On May 22, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN sponsored an event entitled “Ensuring the Right of All to Remain in Dignity, Peace and Security in their Countries of Origin," together with Caritas Internationalis, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and the Center of Migration Studies of New York. The event took place as experts and diplomats gathered at UN Headquarters for the second thematic session of the preparatory process for the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular migration.
Archbishop Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, noted that that 244 million people are currently migrating internationally, and three times as many people are displaced from their homes within their own countries.
“Many of these flows are mixed, and while the majority of those migrating do so through safe, orderly and regular means, most would likely not choose to migrate if they were living in peace and economic security in their home countries,” Archbishop Auza said.
Quoting Pope John Paul II at the 1998 World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, Archbishop Auza said it is a basic human right to live in one’s own country, but that right is only effective if the root causes that cause people to migrate --such as conflict, religious and political persecution, and economic hardship-- are kept under control.
“This does not mean that in the interim we cannot find more creative and alternative pathways to meet the needs of those currently being displaced and in desperate need of a home,” Archbishop Auza said. But "if basic necessary conditions are met, people will not feel forced to leave their homes, making migration sustainable and manageable. This should be our goal. It should remain our ideal. And it should be a key part of the Global Compact.”
Fr. Michael Czerny, co-Undersecretary of the Migrant and Refugee Section for the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development of the Holy See, said the Section is dedicated to aiding the fullest development of every person, especially those forced to flee their homelands.
“Migration will be orderly, safe, regular and responsible only when people are really free to stay,” Fr. Czerny said. "To make today’s migration a choice, not a necessity, is an enormous challenge.”
Fr. Czerny underlined that promoting the right to remain includes protecting human dignity, ensuring access to sustainable human development, and addressing the drivers of migration. “With these assured, then, migration can flow from a free choice,” he said.
“To accompany, Pope Francis teaches, means to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate,” Fr. Czerny said. “Activating these four verbs would go far in fulfilling the promise of the New York Declaration and the purpose of the Global Compacts.”
Louise Arbour, UN Special Representative for International Migration, said the drivers of migration remove the element of choice from an individual's decision to migrate within or outside of his or her own country.
“People should have the choice to remain in their countries of origin with access to opportunities to build full lives there,” Arbour said. “Our focus should not be on stopping migration. Our focus should be on addressing the causes that deprive people of living with dignity and force them to make life-threatening journeys to a better life.”
Arbour said the solutions to the complex issues surrounding migration are not yet fully developed, but said all solutions will require compromises and the collective action of the entire international community. She urged leaders to explore ideas and proposals to share collective commitments to address the root causes of migration while they negotiate the Global Compact.
Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, who, since 2014, has provided services to more than seven million people who have crossed the Mexican border in Texas to seek a peaceful life in the United States, spoke about her experiences on the ground.
Migrants come, she said, "looking for protection and safety in our country,” Sister Pimentel said. “They left their homeland only because it is impossible” to remain where they were, noting many times the journey people take is just as traumatic as the conflict they have left.
“One day I asked a father, ‘Como estas? How are you?' And he broke into tears like a little kid,” she said. “Can you imagine [the pain of] the children and mothers that go on the same journey and the struggles they go through?”
Sister Pimentel said that one day as she was working in a parish hall with volunteers who gave of their own time and possessions, someone asked her, ‘Sister, what are you doing here?’”
“We are restoring human dignity,” she replied. That’s what all those who seek to care for the needs of immigrants are ultimately about, she said.
On the panel was also a Syrian refugee, Zaid, who asked that his last name be withheld for the protection of his family. He was a college student when he left Syria after he and his colleagues at the tech start-up where he worked had been subjected to threats and violence.
“I finished my exam in the morning and literally left that afternoon,” Zaid said. “I said goodbye to my parents five years ago and I still don’t know if I will ever see them again.”
After he was granted asylum in the United States, with the help of lawyers from Catholic Relief Services, he is now building a life in Pennsylvania working at a convenience store, but said he prefers his life in Syria before the conflict started, where he had family, friends, education and meaningful work.
“I never would have given that up, but forces beyond my power made me flee the country,” he said. “I appeal for help for my country. More can be done to prevent conflict and poverty.”
In his closing remarks, Monsignor Robert Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission, echoed the panelists’ common call to address the root causes of migration.
“While in full agreement with a macro approach to human development, I also would like to propose the dignity of each person and family created as the cornerstone of promoting the right to remain,” Msgr. Vitillo said.
To watch the event in its entirety, click here.