The Catholic Church Gets Ready to Step up the Fight Against Human Trafficking

An international conference on trafficking in persons called for greater understanding of the phenomenon and coordinated actions to eradicate it.

Human trafficking is one of the “most dramatic manifestations” of the “commodification of the human person,” Pope Francis told participants at an International Conference on Human Trafficking held in Rome from 9 to 11 April. It not only “disfigures the humanity of the victim” but also “dehumanizes those who perform it,” the Holy Father said, and as such “seriously damages humanity as a whole.”

Convened by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the international conference focused on practical means to implement the new Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking.

“We need to listen to those directly affected and hear not only about their negative experiences, but also about their strengths and capacity to revive themselves and live a new life,” said Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), in offering closing reflections on the conference’s last day.

Msgr. Vitillo warned participants not to “risk becoming so convinced of the expertise assembled in our respective organizations that we ignore the much more reality-based skills and resilience that migrants and refugees, including those who have been trafficked, have achieved.”

Some 200 participants including bishops, priests, religious men and women, project coordinators and pastoral agents, representatives of Catholic organizations and foundations and trafficking experts from around the world attended the conference, which culminated in a private audience with Pope Francis.

The gathering aimed at exchanging experiences, points of view and effective practices in the Church’s ministry in this area, and asked questions about the particular situation of women and children.

“The numerous initiatives that place you in the front line in preventing trafficking, protecting survivors and prosecuting perpetrators are worthy of admiration,” Pope Francis told participants. “Much has been done and is being done,” he added, “but there remains much yet to do.” The Holy Father encouraged participants to coordinate their initiatives and to work together with political and social actors.

The ICMC delegation included Governing Committee members Msgr. Ruperto Santos of the Philippines and Fr. Jaison Vadassery Joseph of India, Secretary General Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Director of Policy Stéphane Jaquemet, Deputy Director of Operations Cristina Palazzo, Head of U.S. Liaison Office Limnyuy Konglim and Policy Officer Mantalin Kyrou.

A crime against humanity

Released last January, the Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking were drawn up by the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section and approved by Pope Francis. They provide in-depth insight into the phenomenon of human trafficking, which the Holy Father has called a “crime against humanity.”

“One of the darkest aspects of contemporary history, human trafficking victimizes millions of people all over the world,” states the new publication. Among its victims are the most vulnerable in society, including women, children, the disabled, the poorest and those who come from difficult family and social situations. 

Human trafficking takes different forms, including sexual exploitation, forced marriage, slave labor, servitude, forced begging, organ-harvesting and reproductive exploitation among others.

Examining ten dimensions of this complex phenomenon as defined by international law, the new resource outlines a framework for the Church to respond. Its ten chapters explore the causes of human trafficking and why it persists today. They also examine how it operates and why it remains hidden from public view.

The new resource responds to Pope Francis’ resolve that “the Catholic Church intends to intervene in every phase of the trafficking of human beings.” Its development took six months of church-wide consultation with leadership, scholars, and organizations working in the field.

Invited by the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section, the ICMC contributed insights for the resource based on its past and present experience in responding to survivors of trafficking and of sexual and gender-based violence, in the development of the resource.

The hope is that the new resource will motivate and inspire the Church’s anti-trafficking ministries in dioceses, parishes, religious congregations, schools, universities, and other organizations. The guidelines will also be useful as key messages for use in pastoral and educational work.

Is the Grass Always Greener on the Other Side? Dispelling Migration Myths in Guinea

For Mohammed, a young Guinean, emigrating to seek better perspectives seemed the obvious thing to do until he actually tried it. Like Mohammed, many young Guineans are pushed to undertake dangerous journeys by dire economic and social conditions. But some grassroots organizations are working to dispel myths surrounding migration.

By Agnès Bertrand (*)

There are about 30 young people gathered in a huge courtyard bordering a busy street of Kindia, the fourth-largest city in Guinea, some 135 km north-east of the nation’s capital Conakry. All sit on plastic chairs as they wait to participate in a discussion on migration.

The session (or “causerie,” in French) has been organized by the Association for Economic and Social Development (ADES), the recipient of a small grant from the Migration and Development (MADE) West Africa program of the International Catholic Migration Commission’s Europe office.

Today, Mohammed, a man in his late twenties, is invited to speak. He returned to Guinea last year after spending 18 months in Morocco, a time that he calls “hell.”

