Friday, 7 August 2015

Catholic teaching on migration

When we read what the Catholic Church has had to say about migration - the messages for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees of Pope Francis and those of Pope Benedict, and the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants - there are a number of threads which emerge.

1. A right to emigrate and, in a mirror to this, the possibility of a right to immigrate. A right of migration is rooted in a right that individuals have to contribute effectively according to their abilities to the economic, social and cultural development of their communities. Where the present location of a person means that this is not possible, then a right of movement to a new place where there is a reasonably founded hope of realising it is part of the Church's teaching with regard to migration. Gaudium et Spes n.65, in passing, asserts this right of migration at the same time that it suggests that those who deprive their community of the material and spiritual aid that it needs endanger the common good. This right of migration might be exercised by a person who moves from one part of a country to another part of the same country in order to find work; it might have a greater social significance if it forms part of a general move of population from the countryside to towns and cities; and it might also be represented by emigration from one country to seek immigration into another. It is in this last instance that, if a right to migration is to be exercised, there can be suggested a corresponding right to immigration into a potential host country.

There are two interesting points about this. Firstly, the right to migration arises from a dimension of the dignity of the human person, that is, the right (and duty) to an opportunity to contribute creatively to the life of the community in which a person lives. It is not, fundamentally, a right that is political, economic or sociological in nature, though it is a right that has implications in all of these spheres. Secondly, it represents part of what in public debate is characterised by the terms "economic migration" or "economic migrant". Catholic teaching at this point challenges an assumption that those seeking entry to a new country as "economic migrants" should, just by virtue of being economic migrants rather than refugees who meet the UNHCR definition or the requirement for humanitarian protection, be refused entry.

2. A right of countries to adopt immigration policies that control the entry of people from other countries, in the interests of the common good. Gaudium et Spes n.26 defines the idea of the common good as follows (with my italics added to focus on the definition of the common good as such, but the perception of the universal dimension is very relevant to the contemporary situation):
..... the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family.
In respecting the needs of the common good, a country's immigration policy needs to consider not only the good of its own population but also the good of the potential immigrants to that country. There is a need for nations to collaborate with each other - nations that receive migrants need to collaborate among themselves, and nations that receive migrants need to collaborate with the nations from which those migrants originate. It is unlikely that the common good will be served by an immigration policy that is focussed on securing borders; and neither will it be served by a policy whose origins lie in a reaction to a domestic political exigency.  Nor is the common good going to be served by a policy that places such high barriers to immigration that it has an effect, foreseeable to a greater or lesser extent, of encouraging migrants to gain illegal entry into potential host countries.

It should not be forgotten that, sitting behind the notion of the common good, is the principle of the dignity of the human person. This requires that, at the point of encounter between the migrant and the authorities of a potential host country, there should be a respect for a person who has the rights that accrue to any person by virtue of their being a person.

3. Migration is an international phenomenon that requires the co-operation of states in response to both the situations that cause people to become migrants and the response of receiving nations. This co-operation is only going to occur when there is an authentic community of nations; it is not served by an international politics determined by a competition of national interests.

4. The Catholic Church also offers a teaching to its own pastors and faithful. This urges them to offer a welcome to migrants who arrive in their territories, both in material and spiritual terms. In referring to the pastoral care of migrants, the Church explicitly includes a care for their religious life as well as for their material well being, recognising that many migrants bring with them their religious belief and culture. The Church also sees, in the encounter between the life and culture that migrants bring with them on their journey and the life and culture of a host nation, an opportunity for evangelisation (though it should be clear that this opportunity is seen in the dialogue between the cultures rather than in any proselytising intent towards the conversion of migrants). Another strand in Catholic teaching is represented by a spiritual reflection on the situation of migrants who are uprooted from one home and make a journey, full of hardship, towards a foreign land. This journey is in places compared to the journey of salvation, to the journey of the Chosen People from Egypt to the promised land, to the journey of the Holy Family as they went into exile in Egypt to escape King Herod.

The UNHCR website for the UK identifies the numbers seeking asylum in the UK between January and March 2015 as follows (largest ten countries of origin only):
Eritrea (3,239), Pakistan (2,711), Syria (2,081), Iran (2,011), Albania (1,576), Sudan (1,449), Sri Lanka (1,282), Afghanistan (1,136), Nigeria (875), India (689)
One can readily identify in this list countries that are seriously affected by conflict, and conflict that shows no prospect of coming to an end in the near future. It also reflects the news reporting of the origins of those migrants who are currently crossing the Mediterranean or trying to enter the UK from Calais. I would suggest that, if the background and stories of many of these migrants were considered against the qualified right of migration suggested above, then decisions about their entry into the countries of Europe would be very different.

See also: How should Catholics respond to the tragic scenes at Calais?

See also: UNHCR calls for comprehensive response to the Calais situation

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