Listen to Children and Take Their Views Into Consideration

The first step for anyone working to protect children, especially in the context of migration, should be listening to their needs, desires, and plans for the future.

The need to listen to children and consider their views was one of the key messages delivered by Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) in Athens on 14 March.

Msgr. Vitillo, a social worker by training, spoke at the Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum, and Refugees (IGC). His intervention focused on lessons that social work practice can contribute to the determination of what actions are in the children’s best interest.

Msgr. Vitillo highlighted two essential values of social work practice: belief in the uniqueness and inherent dignity of the person, and belief in the person’s right to self-determination. These values should always be taken into consideration when dealing with children, especially with unaccompanied and separated children in the context of migration.

Msgr. Vitillo reminded participants that children in migration are first and foremost children and should be treated as such. Their best interest should always be the primary consideration in all actions concerning them.

Building a bridge between social work practice and the assessment of children’s best interest, he urged participants to keep in mind that children have a right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them. They also have the right to have their opinions taken into consideration in accordance with their age, maturity, and understanding of the available options.

The IGC is an informal forum for the exchange of information and policy debate on issues relevant to the management of international migratory flows. The IGC brings together 17 states and the UN Refugee and Migration agencies (UNHCR and IOM).

The 13-15 March meeting in Athens addressed specific challenges and best practices related to best interest determination procedures for unaccompanied and separated minors.

ICMC Assists Croatia’s Efforts to Resettle Refugees

The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) is supporting the Croatian government as the latter works to resettle 100 refugees currently in Turkey.

Early in January 2019, the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Croatia and ICMC signed an agreement by which ICMC will contribute its expertise and services for the resettlement in Croatia of refugees currently living in Turkey. The agreement spans over 12 months. Croatia plans to resettle 100 refugees, with a possibility to expand that number.

“We greatly welcome the decision of the Croatian government at a time when the need for resettlement opportunities is higher than ever,” said ICMC Secretary General Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo.

There are over 25 million refugees worldwide. Among them, some 1.2 million need to be resettled to a third country. However, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), only 55,692 refugees were resettled in 2018.

“As a durable solution, resettlement to a third country is a life-saving measure for refugees who cannot return safely to their home countries or integrate into the countries where they first sought protection,” Msgr. Vitillo added. “We thus encourage States to offer more resettlement opportunities, by expanding their current programs or creating new ones.”

“The Republic of Croatia encourages and promotes the strengthening of legal pathways for people in need of international protection, and in that regard we carry out a resettlement program for Syrian refugees from Turkey,” stated Mr. Davor Božinović, Minister of Interior of Croatia. In this way, the country “shows solidarity and humanity towards the most vulnerable refugees,” he added.

ICMC staff who specializes in providing cultural orientation to refugees before they depart Turkey is working with Croatian government officials on a new interactive program to facilitate the successful integration of resettled refugees. The cultural orientation activity is being implemented in cooperation with the Jesuit Refugee Service of Croatia and introduces refugees to Croatian culture, while imparting realistic expectations about services, opportunities, and responsibilities.

Moreover, ICMC staff assists Croatian government officials when they interview resettlement candidates in Istanbul, offering interpretation services and coordinating medical screenings. ICMC also coordinates travel to and accommodation in Istanbul, as refugees are spread across the country and need to travel to that city for interviews, medical screenings and cultural orientation.

The first selection mission carried out by the Croatian government has already taken place. “The Croatian delegation is extremely satisfied with ICMC’s professionalism,” Minister Božinović said.

ICMC resettlement services in Turkey draw on the experience accumulated by the organization in over 50 years assisting governments to resettle refugees. ICMC offers a complete set of services, which can be customized upon request.

ICMC staff has received extensive training in all aspects of the resettlement process, including interview techniques, monitoring, documentation, protection and anti-fraud measures, and safety and security. They pay particular attention to vulnerable refugees like children, especially unaccompanied minors, and can conduct interviews and offer counseling and orientation in more than a dozen languages spoken by the refugees.

