even… racist.” It is about charity and our humanity, about seeing that no one is excluded, about putting the last in first place, about the whole person and all people.

The verbs “welcome, protect, promote and integrate,” says Pope Francis, “describe the Church’s mission to all those living in the existential peripheries… If we put those four verbs into practice, we will help build the city of God and man.”

The upcoming World Day of Migrants and Refugees will mark its 105th edition since being launched by the Church in 1914. The growing numbers of migrants and refugees and their increasingly difficult situations ensure that that concern is strongly present today.

According to the International Organization for Migration, there were 257.7 million migrants across the world in 2017. Some 68.5 million have been forcibly displaced and nearly 25.4 million are refugees, reports the UN Refugee Agency.

The Pope’s message was presented at a 27 May press conference at the Vatican. Fr. Michael Czerny and Fr. Fabio Baggio, Undersecretaries of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, emphasized that “the Holy Father invites us to encounter newcomers, accompany them, pray for them and share life with them within our wider concern for all marginalized people.”

Fr. Leonir Mario Chiarello, Superior General of the Scalabrinian Missionaries, reflected that “To think of stopping migration with administrative decrees, barriers and walls is illusory. It’s like wanting to stop history. And more, it squanders the mutual enrichment that can occur when people of different backgrounds meet.”

H.E. Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, and President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European Union, who joined in the press conference, said: “The Pope’s message is a wake-up call for the Church in Europe… It is about our humanity, about our being Christian, about us listening to the call of Christ.”

In Geneva, ICMC Secretary General Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo welcomed the Holy Father’s message as “an inspiration and guidance for our work. His message analyzes the situation of migrants and refugees, its causes, our attitudes towards them and proposes a truly Christian response.”

New Video Series Highlights Benefits of Refugee Resettlement Across Europe

Small towns and municipalities are at the forefront of refugee resettlement and integration in Europe today. A new video series shows how people from different backgrounds are able to live together, enriching each others’ lives along the way.

“Coexistence and togetherness are enriching for both sides. After the arrival of these people, the town became much more vibrant, more diverse.” These are the words of Josef Radinger, a volunteer with ‘The Land of People’ community group, who lives in Gänserndorf, Austria, one of several small towns across Europe that is helping resettle refugees.

Mr Radinger’s delight is clearly matched by that of the refugees themselves, who have begun to live normal lives once again. Hasan, 29, is from Syria and is keen to stress how the people “were nice and friendly and they’ve done a lot for us.” He has repaid this welcome by conducting an internship at a hospital in the town, having qualified in Russia. His younger sister, Ferial, 15, simply says “I feel at home in Gänserndorf.”

Gänserndorf features in a new series of short films called SHARE Welcoming Communities “Small Places, Great Hearts.” The videos highlight refugee resettlement and integration in smaller municipalities across Europe, demonstrating the positive impact that refugees have in their new home towns.

With the European Union committed to resettling 50,000 refugees by the end of October 2019, several organizations who work with refugees and migrants have banded together in the SHARE Integration network.

Led by the International Catholic Migration Commission, SHARE Integration works with small cities, towns and villages that have committed to offering protection and welcome for resettled and relocated refugees in Europe.

SHARE partners Caritas Austria, Caritas International, Consorzio Communitas, the Dutch Council for Refugees, MigrAfrica, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Portugal and JRS Romania are leading on the creation of videos in consultation with municipalities, local NGOs, refugees and volunteers.

The videos portray daily life and refugee service-delivery in small communities, cities and towns with populations of less than 150,000. They highlight the successes of local people and organizations engaged in implementing integration practices and advocating for refugees.

These communities use their own experiences to promote, celebrate and highlight the benefits of receiving refugees – not only for refugees themselves, but also for host communities. The videos also allow communities a voice to present themselves directly to soon-to-arrive and newly-arrived refugees as well as to other stakeholders involved in refugee resettlement.

In addition to interviews with previously resettled refugees and those working with them, the SHARE Welcoming Communities video series also contextualizes these voices by filming relevant celebrations, events or initiatives taking place at the local level in Europe.

The video series will be launched in an online webinar on 19 June, ahead of World Refugee Day. Representatives of communities and refugees together with SHARE Integration partner organizations will discuss successful integration and its benefits.

More videos are currently being created in Merchtem (Belgium), Jena (Germany), Biella (Italy), Zaanstad (The Netherlands), Caranguejeira (Portugal) and Somcuta Mare (Romania).