“I walked hundreds and hundreds of kilometers. During my time there, I must have used more than 20 pairs of shoes,” he tells the audience.

“But how did you manage to get 20 pairs of shoes?” someone asks.

Mohammed smiles and answers: “I stole them in the mosques.” And the participants laugh with him.

The anecdote sounds strangely comical… and in sharp contrast with other stories he told a little earlier. Stories about being abandoned along with other migrants by the police near the Algerian border; or being shot at with live bullets while trying to climb the border fence in Ceuta, the small Spanish enclave on the north coast of Africa; or eating food fished out of garbage bins.

Now Mohammed is back in Guinea and works as a fridge repairer. He’s married and doesn’t want to leave home again.

Migration: A Central Issue for Guinea’s Youth

Kindia and its surroundings are the orchard of Guinea. This splendid region is a garden of Eden, but the socioeconomic reality is extremely difficult. Paradoxically, it is one of the regions most affected by food insecurity, which affects 17% of the Guinean population.

Guinea is one of the richest countries in Africa when it comes to natural resources, particularly bauxite, the primary source of aluminum. However, this mineral wealth is exploited by multinational companies who make no effort to redistribute the profits to the local population.

Guinea’s illiteracy rate is around 70%. The employment rate was 66.5% in 2012 and work is predominantly precarious. In 2012, more than half of the population lived on less than USD 1.25 $ per day. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that many young people seek greener pastures abroad and leave the country in hopes of finding work or to study.

The figures speak for themselves. Guinea has a net negative migration rate, meaning that more people emigrate from the country than immigrate to it. In a ranking of African countries as sources of irregular migration, Guinea went from the 8th place in 2004 to the 3rd in 2014.

The phenomenon has reached such proportions that it is a central issue for Guinean society. In this context, ICMC Europe supports the work done by the Kindia-based organization ADES and its partners.

They organize information sessions on irregular migration. The project is supported by the mayor and councilors of Kindia. Some of them are personally involved because they lost a relative on the migration road.

“Irregular migration is a central issue for our society which needs to be addressed with the attention it deserves. Many kids have left and it has created too many dramas. One of the main problems is that despair turns them blind to what to expect on the way to and in Europe, if they reach it one day,” says Ramatoulaye Baldé, coordinator of the project for ADES.

Most of the organizations involved in this work are run by women. One of them, the Association of Women and Girls Leaders of Guinea (AFELGUI), works essentially on women’s rights and emancipation, yet irregular migration is also an important concern for them.

In the words of its president, Salamatou Bourhane Bah: “It is our responsibility as young women and social actors to engage on these issues. Everyone in Guinea knows someone who has left, someone who has come back or sometimes, more tragically, someone who died on the way.”

For her, migration is an issue that touches women as much as men. Sometimes women decide to leave for reasons connected to their gender, such as polygamy, forced marriage or genital mutilation. And for them, the consequences of irregular migration can be dire.

“It is the wives of migrants who have to care for the children on their own, being uncertain about the future. It is the women who, when they leave, are most likely going to be victims of sexual violence on the route. Their body is their passport. When they come back, everyone knows they have most likely been raped and they face social exclusion.”

“Who Will Change Our Society If Everyone Leaves?”

In February, I attended three information sessions run by ADES and its partners (see note at the end for a list of these). Every session is introduced by a facilitator or with the testimony of a migrant who has returned from Libya or of a person who has lost a relative because of migration.

The conversations are lively and usually the young participants split into two camps. On the one hand are those who believe that much remains to be achieved in Guinea. On the other are those who can hardly see any hopeful perspective and want to try their luck elsewhere.

One of the issues underlying these discussions is the idea of success: what does it mean to be successful in Guinea and abroad and what’s the meaning of giving something back to the society to which we belong?

“The perspectives offered to young people are quite limited as we face many challenges in our country,” says Moussa Mara, director of ADES. “The temptation to migrate is understandable, but who will change our society if everyone leaves? It’s up to us, civil society actors, to open up the prospects and help everyone find the resources in themselves to build their own future.”

The project on irregular migration sponsored by ICMC Europe is part of a range of ADES activities such as economic empowerment of women or micro-entrepreneurship, all of which aim to consolidate the social bond, bring hope and create a more just society.

The commitment of ADES staff members to these goals goes beyond their working hours. One of them has set up the first female football team in the region and the director mentors a few wannabe entrepreneurs.