ICMC is one of the leading service providers for the resettlement of refugees to the United States. It also works with other governments interested in stepping up or starting refugee resettlement programs.

ICMC Honors Victims of Ethiopian Airlines Crash

The Secretary General and staff of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) express their sincere sympathy and solidarity to the families of the four staff members of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), who tragically lost their lives in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane on Sunday, 10 March. We grieve the loss of such dedicated lives engaged in unselfish responses to those most in need.

ICMC shares common roots with CRS – through our grounding in Catholic Church teaching and tradition to welcome migrants and refugees and give shelter and protection to those forced to leave their home countries because of war, conflict, persecution, or lack of basic needs for a dignified life.

We also honor the memory of our sister and brother humanitarians, members from the United Nations, CARE, Norwegian Refugee Council, and Save the Children, and all the persons who lost their lives during this tragic event and pray for all their family members and loved ones who mourn their loss.

May God grant all the victims eternal peace and joy in a place where every tear will be wiped away and new life will spring from earthly death and suffering.

Ethical Perspectives on the Future of Work

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a new publication explores what faith-based organizations can contribute to shaping the future of work.

The publication Rethinking Labour: Ethical Reflections on the Future of Work addresses some of the challenges of labor markets today. Rooted in the long-standing concern of the Church to improve labor conditions worldwide, the publication seeks to integrate the human dimension, the centrality of human dignity and the common good within discussions about the future of work.

Published by the Caritas in Veritate Foundation and the project The Future of Work, Labour After Laudato Sì, Rethinking Labour offers insights from dozens of contributors on topics that range from work conditions among migrant populations to the effects of technology on the workforce. The publication is a contribution to marking the ILO centenary in 2019.

Among the contributions, Rethinking Labour includes a case study on livelihood programs implemented in Jordan and Pakistan by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC).

In Pakistan, the program aimed to help Afghan refugees develop income-generating activities. Likewise, Syrian refugees in Jordan struggled to find regular employment due to limited job opportunities and a lack of specialized training.

In both cases, vocational training facilitated employability by providing skills useful both in the country of refuge and in their country of origin should they return. The case study includes personal stories of refugees who benefited from these programs.

The project The Future of Work, Labour After Laudato Sì, is coordinated by ICMC and carried out in collaboration with the ILO and the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The project seeks to enable Catholic-inspired and other faith-based organizations to contribute to the promotion and implementation of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Sì in areas related to work and dialogue between employers’ and workers’ organizations.

• Download the publication Rethinking Labour: Ethical Reflections on the Future of Work

Reshaping Human Mobility: ICMC Europe Work in Senegal

When poverty is rampant, labor opportunities are lacking and channels for legal migration are scarce, irregular migration appears to many as a viable alternative for a better life and a way to fulfill their family’s needs. This is the case in many West African countries, including Senegal.

According to European Parliament estimates, more than 10,000 Senegalese tried to migrate to Europe via Libya and Italy in 2016 and another 6,000 did so in 2017. To these figures one should add those who attempted to migrate via Morocco and Spain, a route for which no statistics are available.

Since smugglers or traffickers run most migration routes, people who want to leave their countries at all costs may find themselves in situations of exploitation in their countries of destination or while in transit.

Figures concerning victims of human trafficking are hard to come by. However, trafficked Senegalese migrants are found in Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf countries. In the latter case, the victims are mostly women who have been deceived with promises of decent employment but end up in situations that amount to forced labor.

Protecting Senegalese Migrants

A relatively small West African country, Senegal has a population of about 15 million people. It is estimated that over half a million Senegalese live outside their country. In the early 2000s, Senegal put in place policy and legislation on human trafficking. However, very little exists on the smuggling of migrants or labor migration.