Greece: Vatican Delegation Sees Progress in Helping Refugees, but More Needs to Be Done

The Vatican visit highlighted the continuing plight of refugees and migrants seeking sanctuary in Greece, especially on the Greek islands. While the delegation acknowledged the energies devoted to caring for refugees, it urged both the Greek government and the European Union to make still greater efforts to relieve their dire conditions.

Greece has been hit hard by a sudden and large influx of refugees in recent years. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), “more than 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in Greece in 2015 and early 2016.” In April 2016, their situation there was so severe that Pope Francis himself, together with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, visited two refugee camps on the island of Lesvos, where many of those seeking sanctuary first arrive.

By May 2018, however, the number of refugees and migrants in Greece stood at around 60,000, with approximately 14,000 on the islands. Refugees and migrants are now mainly from Afghanistan, but also include Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians and North Africans. The average stay is anywhere between 8-9 months and 2-3 years.

To reaffirm the Pope’s commitment to the refugees’ plight, a Vatican delegation led by H.E. Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who serves as Almoner for the Pope, visited Lesvos between 8 and 10 May 2019. It included Msgr. Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the European Episcopal Commission and Msgr. Sevastianos Rossolatos, Archbishop of Athens.

The delegation also included Ms. Tanja Zwack, the International Catholic Migration Commission’s Liaison Manager in Athens as well as representatives from Caritas Greece, Saint Egidio Community and Jesuit Refugee Service.

No legal status for unofficial camp

The visit allowed the delegation to obtain a first-hand impression of the situation in the camps. It first visited the Reception and Identification Center in Moria. In effect, this center consists of two sections: the center itself, that is administered by the government, and an unofficial center nearby.

This second camp has no recognized or legal status and, as a consequence, conditions there are dire. Most of the refugees live in tents, with some sleeping in containers. The camp is entirely without amenities: there is no heating, no proper latrine facilities and nowhere for people to wash themselves. Approximately 2,500 people live in this camp.

Conditions in the official center are, on the whole, better. There, 2,000 refugees are provided with food, properly functioning latrines and even a daycare center. But conditions are by no means optimal and it cannot yet be said that the needs of individual refugees are met on a regular basis.

“Positively surprised”

The second visit was to Kara Tepe camp, which the Pope had also visited in 2016. “I was positively surprised, because the camp has evolved significantly and it has become a very nice place for the refugees to stay,” says Zwack, who visited it first in 2015. Kare Tepe hosts around 1,200 people, most of them vulnerable families with children.

People live in containers, but there is a lot of space for children to play, with several playgrounds. Children also attend the local Greek school, where a number of activities are available such as music and language lessons.

According to Zwack, Mr Stavros Myroviannis, a member of the municipality who runs the camp, is instrumental in providing the refugee population with adequate services. “You could see little children coming and hugging him or taking him by the hand… He is really dear to the people in the camp and it is clear that he is doing a great job,” she says.

ICMC’s contribution

With 95 staff members in the country, ICMC is working to help improve the welfare of refugees and immigrants across Greece. They are deployed to the UN Refugee Agency operations in the country, which supports several areas of the Greek government’s services to refugees.

This includes assistance with asylum procedures, cash assistance and the legal, IT and financial aspects of the Reception and Identification Center. ICMC teams are also supporting the Direction of Protection of Asylum-Seekers, the Asylum Service, the National Center for Social Solidarity Ekka as well as the municipalities of Athens, Thessaloniki and Thesaly.

Whilst the Greek authorities are doing their best to help, Zwack believes that the situation can – and must – be improved. “First of all, there should be much faster procedures in order for the people to be able to be transferred to the mainland,” she says. As Lesvos is one of the islands where people first arrive, it is far too crowded to accommodate everyone. To achieve faster transfers, there needs to be greater investment in official personnel.

It is also clear that the European Union needs to do more. Very few relocations to the EU are taking place at present and EU nations other than Greece need to accept a considerably larger share of refugees and migrants.

Immediate help

Zwack’s greatest concern, though, is that the predicament of those in Moria needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency. She’s clear that all those who are in a position to change things, including the Greek government, simply need to do more to relieve the plight of refugees and migrants. “We should really work together on that. Something must be done urgently, to help these refugees,” she concludes.