At the time of my visit, a young lady came to his house to work with him on a business plan to set up her dream: a small company to transform fresh fruit into jam or dried fruit. She hopes to get a micro-grant, but knows that these are hard to come by.

Still, they spent the evening working on spreadsheets. And since the neighborhood suffered one of its frequent electricity cuts, they did so with the help of a flashlight (most people cannot afford electricity generators). In the badly-lit room, they discussed cash flows, assets, capital…

I listened to them in silence. This was probably one of the best lessons of resilience I ever received.

(*) Agnès Bertrand is MADE West Africa program manager.


Strengthening Cooperation Between Civil Society and Government

Illegal recruitment practices conducive to migrant-smuggling and human trafficking were the subject of a seminar conducted by the Réseau Afrique Jeunesse de Guinée (Youth African Network of Guinea — RAJ-GUI) in Conakry on 5-6 February 2019. The event was part of ICMC Europe activities to build the capacity of local civil society actors.

Among the participants were government officials (from the ministries of Justice, Social Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Interior) and representatives of civil society organizations, trade unions and migrant returnees.

The talk revolved around how to strengthen cooperation between civil society actors and government institutions to prevent these practices and assist migrant returnees and victims of trafficking. Which is a tough call in the Guinean context, marked by the reluctance of victims and their families to report abuse, inadequate staffing and insufficient means as well as lack of knowledge of the law on the part of those supposed to apply it.

Participants established an advocacy road map to tackle these issues. They expect to use the drafting of the Guinea national migratory strategy as an opportunity to present their recommendations.


Notes:

ADES partners with AFELGUI (Association des filles et femmes leaders de Guinée), CAJEG/K (Coordination des associations de Jeunesses de Guinée, antenne Kindia), CECOJE (Centre d’écoute, de conseil et d’orientation pour jeunes), FEJED (Femmes, enfants, jeunes et développement), GAD (Guinée action développement) and JAJ (Jeune aide jeune).

There are very few statistics available for Guinea. All figures in this article come from the Plan National de Développement Economique et Social 2016-2020 except otherwise noted.

SHARE Integration: Spotlight on Croatia

Despite a climate of declining solidarity when it comes to international and European efforts to support refugees, there is much to celebrate for SHARE Integration.

The latest, April 2019 edition of the SHARE Integration magazine highlights how resettlement efforts are well underway across Europe. 24,000 refugees have already been welcomed to their new homes, with a 50,000-target set for October 2019. It has been, and will be a busy year for SHARE Integration and all the actors involved in refugee resettlement.

The April SHARE Integration magazine focuses on Croatia, a country that only recently opened its doors to resettling refugees, showcasing the efforts of local authorities and communities.

Over the past six months, SHARE partners have also worked on developing and using the SHARE Preparing Welcoming Communities Curriculum to train local stakeholders awaiting upcoming arrivals in 25 small municipalities across Europe.

A concrete example of how resettlement can work and of the successful role of small municipalities in integrating refugees, the first video of the Small places, Great hearts series focuses on the experience of the Austrian town of Gänserndorf. The video, produced by Caritas Austria in collaboration with the municipality of Gänserndorf, can be accessed here.

SHARE Integration is the second phase of the SHARE project being implemented in 2018-2019. The SHARE Network was established in March 2012. Led by the International Catholic Migration Commission Europe office, it provides a platform for mutual exchange and learning between local and regional actors working on or considering resettlement. It advocates for more and better resettlement in Europe.

• Read the April edition of the SHARE magazine

Church Needs Wake-Up Call Says Africa Working Group on Migration

The SECAM-ICMC Africa Working Group on Migration has underlined the need for heightened awareness and stronger collaboration within the Church in order to address irregular migration and human trafficking in the region.

Delegates from the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), representatives from the International Catholic Migration Committee (ICMC) and from the Vatican’s Migrant and Refugee Section met late last year in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to explore how to strengthen the Church’s contribution to reducing irregular migration and human trafficking.

The participants agreed that the churches need “a true wake-up call” on migration and human trafficking matters. “The Church must get more involved in order to better understand the related issues,” they stated in the meeting’s official report.

Participants noted that many people feel forced to migrate, even under irregular conditions. They are so pressured that they will stop at nothing to reach their goal of safety, decent work or access to basic human services for themselves and their families, even if it means putting their lives at stake. In light of this, the participants said that the Church, rather than trying to stop potential irregular migrants, needs to “listen to them and accompany them in their life choices.”