The International Catholic Migration Commission’s Europe office has engaged Senegalese civil society organizations through its MADE (Migration and Development) West Africa program. The goal is to strengthen their expertise and capacity for advocacy and to develop cooperation between civil society actors and local and regional government officials.

In January, ICMC Europe and the Senegalese organization DIADEM (Diaspora Développement Éducation Migration) organized a seminar attended by high-ranking police officers, civil society organizations, academics and associations of returnee migrants. The seminar took place at La Pouponnière (the Nursery), an institution run by the Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Dakar.

The seminar focused on positive and negative practices of recruitment of migrant workers, that is, recruitment with or without legal and protective frameworks. It also discussed the current legal framework for migration and what can be improved. Participants agreed that policies on international labor migration are critically absent from those frameworks.

“Human trafficking and migrant-smuggling is heavily impacting mobility outside our borders,” says Fambaye N’Doye from the trade union UNSAS (Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes du Senegal). “There is a chain that goes like this: illegal migration brings about migrant-smuggling, which can lead to human trafficking. We must break this cycle and work on a real labor migration policy.”

After two days of lively discussions and exchanges, seminar participants outlined an advocacy road map to be followed by Senegalese civil society organizations in order to frame and strengthen national measures on labor migration.

Implementing such a policy and legal framework requires the cooperation of international partners, including European states, which are countries of destination.

“It takes two to tango,” says Agnès Bertrand, MADE West Africa program manager. “The involvement of European states and institutions is one of the goals of ICMC’s advocacy efforts in favor of safe and legal pathways for migration to the European Union.”

Working With the Grassroots

Young people who wish to migrate need to know what lies ahead of them. They need to be aware of their rights as potential migrants and the opportunities available when they return to their home countries after their migratory experience. To achieve this purpose, DIADEM has set up a program called “CASA (Centre d’Appui, de Soutien et d’Assistance) Migrants.”

CASA Migrants informs potential and returning migrants about their rights and puts them in contact with public services and associations working in the field of employment or employability. It also sensitizes potential migrants about the risks of trafficking, particularly in the context of irregular migration. Finally, CASA Migrants advocates for policies and legal frameworks that encompass these issues.

“CASA Migrants is about giving free advice, avoiding false promises and mirages. We do not ask for any paper or money,” says Badara N’Diaye, president of DIADEM. The project, sponsored by ICMC Europe, has been established in Dakar, the capital city, and in Saint Louis, one of Senegal’s largest cities, in partnership and with the backing of local authorities and grassroots associations.

When it comes to “potential migrants,” DIADEM organizes information sessions for young people in training centers and secondary schools. DIADEM staffers explain what a work contract is, what it needs to include and warn against the practices of traffickers. They also discuss opportunities for migration within Africa and the risks of irregular migration to Europe.

One of these sessions took place at the Center for Education and Social Promotion Keur Mame Fatim Konté in Saint Louis and was attended by about 50 young women. When asked if they wanted to live and work abroad, more than half raised their hands. The countries they dreamed of were France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

Then, the facilitators started asking questions.

—How do you get to the United Kingdom?
—With a pirogue, a young woman responded (a pirogue is a dugout canoe, traditionally used by fishermen).
—And why do you want to go to the UK?
—To learn English and because I like what I see about it on TV.
—And how do you go to France?
—By truck, boat or plane.
—And how do you go to (Guinea’s capital city) Conakry?
—I don’t know.

Organizers hope that this hour-long discussion with the young women will help dispel myths about the Western “way of life” and prompt further discussion within their families.

An Air and Border Police Commissioner working at the border between Guinea and Mauritania (Rosso Senegal) stressed how difficult it is to deal with irregular migration.

“Every day we see these kids passing through,” he explained. “Sometimes I try to talk to them, describe the living conditions in Morocco, the deaths at sea, show them videos, but they won’t listen. This is beyond my role as a police officer. It is crucial that civil society organizations work with the youth and act on this.” 