“Pope Francis has not forgotten the refugee issue, especially here in Moria,” Krajewski said according to news reports. “Efforts are being made on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church to try and open the doors of European countries for refugees stuck here in Greece. The Catholic Church itself is ready to host refugees.”

“Cardinal Krajewski was very approachable and very close to the people,” says Zwack. He talked at length with refugees and others and often hugged them. According to Zwack, the Cardinal insisted that as much as possible should be done to help the thousands of refugees and migrants who, through no fault of their own, are currently stranded in Greece.

The delegation was able to offer immediate help through a cash contribution to Caritas Helas of €100,000 to assist with immediate needs.

The Church’s Role in Providing for Victims of HIV in Southeast Asia

“I feel that I am very dirty because of all the men who used me.” In the shower, Linh scrubs herself hard, so hard that it leaves scars on her body, as she tries to remove the feeling of having been soiled.

Linh was 14 when her mother, seeking financial gain, forced her into prostitution. By the age of 16, Linh was pregnant from one of her abusers and had contracted HIV. Shamed and abandoned by her family, lacking the financial resources to provide for a child and afraid that she would transmit her infection to him, she considered abortion.

“She was already four months pregnant, and the clinic was asking for a lot of money,” Father John Toai recalls. “People referred her to our shelter. I told her that I could not offer her money for an abortion, but that I could provide her with medicine and a place to stay and have her child.”

Fr. Toai is the founder and director of the Mai Tam House of Hope in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He shared his experience at a workshop on the role of faith-based organizations engaged in addressing HIV among migrant and refugees that took place in Geneva from 20-21 February 2019. The workshop was organized by the World Council of Churches and facilitated by the International Catholic Migration Commission.

Since 2005, Fr. Toai’s shelter has been offering medicine, food and psychosocial care to HIV-positive women and orphaned children. It also provides educational and income-generating opportunities to its residents.

Most of the women living in the shelter are widows who contracted HIV from their husbands. Others are survivors of sex trafficking who were sold in China. Many are undocumented ethnic minorities whose lack of legal status means that for Vietnamese law enforcement and healthcare systems, they don’t exist.

The women and the older children care for the young. The shelter currently assists 460 people whose lives are affected by HIV.

The Church’s Role in Ensuring Sustainable Assistance

From 2006 to 2013, Fr. Toai recalls that many programs for people living with HIV were funded in Vietnam. But as international funding for HIV-related projects dwindled, many programs were shut down. “So people were left to themselves, no one cared for them. They had nowhere to go and they came to the Church,” he says.

The nature of faith-based organizations means that they are there to stay. Church programs depend on volunteers, on its members and on the sharing of their resources, Fr. Toai explains.

His assessment is echoed by Mr. Augustin Tual Sian Piang, Health Program Manager with Karuna Mission Social Solidarity, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar’s social arm, who also spoke at the workshop.

In recent years, many international non-governmental organizations ceased their activities in Myanmar, leaving a gap that public healthcare has been unable to fill. This disproportionately affects the poorest, often in the most rural areas of the country. They frequently turn to faith-based organizations for care and support, notably to the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

HIV, Migration and Human Trafficking

Both in Vietnam and in Myanmar, there is a strong correlation between women in migration, human trafficking and HIV. Young women are promised a desirable job far from their homes, where they are trafficked into prostitution, coerced into domestic work or forced to marry. Those who escape are left undocumented with no means to return, and often turn to survival prostitution, increasing their risk of contracting HIV.

In the case of Myanmar, the promised jobs are generally in Thailand or China. Mr. Piang tells the story of Nan, a young woman from a rural region of Myanmar. She used the services of a local broker to find a job as a domestic worker in Thailand, only to find herself in slave-like working conditions. Nan was confined to the house in which she worked, was underfed, and never received a salary.

Nan escaped from her employer after two months, but was tricked into prostitution by an acquaintance who promised her a job. She was eventually arrested for working illegally in Thailand and was deported to Myanmar. She was four months pregnant at the time, and not yet aware that she was HIV-positive.

Nan returned to her village, where she now provides for her family through a pig-raising project supported by the Karuna Mission. Sadly, due to the lack of resources for HIV detection, she was only diagnosed as HIV-positive after having transmitted the disease to her son. The Karuna Mission and its partners now provide treatment for both of them.

Mr. Piang says that although faith-based organizations do excellent prevention and treatment work in Myanmar, their lack of reporting resources restricts their access to funding. In turn, this greatly limits their activities, especially in more remote areas.

