10/28/2005, 00.00
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Migrant women are a sign of our times, says pope

The pope issues a message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Migrants are "vulnerable", especially women, who are sometimes enslaved and "used" by the sex industry, and the Christian community is called to be committed to assisting them. Concern is also voiced about problems linked to access of migrants to host countries rather than the reasons which prompted them to leave their homes.

Vatican City (AsiaNews)  - The phenomenon of migration is a sign of the times, however current globalisation trends are leading to a "feminisation" of migration, formerly a male domain. If all migrant workers are "vulnerable", women are especially so. At times, women have the best potential to be the main source of family income, at other times they are the victims of traffickers who may enslave them and abuse them in the sex industry. It is such women and other "vulnerable migrants" who are highlighted by Benedict XVI in his message for the 92nd World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be marked on 15 January 2006. In his message published today, the Pope invited all to reflect on the reasons, both political and economic, which spur people to leave their country. His appeal comes at a time when far more attention is paid to problems linked to access of migrants to host countries.

Entitled "Migration: a sign of the times", the message places migration among "signs of the times" which Pope John had indicated to the Council and which were examined in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes as complexities of the modern world.

The Pope wrote: "One of the recognisable signs of the times today is undoubtedly migration, a phenomenon which during the century just ended can be said to have taken on structural characteristics, becoming an important factor of the labour market worldwide, a consequence among other things of the enormous drive of globalisation. Naturally in this "sign of the times" various factors play a part.

"They include both national and international migration, forced and voluntary migration, legal and illegal migration, subject also to the scourge of trafficking in human beings. Nor can the category of foreign students, whose numbers increase every year in the world, be forgotten. With regard to those who emigrate for economic reasons, a recent fact deserving mention is the growing number of women involved ("feminisation").

"In the past it was mainly men who emigrated, although there were always women too, but these emigrated in particular to accompany their husbands or fathers or to join them wherever they were.

"Today, although numerous situations of this nature still exist, female emigration tends to become more and more autonomous. Women cross the border of their homeland alone in search of work in another country. Indeed it often happens that the migrant woman becomes the principal source of income for her family. It is a fact that the presence of women is especially prevalent in sectors that offer low salaries.

"If, then, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, this is even more so in the case of women. The most common employment opportunities for women, other than domestic work, consist in helping the elderly, caring for the sick and work in the hotel sector. These, too, are areas where Christians are called to dedicate themselves to assuring just treatment for migrant women out of respect for their femininity in recognition of their equal rights.

"In this context it is necessary to mention trafficking in human beings – especially women – which flourishes where opportunities to improve their standard of living or even to survive are limited. It becomes easy for the trafficker to offer his own "services" to the victims, who often do not even vaguely suspect what awaits them. In some cases there are women and girls who are destined to be exploited almost like slaves in their work, and not infrequently in the sex industry too.

"Though I cannot here closely examine the analysis of the consequences of this aspect of migration, I make my own the condemnation voiced by John Paul II against "the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality" (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, 29th June 1995, No. 5). This outlines a whole programme of redemption and liberation from which Christians cannot withdraw.

"Speaking of the other category of migrants – asylum seekers and refugees – I wish to underline how the tendency is to stop at the question of their arrival while disregarding the reasons for which they left their native land."

Alas, the phenomenon is extremely widespread: Speaking during the presentation of the document, Mgr Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People, said the 20th century, "has rightly been called the century of refugees and displaced people. Let us return, for example, to the era of World War I and its consequences, and the setting up of the first international institutions destined to take care of some 10 million people.

"The Second World War followed which eradicated an estimated eight million people in Europe alone". Today too, continued Mgr Marchetto, "if we seek to understand more profoundly the reality of refugees and displaced people as a sign of the times, we will find that they face very disturbing issues and we would wonder why human intolerance and cruelty push some to the point to persecuting their neighbour "for reasons of race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political beliefs" [cf. 1951 Geneva Convention, Art. 1,A.2]. This convention lists diverse forms of persecution including violence, intimidation, torture, killing and detention which degrade – albeit in different ways – both the perpetrator and the victim. If we take into account a wider definition of refugee status, like those adopted by some regional Conventions, we would include in this category people who flee war, indiscriminate violence and mass violations of human rights."

The Pope's message continues: "The Church sees this entire world of suffering and violence through the eyes of Jesus, who was moved with pity at the sight of the crowds wandering as sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mt 9,36). Hope, courage, love and "creativity in charity" (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, No. 50) must inspire the necessary human and Christian efforts made to help these brothers and sisters in their suffering. Their native Churches will demonstrate their concern by sending pastoral agents of the same language and culture, in a dialogue of charity with the particular Churches that welcome them.

"In the light of today's "signs of the times" particular attention should be paid to the phenomenon of foreign students. Thanks among other factors to foreign exchange programmes between universities, especially in Europe, their number is growing, with consequent pastoral problems the Church cannot ignore. This is especially true in the case of students coming from developing countries, whose university experience can become an extraordinary occasion for spiritual enrichment. As I invoke divine assistance on those who, moved by the desire to contribute to the promotion of a future of justice and peace in the world, spend their energies in the field of pastoral care at the service of human mobility, I impart to all as a sign of affection a special Apostolic Blessing."

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