The partnership between ICMC Europe and DIADEM is part of the MADE West Africa program co-funded by the European Union.

The EU Should Use Its Migration and Asylum Budget in a Humane and Effective Way

Creating partnerships with local actors working on migration and integration, including civil society organizations, contributes to achieving that goal, say a group of 20 NGOs including ICMC Europe.

In a joint statement released in late February 2019, the organizations call on legislators to ensure that a new European Union funding mechanism in the field of migration and asylum contributes to more humane, transparent and effective asylum and migration policies.

The new Asylum and Migration Fund (AMF) will enter into force as of 2021 and is currently being negotiated by the European Parliament, Commission and Council. It involves a budget of 9.2 billion euros for the period 2021-2027.

The goal of the new Fund is “to support fair and efficient asylum systems in Europe, to guarantee safe and dignified returns of third-country nationals as well as to harmonize high standards in the field of asylum, reception, and integration.”

One of the main differences between the new AMF and the previous instrument is that the new one only includes measures related to early integration, whereas medium and long-term integration will be covered by the European Social Fund. The latter is the instrument used for general integration of third-country nationals into the EU.

While this could be beneficial, the signatories of the statement caution that strong coordination between the two funds is necessary to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.

As the ICMC Europe-led SHARE Network demonstrates, reception and integration are in many cases the responsibility of local governments and civil society actors. Therefore, the statement also requests that ‘smaller actors’ have more direct access to the Asylum and Migration Fund.

Partnerships among actors working in refugee and migrant integration, a key principle of the SHARE Network, is another key demand of the statement’s signatories.

“All over Europe, we see examples of good practices in integration, which involve local authorities and civil society organizations working together,” says Petra Hueck, Head of ICMC Europe. “Coordination and collaboration between national, regional and local government levels in partnership with civil society organizations are effective means to better address the needs on the ground and to work towards smoother and better integration policies and projects,” she adds.

Welcoming Children with Disabilities in Jordan

The ICMC Child Friendly Space in Mafraq, Jordan, is expanding its activities to include children with disabilities through educational activities and psychosocial care.

The ICMC office in Jordan is implementing an inclusive program for children with disabilities at its Child Friendly Space in Mafraq. The new project will offer educational and recreational activities for children and support for caregivers.

The project will engage 125 children and youth between the ages of three and 17 over a six-month period. It will also encourage the participation of parents and caregivers in a support group.

The project is funded by the Australian Government’s Direct Aid Program.

Children with disabilities living in Jordan are at very high risk of social exploitation, discrimination and abuse. Only 3% of them receive formal education. By creating an accessible space and by offering appropriate resources, ICMC aims to ensure that they are not left behind.

The project also seeks to develop awareness and social inclusion. By getting equal opportunities to learn, build social skills and strengthen their self-esteem, children with disabilities have a chance of being included and accepted by their communities and of contributing to decision-making processes.

Based in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, the Child Friendly Space was created by ICMC in 2013. It offers educational and recreational activities to Syrian refugees and vulnerable local Jordanian children.

The Space is part of ICMC’s Protection Center and allows parents to take part in the center’s educational activities and psychosocial care while their children learn and play in a secure environment.

The Australian Government’s Direct Aid Program supports development projects abroad. Sponsored activities must have a tangible, immediate and sustainable impact in the community in which they unfold.

Bishop Calls on Youth to Fight Human Trafficking in the Philippines

Bishop Ruperto Santos asked for youth to be actively involved in the fight against human trafficking in the Philippines during a Mass held in Manila on 8 February.

On 8 February, International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, Bishop Ruperto Santos released a statement calling upon young people to mobilize as allies in the battle against human trafficking. He also encouraged parishes and Church organizations to continue providing homes for victims and survivors.

Bishop Santos is the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and itinerant people and a member of the Governing Committee of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC). The statement was also signed by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines.