Although HIV prevention and access to treatment have made significant strides in Myanmar in recent years, certain sections of the population remain at very high risk of contracting HIV. In some regions, the incidence of HIV-positivity among migrants is as high as 18%, as compared to 0.7% among Myanmar’s tested adult population.

International organizations and local NGOs agree that human trafficking is on the rise across Southeast Asia, including in Vietnam and Myanmar, and that victims are increasingly young. More and more, predators use social media to attract girls and force them into prostitution. This tendency is generalized across the region, which accounts for one-third of all women and children trafficked worldwide.

No numbers are available for HIV prevalence among victims of sex trafficking, but it is clear that sex workers are at a much higher risk of contracting HIV. In Vietnam, female sex workers have an HIV-prevalence of 2.8%, in comparison to 0.3% in the general adult population.

Beyond Medical Treatment: Restoring Hope

House of Hope founder Fr. Toai is also the program director of the Pastoral Care for People Living with HIV/AIDS Program of the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese.

A committed group of religious and lay men and women are involved in providing care and support for people with HIV through the program. They do outreach to prisons and drug detention centers, where many HIV-positive people are incarcerated.

For the past 15 years, the Church has been creating awareness around the issue. “I will say that now in our Church there is a lot of compassion and empathy for people with HIV. People infected feel welcomed and accepted,” says Fr. Toai.

The Church community provides care and material support to those suffering from HIV. However, Fr. Toai says, a main reason people come to them is to seek spiritual guidance.

“The religious sisters and priests talk to them, listen to them and also provide counseling and spiritual accompaniment and help them reconcile with their God and with themselves,” Fr. Toai says. He notes that people often need reconciliation with their past and with anger and resentment.

“If we as a Church accompany them and empower them and help them get through this crisis, they will recover their dignity and feel confident again. They will regain their power.”

As for Linh, she still lives at the House of Hope, which provides her with antiretroviral treatment. The shelter also provided the prophylactic medicine necessary for her to give birth to her child without transmitting the infection.

“I will not become like my mother who sold her daughter,” she says. “I will take care of my son because now he is safe from HIV.”

Migrants seeking to improve their living conditions and refugees fleeing dreadful situations often become vulnerable to human traffickers. For this reason, anti-trafficking is a primary focus area for the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC). ICMC advocates for anti-trafficking measures and supports grassroots initiatives that reduce migrants’ risks of falling prey to traffickers. Learn about ICMC Europe’s efforts to create cooperation among civil society actors and the government in Guinea to fight human trafficking as well as about its awareness-raising seminars on the risks of irregular migration in Senegal.

All names of people living with HIV have been changed to protect their identities.

Ensuring Safe Childbirth for Rural Women in Pakistan: Palwashay’s Story

For an Afghan refugee in rural Pakistan, giving birth is often a risky endeavor for mother and baby. Since January 2017, the International Catholic Migration Committee has been working with community health agents to reduce mortality rates and improve the well-being of women and children.

When Palwashay learned she was pregnant for the third time she was both excited and nervous. Bitter memories of her first two deliveries surfaced — home births without any formal medical assistance. “I suffered so much … and I nearly died,” she recalls.

Palwashay is a 28-year-old Afghan refugee born in Pakistan. She lives in Khazana camp, near the city of Peshawar. Her experience is quite familiar to Sultan Bibi, a Traditional Birth Attendant who lives in the same camp. Bibi has worked with ICMC for three years, offering safe maternity services for Afghan refugee women like Palwashay.

Most refugee women in Pakistani rural areas will give birth at home; four out of ten of all rural women give birth to their children at home rather than in a health care facility.

Cultural norms often restrict women’s movements outside the home as well as their ability to take independent decisions about their health care. The distance to care centers, a lack of trained female health workers and cost can be additional factors that lead women to deliver their children at home.

Giving birth is a purely private matter in their culture, Bibi adds, which helps to explain why many expectant women choose to stay home. “The hospital facility and staff are considered to be ‘outsiders’ or, in other words, untrustworthy, irrespective of their genders.”

Only slightly more than half of women giving birth in Pakistan are attended by skilled health personnel. The percentage drops to just above a third in rural areas such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region where ICMC works.

