The pope and World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018
by Bernardo Cervellera

The early release of the 2018 message has been seen as a “move” to influence Italian politics at a time when the country is debating jus soli. However, the issue of migrants and migrations is a "sign of the times", something that now affects the whole planet. Filipino migrants can be found everywhere. Nepali, Indonesian and Sri Lankan migrants are treated as slaves. Religious Freedom for Filipinos and Indians living in Islamic countries is an issue. From China to Europe, "national security" has become a kind of myth that allows political authorities to forget their own citizens, not just migrants.


Rome (AsiaNews) – The Church’s “particular concern for the lamentable situation of many migrants and refugees fleeing from war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty” has led Pope Francis to release yesterday his message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be celebrated on 14 January 2018 and focus on ‘Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees’.

In Italy, this move, so far from the actual date, has been seen as a way to influence local politics at a time when the issue of citizenship for well-integrated immigrants and the principle of jus soli for the children of immigrants are at the centre of the public debate.

In fact, in his message, the pope rejects “statelessness", hopeful that host countries will come up with "nationality legislation that is in conformity with the fundamental principles of international law” to the benefit of children and long-term residents.

Describing the message as a political "move" seems very reductionist and somewhat provincial. No one should forget the issue of migrants and migrations is a "sign of the times", something that affects the whole planet. The issue has a global dimension that should not be underestimated. What is more, the pope’s message is not addressed only to European or Western nations, caught between openness and Islamic fundamentalism, but also to all the nations of the world.

According to UN figures for 2016, the countries with most refugees are Syria with 5.5 million (plus 6.3 million internally displaced persons), Afghanistan (2.5 million) and South Sudan (1.4 Millions), all places touched by war.

To underscore even more our provincialism, it suffices to remember that despite the limelight turned on the desperate people wading onto the shores of Europe every day, the greatest burden of migration is sustained by the poorest countries. At least 84 per cent of refugees are in Turkey (2.9 million people), Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (more than a million), Iran (979,400), Uganda (940,800) and Ethiopia 761,600).

If we look at migrants looking for work and running away from poverty, we realise that there is no country in the world now that is not involved in some way in the flow of tens of millions of people. One example for all is that of Filipino immigrants in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Europe . . . Not to mention Nepali, Indonesian or Sri Lankan immigrants in Asia and Europe where many of them are treated like slaves without rights.

For them, the Holy Father has urged “adequate consular assistance, the right to personally retain their documents of identification at all times, fair access to justice, the possibility of opening a personal bank account, and a minimum sufficient to live on.” Equally, the pontiff asks for them "freedom of religious belief and practice".

How many times has AsiaNews asked for that freedom on behalf of Filipinos or Indians living in Islamic countries in the Arabian Peninsula! Unfortunately, in many countries, even in Italy, a narrow-minded nationalism has developed, incapable of exchanging and integrating.

In his message, Pope Francis calls on government not to expel or incarcerate. Instead, he urges openness and integration, stressing interpersonal relationships, mutual knowledge, and intercultural enrichment through "integration processes". With respect to the latter, almost nothing is being done in Italy, except by Catholic and other NGOs.

The pope wants all UN member states to sign by next year two global compacts to save the lives of migrants and refugees and protect their rights. In order to achieve this, it is important that the dignity of the person be more valued than "national security". Indeed, "national security" has become – from China to Europe – a sort of myth that allows political authorities to forget about their own citizens, not just migrants.

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