Welcome, protect, promote and integrate

credit Kristof Holvenyi JRS Europe

Pope Francis has identified four principles that must become the foundation of a global commitment to solidarity with refugees, writes Fr Aloysious Mowe SJ of JRS International.

The global community’s collective failure to prevent the abuse of human rights, and to engage wholeheartedly in peace-building and reconciliation, has resulted in the displacement of more than 65 million people in the world today, some 21 million of whom have had to flee their own countries in search of safety. The response to this from some of the richest countries in the world has been to attempt the modern equivalent of pulling up the drawbridge and filling the moat with boiling pitch. “It’s not my problem” has moved from being, for some, a personal justification for indifference, to becoming, in many countries, national policy: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom can be counted among nations in the European Union most unwelcoming to refugees.

Many justifications are proffered for this widespread antagonism towards refugees – social cohesion, national security, economic burdens, etc. – but fundamentally what is at play is a spiritual issue. Refugees confront us with the reality of who we are, and the essential vulnerability of what it is to be a human person. Our refusal of solidarity with the most vulnerable of our fellow human beings comes from our fear of being confronted by the naked reality of our own vulnerability and mortality.

Around 80% of the world’s refugees are hosted by what we call the Global South, not by the industrialised West. UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, has repeatedly emphasised this reality, namely that developing countries and countries with limited resources carry by far the heaviest burden in hosting and supporting refugee populations, and that what is needed is international solidarity, burden-sharing and international cooperation to share responsibilities. For much of the last ten years, this call to global solidarity has largely been ignored, or, if honoured, then only grudgingly.

The unanimous adoption by UN member states in September 2016 of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants was therefore a somewhat surprising development: with regards to refugees, the Declaration affirmed the protections accorded to refugees in the 1951 Refugee Convention (which many UN member states, ironically, have yet to ratify), and called for a way forward through a Global Compact on Refugees, a landmark global agreement to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in late 2018. It is no accident, perhaps, that this response only happened when European countries began to feel the impact of large numbers of refugees crossing their borders.

Among the key aims of the Global Compact are: to ensure that refugees are well received when they arrive in host countries; that local responses to refugees are supported by the international community; that durable solutions are found for refugees; and that partnerships are fostered between states, international organisations, civil society organisations, faith-based entities and others, to ensure that the protection of refugees is a sustainable enterprise.

Pope Francis has been a constant and prophetic advocate for the protection of refugees from the very first weeks of his pontificate, when he visited the island of Lampedusa and, lamenting the fate of refugees who had drowned attempting to cross from Africa into Europe, implored the world to move away from “the globalisation of indifference”. When he created a new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Pope Francis set up within it a special Section for Migrants and Refugees that comes under his personal direction. This section has been the Holy See’s main engine room for articulating and coordinating the response of Pope Francis to the Global Compacts proposals.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has worked closely with the Pope’s Section for Migrants and Refugees from its inception, making it clear that the Society of Jesus is completely and unconditionally at the service of the Holy Father in his desire to place the voices and needs of refugees at the heart of the Church. With other Catholic NGOs and various episcopal conferences, we have collaborated in the formulation of twenty action points for advocates to use in their dialogue with governments as the UN moves towards formulating the Global Compacts on refugees and migrants.

Pope Francis has asked for these twenty points or practical considerations to be grouped under four headings: welcome; protect; promote; integrate. He first used these verbs in an address at an international forum on migration and peace in Rome last February, where he said that we have a shared duty of justice, civility and solidarity towards refugees. That duty, he insists, is best fulfilled by individual and collective action, i.e. the verbs are to be conjugated in the first person singular and plural: “I welcome refugees”; “We protect the rights and dignity of refugees”; “I promote the inclusion of refugees in my community”; “We integrate refugees by sharing one another’s cultural and religious riches”.

In the months leading up to the adoption of the Global Compact in September 2018, JRS is committed to working with local churches, other NGOs, civil society groups and faith-based organisations, to ensure that the key principles of welcome and protection are not compromised, and that sustainable ways are found for the inclusion and integration of refugees in local communities.

It’s easy to feel that negotiations happening at UN level are out of our reach, and that we cannot have an impact on them in words, but we can in action. The challenge that Pope Francis poses to us is this: how do we transform the principles of solidarity into meaningful action, so that the four verbs he proposes today will become the politics of tomorrow?

This article first appeared in Jesuits & Friends issue 99.  Read the whole magazine online.