Home birth is a practice with often-tragic consequences. Pakistan has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in South Asia. Some 178 women die of pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births. Which is enormous compared to an average of 12 in developed countries and the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goal target of less than 70

Sultan Bibi says it is very common for either mother or child to die at an unassisted home delivery. This can be the result of a risky delivery position, a lack of suitable and clean instruments or improper post-natal care and hygiene.  

ICMC works with community health staff in camps like Khazana, which was established when millions of refugees flooded across the border to flee war in Afghanistan in the late 70s and 80s. Today, Pakistan hosts more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees.

The community health committees aim to make home births safer and improve the overall health of refugee mothers and their children through ante- and post-natal care. Health workers give a range of advice, from infant feeding and breast care and what constitutes good nutrition for the new mother to the importance of personal and home hygiene for the baby’s health and mother’s recovery.

This was important for Palwashay and her husband Alamzeb, a day laborer and taxi driver by night who, like his wife, was born in a Peshawar refugee settlement to parents who fled Afghanistan 40 years ago. During and after Palwashay’s pregnancy, trained health and hygiene promoter Somiya provided information and support.

“[She] told me about danger signs [that can occur] during pregnancy and other such related issues which helped me a lot through the whole process at each and every stage,” Palwashay says.

After Bibi helped Palwashay to safely deliver her daughter, the new mother received a baby kit with hygiene products and infant clothes and was given a schedule for necessary check-ups. A follow-up visit aimed at establishing an immunization schedule. The promotion of anti-malarial nets for sleep and regular monitoring of children’s growth also contributed to improving the newborn’s health.

ICMC support made all the difference to Palwashay for her pregnancy this time around. “I consider myself very lucky for having got proper care and medical assistance in my own house.”

Peshawar is one of six districts in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in which ICMC has been providing health services since January 2017. These include education, maternal and child care, immunization and counseling on feeding infants and young children. Through its focus on maternal and child care, which included the training of nearly 80 traditional birth attendants and the provision of ante-natal visits and post-natal care, ICMC has ensured that 85% of the nearly 3,400 deliveries recorded in the six districts where it works were monitored by skilled health personnel. 

Refugees’ names have been modified to protect their identities.

This story is based on reporting by Sahar Zafar.

ICMC President Appointed Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation

The International Catholic Migration Commission congratulates Dr. Anne T. Gallagher on her appointment as Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

The Foundation announced on 24 April 2019 that Dr. Gallagher will succeed the current Director-General Mr. Vijay Krishnarayan in June.

As Director-General, Dr. Gallagher will be responsible for all activities of the Commonwealth Foundation. She will oversee the implementation of the annual priorities determined by the Foundation’s Board of Governors.

“I applaud the Commonwealth Foundation’s decision to select Dr. Gallagher for this role,” said ICMC Secretary General Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo. “I am certain that, through this position, her work will benefit the causes being advanced by the Foundation as well as the civil society actors who partner with the Foundation. She brings extensive knowledge and experience as she assumes leadership responsibilities at the Foundation.”

Founded in 1966, the Commonwealth Foundation’s goal is to develop civil society capacity to make policy and institutions more responsive and accountable to people’s needs. It provides financial and technical assistance to projects that encourage economic empowerment, education, and environmental initiatives, among others, in 53 countries.

An Australian-born lawyer, teacher, practitioner and scholar, Dr. Gallagher’s career spans over 25 years. She is a world-renowned expert on responses to trafficking in persons, human rights and the administration of criminal justice.

Dr. Gallagher has been serving as ICMC President since March 2018. She also serves as Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s Presidential Task Force on Human Trafficking, and as a member of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration.

He is Risen!

During these Easter celebrations, the President, Governing Committee, Secretary General and Staff of the International Catholic Migration Commission share greetings of hope, peace, and light with ICMC members, partners, and supporters.

“We Christians believe and know that Christ’s resurrection is the true hope of the world, the hope that does not disappoint … it is the power of that love which humbles itself and gives itself to the very end, and thus truly renews the world … it bears the fruits of hope and dignity … where there are migrants and refugees (so often rejected by today’s culture of waste), and victims of the drug trade, human trafficking, and contemporary forms of slavery.”

Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi (to the city of Rome and to the World) Blessing on Easter Sunday, 2018

European Bishops Criticize Indifference Towards Migrants Dead at Sea

We must recognize the dignity of migrants and our duty to welcome them, Italian Bishops say. And according to the head of the German Bishops Conference, that begins by saving their lives at sea.