The delegates emphasized the importance of joining forces with other faith traditions and civil society actors to have a more significant impact when advocating to governments. They pointed out that such cooperation would also facilitate joint analysis of the issue of irregular migration.

They called for the formation of groups to share experiences. Such groups should be comprised of families of people who have left their home country, people who are on the move and returnees, whether their return was voluntary or forced.

“In this way, the Church in Africa can welcome the invitation of Pope Francis who asks [us] to listen to the migrant’s cry. We don’t respond to the needs of the poor by delegating the task to others,” they stated.

The Africa Working Group on Migration was created in 2010 by SECAM and ICMC to address national, regional and continental migration issues. The Group includes delegates of the eight Regional Conferences of SECAM, who serve as liaison persons to the national Episcopal Conferences and Migration Commissions in their respective areas.

Spotlight on Central Africa

The Working Group meeting started with the opening speeches of H.E. Philippe Cardinal Ouedraogo, Archbishop of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Bishop Ignace Bessi Dogbo, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Ivory Coast and Fr. Mesmin-Prosper Massengo, President of the Working Group.

Father Destin Mouene Ndzorombe, Director of the Archdiocesan Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, focused his presentation on migration and human trafficking in Central Africa.

He urged the churches to educate future priests about human mobility while they are still in seminary formation. A further step is to create national commissions on migrants, refugees and human trafficking, to organize these commissions as recommended by the Vatican’s Migrant and Refugee Section and to train commission leaders, he noted.

“If it’s true that man is a migrant by nature, then it’s also true that we can better manage this migration and, in doing so, reduce its consequences especially with regard to irregular migration, namely human trafficking in Africa in general and in Central Africa in particular.”

Examples of Engagement

Delegates spent a fruitful day and half sharing about work being done on migration and human trafficking issues by the different regional and national Episcopal Conferences.

Sr. Anna Brigid Melanie O’Connor, Coordinator of “Counter Trafficking in Persons” for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), reported that this project, co-run by SACBC, is offering skills training for undocumented migrants looking to return to their own countries and links them with parishes to facilitate re-integration. 

Mr. Antoine Sagara, Caritas Mali program director, spoke of how the Migrants’ House project in Gao, in the Eastern part of the country, is working to promote migrants’ rights and change attitudes towards migrants. The project also gives migrants in transit a dignified welcome.

The “Stemming Irregular Migration in Northern and Central Ethiopia” project aims to curb irregular migration by creating more job and income-generation opportunities for young people in these regions, Mr. Bekele Moges, Executive Director for Caritas Ethiopia, told the delegates.

In Ivory Coast, the Catholic Church’s Migration Commission was involved in the government preparation of legislation on human trafficking and was active in advocacy concerning the Global Compact on Migration. The Commission drew the government’s attention to the 20 Action Points published by the Vatican’s Migrant and Refugee Section.

Mr. Oswald Samvura, Justice and Peace coordinator for the Association of Episcopal Conferences in Central Africa, outlined the results of a five-year plan to promote justice and human rights, in particular for ethnic minorities and migrants. He said that there has been much ecumenical collaboration, including the launch of an Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, which is conducting research on migrants and displaced persons in the Great Lakes region.

New Strategic Framework to Guide ICMC’s Work in 2019-2022

The Strategic Framework 2019-2022 for the International Catholic Migration Commission reveals the organization’s priorities and objectives for the coming four years. The goal-oriented document was approved by the ICMC Council Plenary Meeting in Rome in March 2018.

The Strategic Framework sets forth six priorities identified by ICMC Council members as its primary focus areas.

ICMC aims to protect uprooted people and address their needs through a humanitarian response that leads to durable solutions, always with a focus on the people most at risk.

Strengthening of global solidarity with refugees through the promotion of resettlement for the most vulnerable and the prevention of and fight against human trafficking is one of the Strategic Framework’s key priorities.

Another focus of ICMC’s work is to build a common home for all members of the human family through migration and development that focuses on human dignity and benefits both migrants and host communities.

The Strategic Framework also prioritizes the broadening of alliances with other faith-based organizations, governments, UN agencies and non-profit organizations to create partnerships and networks that promote change.

The Framework founds ICMC’s actions on Catholic Social Teaching and is inspired by Pope Francis’ invitation to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees.