Bishop Santos’ call to action recognizes the increasing vulnerability of children and families to human trafficking due to the growing number of cases of abuse of the Filipino labor migration system.

Human trafficking is “exploitation to the highest degree because it destroys the lives of the vulnerable ― people who have very few options,” said Bishop Santos.

Migration and human trafficking often go hand in hand. According to the latest numbers released by the government, 10 million Filipinos, or roughly 10% of the country’s population, work and live abroad. This makes the country one of the largest sources of migrant workers.

Although the government has developed programs to protect overseas Filipino workers, the immense surge in their numbers in the past years has led to growing manipulation of the country’s labor migration system by human traffickers.

Recruitment agencies for work abroad often serve as fronts for sex and slave trafficking. While travel documents may be processed through the Philippines’ legal labor emigration system, migrants are deceived regarding the nature and conditions of their work in the destination country. Once abroad, they are trafficked and forced to work in exploitative situations.

According to the United Nations, women aged between 18 and 27 are by far the group most at risk of human trafficking. An estimated 784,000 Filipinos are victims of modern-day slavery.
To help its national member organizations in Asia respond to the challenges related to human mobility, ICMC established an Asia Working Group in 2008 and later expanded it to include Church-related organizations from Oceania.

The group, chaired by Bishop Santos, links ICMC members in countries of departure, transit and labor. Its goal is to develop greater responsiveness to migration issues, including human trafficking.

Return Procedures Must Respect Human Rights and Dignity

A new European Union proposal to handle the return of asylum-seekers whose claims have been rejected may be at odds with fundamental values.

The European Union is discussing a reform to its standards and procedures for returning third-country nationals who stay illegally in its Member States. But according to a group of Christian churches and organizations including the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), the proposed modifications may be in contradiction with fundamental values upon which the EU was founded.

In early February, the organizations, all of which work with migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, made public a statement on the changes to the current Return Directive being debated by EU Member States. The debate is part of a comprehensive reform of the Common European Asylum System, which regulates asylum and migration procedures, practices and policies among EU Member States.

The proposed changes to the Return Directive will restrict access to voluntary return, increase detention and establish a new accelerated border procedure. According to the statement, these developments are particularly problematic and may infringe upon fundamental human rights.

Recognizing that return policies are a fundamental part of effective migration policy, the organizations call on EU Member States to take into consideration factors such as comprehensive pre-departure advice and reintegration assistance, which impact return decisions and numbers.

Returns should be voluntary

ICMC and other Christian organizations have consistently stated that voluntary returns should always take precedence over forced ones. When returns are voluntary and the fruit of informed decisions, they usually prove more successful for all parties involved.

According to the statement, the return of migrants should only be carried out safely and in full compliance with their fundamental and procedural rights. Furthermore, migrants should be returned only to countries which are considered safe for each specific case.

However, the current proposal to amend the Return Directive takes a very different route and may lead to a de facto abolition of voluntary returns. The organizations request the removal of proposed modifications that would drastically limit access to the voluntary return option.

Reintegration measures are crucial

The organizations also highlight the need to provide “pre-departure advice, information on reintegration policies in the country of return, tailor-made reintegration assistance and monitoring after return.” The reason being that “when the returnee is not adequately prepared for reintegration, this increases the re-emigration possibility.”

“Thanks to our work on the ground, especially through our MADE West Africa program, we know that returns can be very complex and traumatic experiences,” says Petra Hueck, Head of ICMC Europe.

“But unfortunately, the EU lacks a holistic view on migration, development and returns,” she adds. “Therefore, it is not looking at the longer-term effects and durability of returns and reintegration of migrants in their home countries. These are key aspects of an effective return policy.”

“On the other hand,” Hueck says, “we cannot exaggerate the importance of raising awareness of the risks of irregular migration in countries of origin, which is one of the features of our current work in six pilot countries, namely Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.”