“Every dead person at sea or in the desert or because they have suffered violence in detention is an offense against humanity,” said Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI). The Cardinal was speaking in Rome at a meeting held on 4 April at the Centro Astalli, a Jesuit-run institution that assists migrants and refugees.

The same day in a separate press release, the Italian Bishops took a stand on the issue of migration to Italy and Europe. “Even if it implies risking unpopularity, the Church needs to actively contribute to a culture of welcome and integration and to move away from the indifference about the daily suffering of those who drown in the Mediterranean or are tortured in refugee [detention] camps in Libya,” says the press release.

“Migrants must be rescued and saved, not pushed away or blocked in unsafe third countries,” Cardinal Bassetti said at the Centro Astalli. “The influx has diminished, but who will take responsibility for those who die at sea? Sending them back to detention centers in Libya can also be a death sentence.”

Sea arrivals to Italy decreased by 80% in 2018, compared to the year before. At the same time, sea arrivals in Spain increased significantly. Despite a major overall drop in sea arrivals via the Mediterranean in 2018, the reported death rate remained high, with an estimated 2,275 people drowning during the crossing, equivalent to six deaths every day of the year.

At the same time, the Libyan Coast Guard increased their operations with the support of the European Union and brought back to the Libyan coast over 10,000 people attempting the crossing. Once back in Libya, migrants and refugees are detained in appalling conditions, reported by many sources as being inhumane.

Governments Cannot Be Blind to the Plight of Migrants

Also on 4 April, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, congratulated the captain of the sea rescue Mission Lifeline, Claus-Peter Reisch, and presented him with the prestigious Lew Kopelew Prize for Peace and Human Rights on 7 April.

Named after the German-Russian writer Lew Kopelew, the prize is awarded every year to honor people and organizations working to promote friendly relations among nations and human rights.

“European Governments cannot escape the obligation in ethical and international law to rescue people from drowning at sea. If they are not able to ensure sufficient rescue at sea operations, they should at least let civil society act in their place. At the moment, the opposite seems to be the case: sea rescue operations led by States have been reduced while non-state rescue remains blocked”, stated Cardinal Marx.

“Without the right to life, human rights would be practically meaningless,” he continued. And this is precisely why the commitment of civil society actors remains indispensable, “first and foremost, to save human lives, but also to challenge political leaders.”

Claus-Peter Reisch saved 234 people off the coast of Libya in June 2018. After an initial docking and disembarkation refusal from Malta, the ship “Lifeline” was eventually allowed in. Malta then initiated legal proceedings against him, bringing charges of ignoring Maltese orders and breaking international law. The case is still ongoing, with a final judgment expected on 14 May.

ICMC President: Church’s Teachings Challenge Troubling Migration Policies and Practices

As countries of destination increasingly close their doors to migrants and refugees, ICMC President Dr. Anne T. Gallagher believes the Church’s teachings present challenges to migration policies and practices that fail to protect human rights and human dignity.

Dr. Gallagher shared this message in a 17 April keynote address to the St Thomas More Forum – a pastoral endeavor of the St Thomas More Parish in Canberra, Australia – which focused on migration this year. Launched in 2005, the Forum aims to promote thought, discussion and debate on the challenges of faith in the workplace, family and public life in the modern world.

Citing the current situation as a “period of great stress and uncertainty,” Dr. Gallagher noted that “migration has become the flashpoint in this rapidly changing political and social reality” in which “commitment to fundamental principles of human rights and justice that we thought set in stone has eroded across the board.”

Citing the example of Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island where around 400,000 migrants have landed over the past 20 years and at least 15,000 have died on the way, the ICMC President recalled Pope Francis’ visit there a few years ago. On that occasion, he spoke of a “globalization of indifference” and “prayed for the forgiveness of those ‘who are complacent and closed amid comforts which have deadened their hearts’.”

“There has been a sharp and recent increase in both the scale of movement and the suffering that migrants are compelled to endure,” Dr. Gallagher said. “And international migration is becoming increasingly expensive and hazardous. Countries that migrants most aspire to … are making entry – both legal and irregular – harder than ever. This forces migrants, including refugees who have a legal right to seek asylum, into the arms of those who are able to help them circumvent ever-increasing controls.”

“Migration is not going to go away,” she stressed. And reminded Forum participants that “The urge to move in an effort to better one’s life is an essential part of the human condition. And economics teaches us that our global economy would grind to a shuddering halt without migrant workers.”

