(Vatican Radio) A two day seminar on migrants and refugees concluded in the Vatican on Tuesday, with experts from countries across the globe looking ahead to an intergovernmental conference due to take place at the United Nations in 2018.
Representatives of bishops conferences from over 20 countries have drawn up a document to be presented to world leaders, as they prepare to adopt two Global Compacts on safe, orderly migration flows. The document is based around four principles that Pope Francis himself named to sum up the Catholic response to the current forced migration phenomenon –that is, Welcome, Protection, Promotion and Integration.
The Rome meeting was organised by the Migrants and Refugees section of the new Vatican office for Integral Human Development. Among those taking part was Pakistani Father Bonnie Mendes, former executive secretary of the office for human development at the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences.
Listen to Fr Bonnie talking to Philippa Hitchen
Fr Bonnie says the issues under discussion are “a matter of human rights” for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, who are on the move for a variety of different reasons. It’s very important to have a charter, he says, to make sure that they don’t’ suffer, especially women and children. He notes that this is a preparatory phase, ahead of the Global Compact discussions in 2018, in the same way that Catholic experts prepared proposals ahead of the Cop 21 conference on climate change in 2015.
Making the Catholic voice heard
Fr Bonnie says that Pope Francis’ voice on this issue is held “in very high esteem” in Asia, especially among Muslim leaders. While he is “popular among people”, Fr Bonnie says, it’s harder to make the Catholic voice heard at the level of governments or political leaders.
While the document urges governments to adopt a “human security perspective”, rather than simply a “national security perspective” on migration, Fr Bonnie says these two should not be seen in conflict with each other, but rather melded together.
Looking for long term solutions
He notes that the increasing difficulties in obtaining regular visas are leading people to become more and more desperate, putting children “on boats, trawlers, anything to get them across borders”. He challenges a negative, short term vision of the current challenges, recalling the case of the Rohingya refugees from Burma. In the 1980s, he said, civil society in Pakistan proposed they could be settled in Arab countries, but leaders there said “They’re Muslims, but not Arabs, so we can’t take them”.
West needs migrant labour
Fr Bonnie highlights how Pope Francis sees the long term needs, not from a legal perspective, but with the mind of a pastor who “understands the sufferings of the poor”. His focus is on compassion, mercy and charity, he says, but also on justice which is important.
The current challenges have been exacerbated by the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Fr Bonnie says, yet western countries today need migrants to fill the labour market. A country like Canada or Australia “could open its doors to many more”, he says, but also Arab countries like Saudi Arabia which has lots of space, jobs and opportunities.