ICMC’s Strategic Framework 2019-2022 is available in English, French and Spanish. Hard copies are available upon request (please contact communications@icmc.net).

The Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Fighting HIV

Is there a specific role for faith-based organizations in the fight against HIV? And if so, do they have the credibility to play such a role and to contribute to reducing stigma and discrimination? These were some of the questions addressed by a workshop involving NGOs, government and UN representatives in Geneva in February.

Organized by the World Council of Churches-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), UNAIDS and the International Catholic Migration Commission, the workshop focused on strengthening collaboration among faith-based and international organizations, governments and NGOs to address HIV prevention and treatment amid migrants and refugees.

The workshop participants issued a road map for increased action by faith-based organizations in response to HIV among migrants and refugees.

Migrants and Refugees’ Vulnerability to HIV

Approximately 37 million people live with HIV today, with 1.8 million new infections every year. Nearly 1 million people died of AIDS-related diseases in 2017, and about one-quarter of those living with HIV do not know their status. In certain regions, women who experience physical and sexual violence are one and a half times more likely to contract HIV.

Many migrants and refugees are particularly at risk due to precarious living conditions. “Conflict and violence are factors that drive both vulnerability to HIV and forced migration,” said ICMC Secretary General Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo at the start of the workshop. Furthermore, migrants and refugees are often at high risk of sexual violence and sexual trafficking, which increase the risk of contracting HIV.

Migrants and refugees often face difficulties accessing health care services. These challenges may stem from lack of proper documentation, discrimination or laws barring certain migrants from benefiting from local health systems.

Moreover, migrants’ frequent relocation makes them difficult to reach. Organizations that offer HIV prevention and treatment services to migrants face high drop-out rates among enrolled participants as the latter relocate.

Faith-Based Organizations’ Privileged Position in the Fight Against HIV

According to Ms. Wangari Tharao, a member of the NGO Delegation to the governing body of the UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), migrants and refugees fear the stigma and discrimination associated to HIV. Negative narratives and irrational fears surrounding migration discourage migrants from seeking treatment when it is available.

Faith-based organizations have privileged access to people living with or at risk of contracting HIV. “Religion plays a very important role in the lives of mobile populations,” said Tharao. “I asked [migrant] women what role religion plays in their lives. More than 70% say that it influences their everyday decisions around health and life.”

Many migrants and refugees “trust church people more than anyone,” echoed Dr. Michael P. Grillo, branch chief of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). “They prefer church people to the police, NGOs and health departments,” he added.

The credibility of faith-based organizations puts them in a privileged position to increase awareness of HIV and to promote treatment. They can influence migrants’ attitudes towards HIV testing and assist people affected so that they receive treatment throughout their lives. They also can support victims of sexual violence and advocate for holding perpetrators accountable.

Using new technologies to remain connected to people on the move, distributing HIV self-testing kits directly at places of work for migrants and creating culturally-adapted awareness materials are just a few of the ideas shared during the workshop to improve outreach to migrants and refugees.

Perhaps the most compelling reason why faith-based organizations should focus on the fight against HIV among migrants is that they can offer a spiritual dimension to HIV care. Patients may respond better to treatment when they receive comprehensive healthcare that includes a spiritual aspect, said Fr. Richard Bauer from the Eastern Deanery AIDS Relief Program (EDARP), a Catholic organization that works in the Eastern slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

Maha Ganni: Migrant, Refugee, Humanitarian Expert

As the ICMC Deployment Program entered its 20th year, we invited Ms. Maha Ganni, the program’s first humanitarian expert, to share her testimony. Drawing on her personal experience as a migrant and a refugee as well as on her humanitarian practice, she tells stories of resiliency and hope.

By Maha Ganni

I was born to Iraqi Catholic Chaldean migrants in Kuwait. On 2 August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the lives of many people changed. Mine was one. I was separated from my family and ended up in Spain, a country with a different culture and language. Due to the immigration laws of the time, my family and I were separated and lived in different countries for 11 years.

Through my struggle to obtain legal status in Spain and with the advantage of speaking English and Arabic and having later learned Spanish, I began to assist other refugees. And so in 1992, I started working with the International Catholic Migration Commission’s affiliate office in Spain.