What is the answer? “The Church’s teachings around family, around compassion and support for the most vulnerable, should guide us in challenging policies and actions that undermine these values,” Dr. Gallagher stated.

Even if “there is no perfect solution,” she encouraged the audience to “fix our eyes on a future that is achievable in our lifetime: a future where peace and justice, love and compassion, overcome our indifference, our fears and divisions. A future where we recognize each other as brothers and sisters, united in one human family.”

In this context, Dr. Gallagher affirmed the International Catholic Migration Commission’s “unique approach to advocating for the rights and dignity of the world’s migrants and refugees.” The organization’s mission “has never been more urgent than it is today,” she concluded.

Picking Goals to Best Implement the Global Compact for Migration

The Civil Society Action Committee, co-convened by ICMC, is identifying priorities for civil society engagement in the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration. The committee’s members and other partner organizations across the world are multiplying their impact through coordination.

The Action Committee has helped facilitate joint civil society advocacy around the negotiations of the Global Compact for Migration since 2016. With its adoption behind us, the committee now enters a new era in which it can focus its advocacy on specific aspects of the Compact’s implementation.

“Civil Society movements have the opportunity to build a mechanism for joint coordination and action where we can come forward together in unity and plurality,” says Action Committee coordinator Colin Rajah.  When identifying the committee’s priorities, an ongoing process throughout the coming months, “It is very important to go through this building process as inclusively as possible and to reach as many organizations who want to engage as possible,” Rajah adds.

The Action Committee will focus on these priorities through dialogue and consultation with its members and other civil society actors. NGOs are invited to participate in open consultation webinars. The priorities take off from the conclusions of a report published earlier this year that summarizes the responses of dozens of civil society leaders interviewed.

The Action Committee has begun engaging with the new UN Migration Network, a coordinating body of 38 UN agencies working towards a unified response to migration. This includes a strong focus on a comprehensive implementation of the Global Compact for Migration.

For example, establishing a plan for Central America’s Northern Triangle is among the first goals identified by the UN Network. The governments of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico have agreed to jointly implement best practices when dealing with migrants. The plan will also tackle the underlying causes of mass migration in the region.

The prioritizing of such plans and their implementation depend on the joint contributions of Action Committee members and other NGOs. Beyond providing numbers, civil society bears witness to migrants’ conditions throughout their communities, and civil society members are frequently the first to respond to the needs on the ground, where they often play the role of linking migrants and policy-makers.

From Drafting to Implementation

2019 is a pivotal year for the Action Committee as it moves from advocating for a comprehensive text for the Global Compact for Migration to its effective implementation.

In 2016, the United Nations announced its intention to create a blueprint for a global response to issues related to large movements of migrants and refugees. As a result, two new international agreements were developed by UN member States: the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees.

Migration issues were previously only treated as issues of national interest. Because of the transnational nature of migration and of asylum, UN member States agreed that joint policies that transcend borders can make migration-related strategies more effective and allow better outcomes for all parties involved: countries of departure and of arrival, migrants and societies.

Non-governmental organizations joined together to advocate for the rights and needs of migrants and refugees as identified at a grass-roots level. Throughout these processes, they were able to send strong joint messages to governments, thereby intensifying their influence. These messages were often facilitated through Action Committee members and other partners.

Action Committee members and other NGOs played an essential role in shaping the final text of both Global Compacts by jointly pushing for the greatest possible protection of migrants’ and refugees’ rights and by sharing their first-hand experience of working closely with them.

Among other contributions, the Action Committee’s members’ input led to compacts that include better protection measures for refugees and vulnerable migrants such as women, children and people with disabilities; work regulations that respect migrants’ dignity; and the prioritization of alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers.

Following the adoption of the Global Compacts in December 2018, members of the Action Committee requested that it continue its mandate through 2019, with a focus on the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration. It will also play a bridging role between the two compacts and a plan of action for advancing prevention, protection and solutions for internally displaced people from 2018 to 2020. At the same time, the Action Committee is thoroughly reviewing and envisaging how civil society might best engage collectively in this new era of global migration governance.

  • Register for the upcoming consultation webinar as a member of civil society
  • Read the report on civil society models of engagement in a new era of global migration governance
  • Read the key findings of the report in English, French, Spanish and Arabic