At an April 12 event sponsored by the Mission of the Holy See to the UN entitled “Migration, Population and the 2030 Agenda” experts on immigration said migrants and refugees need greater visibility because many times they fall through the cracks and fail to be counted.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See Mission, said the international community’s commitment for deeper inclusion of the most vulnerable and forgotten people in 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially the call for “high-quality, timely and reliable data” will shed greater visibility on migrants and refugees.
“If globalization has shrunk the world into a village,” he said, “we may as well become good neighbors,” and quoting Pope Francis, who was scheduled to visit refugees on Lesbos, Greece on April 16, emphasized, “We should not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”
The Archbishop noted the complexities of the legal aspects of migration, and urged attendees to be aware of the trials migrants face in both their native and new land.
“So much of this migration is involuntary, caused by situations of conflict, violence, persecutions and discrimination, poverty and social exclusion, forcing people to flee their homes,” he said. “It’s even worse when we consider that, along the journey, migrants and refugees face the dangers of trafficking, abuses, and starvation, and when, upon arriving at their destination, rather than finding a safe haven, men, women, children, and even infants, face discrimination, racism, extreme nationalism, suspicion, mistrust and a lack of clear policies regulating their acceptance.”
Fr. Emeka Obiezu, the UN Representatives for the General Curia of the Augustinians and moderator of the panel discussion, said migration is a chief driver for development and population change, with an estimated 244 million displaced people in the world today.
Ambassador Ashraf El Nour, the Permanent Observer of the International Organization for Migration said the 2030 Agenda’s goal to collect higher quality, disaggregated data, including information on migratory status, will better help to ensure the rights, obligations and vulnerabilities of migrants than past data gathering protocols.
“Entire groups of people were being left out completely and important aspects of the lives were not being mentioned,” he said. “Policy makers and statisticians will no more be able to hide behind averages.”
Sister Sue Wilson, a Sister of St. Joseph who works with immigrants in Ontario, said although migrant workers are have the same workers rights in Canada as citizens, they are prone to exploitation, but less likely to report it due to the fear of deportation and other financial and societal consequences.
Sister Eileen McCann, a Sister of St. Joseph working as an immigration lawyer in New York, said that the threat of deportation and other legal consequences keep undocumented immigrants from a more accurate portrayal in data.
Father Anthony Benedetto Pizzo, the leader of Clergy for Immigrants’ Rights and Integration in Chicago, noted that data are important to reveal needs and influence policy, but focus should be on the individual human story behind the statistic.
“It’s the personal narratives that move our communities to action and possible solutions,” he said.
Tom Cunningham, Organizational Psychologist at DePaul University Chicago who regularly works with refugees, shared a story of the a 33-year-old man who fled from Damascus with his young family, encountered traffickers and smugglers on his journey, and was paralyzed by a grenade, who spends his days using social media to help other refugees find routes to safety. Cunningham said not only is the use of modern social communications technology a great way to gather data, but also a holistic way to help refugees arrive to safety.
“He has done all of this from a hospital bed in Germany,” he said. “He is in constant pain but he has put together a network underpinned by the one thing we need, which is trust.”
The event took place in Conference Room 11 of the United Nations Headquarters.