Detention, a last-resort measure

In addition to being a last-resort measure, detention should be reasonable and proportionate. The proposal to reform the Directive broadens the definition of “at risk of absconding,” thus expanding the reasons for detaining migrants.

However, as the organizations observe, “assessment of the risk of absconding as provided in the draft creates uncertainty” and leads to “a vicious circle: the higher the chances of being detained, the higher is the likelihood that the person concerned will try to abscond.”

While the organizations welcome the inclusion of criteria to determine the risk of absconding, they warn against their actual content. Such criteria include situations in which migrants may find themselves for reasons beyond their control (for example, lack of financial resources or illegal entry).

A new accelerated border procedure

Accelerated procedures are permitted under the European asylum legislation and imply shorter time frames for certain steps of the asylum procedure. In this case, the new “return border procedure” introduced by the proposed modifications to the current Directive applies immediately after an asylum-seeker crosses into the territory of the EU — a problematic development.

What is particularly worrying in the proposal are the restricted and insufficient time for submitting an appeal against return decisions (48 hours), the impossibility of accessing voluntary return options and the longer detention periods (which could amount to up to 22 months). The organizations find these elements unacceptable and call for the whole proposed border procedure to be abandoned.

Not Just a Piece of Paper – Why Documents Matter to Refugees

Civil and legal documentation is vital for refugees as it protects their rights and allows them to access essential services such as education and healthcare. Meet Ahmad and Salma Bakir, parents of Mohammad and Zaid, who were living without a valid marriage certificate and were thus unable to register the birth of their children.

Ahmad and Salma Bakir left their home in Homs, Syria in 2013. They are among the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees displaced in Jordan to escape the armed conflict that broke out in 2011.

Even though the couple had proof of identity and were registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) when they arrived in Jordan, it was extremely difficult for them to register the birth of their two sons, Mohammad and Zaid.

“We married in Syria during the war and, because of it, we didn’t register our marriage properly. We didn’t have money so we couldn’t afford to obtain the documents needed,” explains Mr. Bakir. 

Unlike in what is the case in Jordan, couples in Syria only need to legalize their marriage after the birth of their first child. The informal nature of their marriage in Syria prevented the Bakirs from registering the births of their children in Jordan.

“My first son did not obtain a birth certificate until more than two years after he was born,” Mr. Bakir recalls. “My second son did not obtain his until he was three months old. It meant that they could not go to hospital or school when they grew up.”

Without birth certificates and identity documents, Syrian refugee children in Jordan like Mohammad and Zaid will become stateless if the situation is not rectified.

The United Nations defines as “stateless” any person “not considered a citizen by any State under its laws.” Estimates suggest that around half of all stateless people are children, the majority of them from birth.

Mohammad and Zaid would also not be able to access education and healthcare services or be afforded any rights or protection under the law.

The Bakirs were also confused by the cost of obtaining the documentation. “Some people said the birth registration cost 1,000 Jordanian dinars while others said it cost 1,200 (between 1,200-1,500 Euros). Either way, I didn’t have that much money.”

The birth of a child born in Jordan to Syrian parents must be registered within the first year after the birth. Failure to do so means that the parents must pay a fine of 100 Jordanian dinars.

“Because there was nothing to prove our status,” Mrs. Bakir admits that she felt “lost” for fear that the authorities might think she and her family were a threat, or that she had ‘kidnapped’ her sons. The couple was also concerned that when the time comes, they would not be able to return to Syria with their sons.

The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), working with other NGOs, has provided some 7,000 families like the Bakirs with information and cash assistance to help them obtain the necessary documents for themselves and their children. The program was funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Department (ECHO).

Now, Mohammad and Zaid have the proper documentation to access their fundamental rights. However, there are many more refugee children who remain stateless.

Through the #DocumentsMatter campaign, ICMC seeks to highlight the plight of undocumented refugees by sharing their stories and bringing attention to the importance of civil and legal documentation.