In September 1998, when the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) initiated the Middle East Resettlement Program, the-then brand new ICMC Deployment Scheme enrolled me to work with the UNHCR operation in Beirut, Lebanon. So, I became ICMC’s very first “deployee”!

The following year, I remained in Beirut as an ICMC staff member to establish its Overseas Processing Entity. There, I processed refugee cases for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Center under the management of the Regional Office in Istanbul, Turkey.

I stayed in Beirut 10 years, during which time I went on short missions to Yemen, India and countries in West Africa. I also provided support to the ICMC office in Turkey during the influx of Iraqi refugees after the fall of the Iraqi government in 2003. Over the following years, I was deployed to Jordan, Ecuador and the United Arab Emirates, from where I covered all the Gulf countries.

It was in Ecuador, during my first deployment in Latin America, where I had to cut short my deployment from six months to one and a half because of security concerns. I was based in Esmeraldas, close to the Colombian border, and worked with Afro-Colombian refugees. Due to the high-risk environment, I was unable to see myself staying there for the contractual six months.

The staff of the ICMC Deployment Scheme understood and supported me. And I realized that yes, the work in the field matters as we are dealing with people’s lives, but our own well-being is also important. My ICMC colleagues made me feel I was not alone but part of a family. I was treated as a person, not a number.

A Blessed Journey of Laughter and Tears

Looking back, the last decades appear as challenging, with many ups and downs. But it has also been a blessed journey.

I have had the privilege and honor to meet people from all walks of life throughout my career. I can’t remember two similar cases; the challenges were always different. At times, I had to interview refugees at airports and prisons.

Moments of laughter and moments of tears were shared. Each person made me feel blessed for having crossed their path. Each experience was unique and meaningful in its own way.

No two stories are equal, but some stick with you.

I remember Leila, who had fled war in her country. As a young girl, she was married off to a man with whom she had two daughters and a son. But her husband had forged his nationality and Leila’s children were left with no documentation and thus without schooling.

“Three Iraqi boys came to an interview wearing t-shirts with the American flag,” recalls Ms. Ganni. “The boys dreamed of continuing their education. They wanted to contribute to their new home and society.” © Maha Ganni

Leila could not pass her nationality on to her children. Her husband became violent and abusive. She educated herself, obtained the custody of her children and found a job. But her children could not be granted legal residence as she did not meet the requirements.

After eight months, Leila and her children were finally resettled to a third country.

Another story I remember happened in a Gulf country where three Iraqi boys came to an interview wearing t-shirts with the American flag. They thought I represented the U.S. government and wanted to show their enthusiasm and respect.

They had not been able to attend school for four years. Their father was in a wheelchair as a consequence of the torture he endured in retaliation for working with the U.S. government after the fall of the Iraqi government. The boys dreamed of continuing their education. They wanted to become a doctor, an engineer and an actor so that they might contribute to their new home and society.

One story that touched me was that of Wael because it made me realize how easy it is to be judged on your passport rather than on who you are.

He was a student in a foreign country when war began in his homeland. As a result, his visa was no longer accepted and he was deported to the Gulf country were his parents resided. But there too, visa restrictions applied and he was not allowed to join his family. He could not return to his homeland either since there he would have been forced to join the army.

For three months, Wael circulated between airports in five countries until the UN Refugee Agency learned about him. I was asked to interview him in a transit lounge. Wael’s wife had sought asylum in a European country. Once she was granted refugee status, Wael was able to reunite with her.

My passion and dedication to the cause of refugees is rooted in the desire to ensure that what happened to me and my family will not happen to others and to be a positive force in other people’s lives. That’s how it began years ago and how it continues today.

Names have been modified to protect people’s identities.


The ICMC Deployment Program works in close collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency, supplying humanitarian experts to ensure timely protection to refugees and other vulnerable persons. ICMC draws on a highly-qualified pool of humanitarian experts to deliver rapid, focused support in refugee resettlement, complementary admission pathways, child protection, refugee status determination, anti-fraud measures and more. ICMC experts also assist multilateral organizations and governments directly.

Migration Contributes to Economic Growth

Labor migration undertaken voluntarily and with full respect for human dignity and safe and just working conditions is a positive example of the association between work and growth.

Just and dignified working conditions and wages must be an integral part of work, said Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) at the International Conference on Religions and Sustainable Development Goals, held in Vatican City on 7-9 March 2019.

The conference focused on the contribution that religions can make to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Msgr. Vitillo’s intervention focused on the link between work and growth. He reminded the audience of the positive impact of migration on economic growth.

“International migrants constitute 3.4 percent of the world’s population, but contribute 9.4 percent to the global Gross Domestic Product,” he said, reporting findings from the recently published report “Rethinking Labour: Ethical Reflections on the Future of Work”.

Msgr. Vitillo highlighted the Catholic emphasis on integral human development, which goes far beyond the pure and simple economic sphere.

Quoting professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, Vitillo observed that companies should not only be concerned with their carbon footprint, but place a special attention on their human footprint, that is their impact on the human beings who work for them.

ICMC Expresses Sorrow Over Attacks in New Zealand

The Secretary General and Staff of the International Catholic Migration Commission express their deep sorrow on the senseless act of violence and tragic loss of life during the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday, 15 March 2019. Our heartfelt solidarity goes out to all the victims’ families and community members

ICMC staff dedicate themselves to offer welcome and humanitarian support to persons who are forced to migrate or seek refuge in search of security, safety, freedom from systemic violence, prejudice and persecution, or are in desperate search for the basic necessities of life. We see each day the positive gifts that migrants and refugees bring to the communities that welcome them.

ICMC’s national member organization, Caritas New Zealand, has distinguished itself in working with local parishes to resettle refugees and to promote welcome of such persons by all members of the population – an important effort in that regard was Caritas New Zealand’s educational and awareness-raising campaign, “We all have a migration story.”

Let us pray that God will help us to transform this horrendous  loss of life into renewed efforts among all peoples and communities for indeed we are all sisters and brothers created in the image of God.

“Let’s Work Together,” Civil Society Tells Governments

“Our underlying message is straightforward and simple: let’s work together!” said Stéphane Jaquemet, Director of Policy at the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), speaking to government representatives in Geneva last month.

Jaquemet brought the civil society perspective to a 21 February “Friends of the Forum” meeting organized by the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). The Forum is an informal space created by governments to exchange and build consensus on migration-related issues. It involves the participation of civil society organizations, the private sector, local authorities and UN agencies.

This past December, over 160 states adopted the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), an international agreement with the potential of bettering living conditions for millions of migrants worldwide. Now that negotiations have concluded, the implementation phase has begun and will require close collaboration between national and local governments, the private sector and civil society actors.

According to Jaquemet, to improve the situation of migrants across the world, it is crucial to “engage all governments, including governments withdrawing from the Compact, without ever compromising on international standards.”

At the “Friends of the Forum” meeting, Jaquemet spoke on behalf of some 300 NGOs that took part in the GFMD Civil Society Days in Morocco in December 2018. This gathering concluded with a report detailing civil society’s ten commitments  towards migrants and refugees.

These commitments can be viewed as a road map for the implementation of the GCM and as a tool to build bridges with the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), another international agreement adopted in December, that focuses specifically on people who cannot return safely to their home country.

Among the priorities set forward in the report, civil society’s concerns include the best interests of migrant children, support to female community leaders and addressing the challenges of climate-driven migration.

Creating a Narrative That Serves Migrants

Jaquemet emphasized the importance of addressing the negative narrative that often surrounds migration. “Losing the battle against xenophobia and hatred is something none of us can afford,” he said.

“Migration is not a concept, but a reality impacting human beings, their life and their dignity.” From a policy perspective, focusing the narrative of migration around those whose lives it impacts means implementing the GCM and the GCR so that they serve all people on the move. It also means including people displaced within the borders of their own country, who fall neither under the categories of refugee nor of migrant.

Future of the GFMD Civil Society Days

In conclusion, Jaquemet reminded the meeting of the importance of civil society participation in the discussions surrounding migration. Thanks to their outreach work, civil society actors can offer invaluable knowledge to governments implementing the GCR and the GCM.

However, due to financial uncertainty, civil society’s participation in the GFMD 2019, which will take place in Ecuador in November, is in jeopardy. “It would be a major drawback,” Jaquemet said, “a disastrous move, on the first year of the implementation of the Global Compact,” if civil society organizations were unable to participate.

Jaquemet thanked the seven countries that contributed to civil society’s participation in 2018 and called upon all governments to support this year’s activities.

“The GFMD is above all a process, which helps create an antidote to xenophobia and the degrading anti-migrant discourse. We do have a collective responsibility to ensure its viability,” Jaquemet concluded.