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The Calais migerants crisis – “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration from the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States”)

August 20, 2015

SNLCatholic teaching has a long and rich tradition in defending the right to migrate. Based on the life and teachings of Jesus, the Church’s teaching has provided the basis for the development of basic principles regarding the right to migrate for those attempting to exercise their God-given human rights. Catholic teaching also states that the root causes of migration — poverty, injustice, religious intolerance, armed conflicts — must be addressed so that migrants can remain in their homeland and support their families.

In modern times, this teaching has developed extensively in response to the worldwide phenomenon of migration. Pope Pius XII reaffirms the Church’s commitment to caring for pilgrims, aliens, exiles, and migrants of every kind in his apostolic constitution Exsul Familia, affirming that all peoples have the right to conditions worthy of human life and, if these conditions are not present, the right to migrate. “Then — according to the teachings of [the encyclical] Rerum Novarum — the right of the family to a [life worthy of human dignity] is recognized. When this happens, migration attains its natural scope as experience often shows.”

While recognizing the right of the sovereign state to control its borders, Exsul Familia also establishes that this right is not absolute, stating that the needs of immigrants must be measured against the needs of the receiving countries:

Since land everywhere offers the possibility of supporting a large number of people, the sovereignty of the State, although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided of course, that the public wealth, considered very carefully, does not forbid this.

In his landmark encyclical Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope John XXIII expands the right to migrate as well as the right to not have to migrate: “Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country; and, when there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.” Pope John XXIII placed limits on immigration, however, when there are “just reasons for it.” Nevertheless, he stressed the obligation of sovereign states to promote the universal good where possible, including an obligation to accommodate migration flows. For more powerful nations, a stronger obligation exists.

The Church also has recognized the plight of refugees and asylum seekers who flee persecution. In his encyclical letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II refers to the world’s refugee crisis as “the festering of a wound.” In his 1990 Lenten message, Pope John Paul II lists the rights of refugees, including the right to be reunited with their families and the right to a dignified occupation and just wage. The right to asylum must never be denied when people’s lives are truly threatened in their homeland.

Pope John Paul II also addresses the more controversial topic of undocumented migration and the undocumented migrant. In his 1995 message for World Migration Day, he notes that such migrants are used by developed nations as a source of labor. Ultimately, the Pope says, elimination of global underdevelopment is the antidote to illegal immigration. Ecclesia in America, which focuses on the Church in North and South America, reiterates the rights of migrants and their families and the respect for human dignity “even in cases of non-legal immigration.”

Both of our episcopal conferences have echoed the rich tradition of church teachings with regard to migration. Five principles emerge from such teachings, which guide the Church’s view on migration issues.

  1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
    All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.
  2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
    The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

III. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

  1. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
    Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.
  2. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
    Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.

The Church recognizes the right of a sovereign state to control its borders in furtherance of the common good. It also recognizes the right of human persons to migrate so that they can realize their God-given rights. These teachings complement each other. While the sovereign state may impose reasonable limits on immigration, the common good is not served when the basic human rights of the individual are violated. In the current condition of the world, in which global poverty and persecution are rampant, the presumption is that persons must migrate in order to support and protect themselves and that nations who are able to receive them should do so whenever possible. It is through this lens that we assess the current migration reality between the United States and Mexico.

A joint statement on the situation in Calais from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church call on the Government to promote a more informed and higher level of debate on the issue – one which acknowledges, for example, that:

  • many of the migrants congregating at Calais are people genuinely fleeing repression who have real stories of suffering and hardship to tell – and that some are unaccompanied children;
  • the numbers involved do not warrant talk of an ‘invasion’ or ‘flood’ of migrants;
  • the people at Calais represent a tiny fraction of the overall number of migrants who have entered the EU in the past year
  • in 2014 Germany took three times more asylum seekers than the UK’s 14,000, and Sweden twice as many; France, Italy and even Switzerland also granted asylum to more people than the UK;
  • the disruption caused to travellers is also a consequence of issues unconnected with the situation in Calais, including industrial action by ferry workers;
  • historically the UK has welcomed people fleeing persecution, including Jews escaping from Germany during the Second World War;
  • the UK has been militarily involved in some of the situations that have given rise to the persecutions from which people are fleeing;
  • contributions to this debate should always adopt language which better reflects the British values of compassion, hospitality and respect for human dignity.

We also call on the Government, in its response to this emergency, to:

  • recognise that most migrants cannot be returned to their country of origin: in many cases it is not even possible to be certain of an individual’s country of origin due to a lack of documentation;
  • promote the establishment of proper, EU-run processing centres at key entry points in Europe (such as southern Italy and Greece);
  • accept the need for the UK to take its share of migrants as other European countries are already doing.

SNL 2Bishop Patrick Lynch – Catholic Bishop for Migrants in England and Wales:

“First, in solidarity with the most vulnerable migrants we recognise the local pastoral, humanitarian, and compassionate response from the French Church and call on the French authorities to redouble their efforts in providing adequate reception facilities for migrants. We acknowledge the work done by faith organisations in France and the UK together with charities, agencies and the great generosity of families and individuals to the relief efforts. The task is immense and their contributions are most valued. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales will be making a material contribution to those efforts.

“Second, at an international level we are aware that the answer to the current migrant crisis lies beyond Calais. Estimates from the UNCHR indicate that “In the first six months of this year, 137,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea, travelling in terrible conditions upon unsafe boats and dinghies”. The 2014 estimate for the same period was 75,000. Therefore in addition to addressing the humanitarian needs of the increasing numbers of migrants undertaking this treacherous journey we must examine the root causes of current migration from North Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

“Third, we must face up to the shared responsibility of making the world a better and safer environment to live in. We must examine as a matter of urgency the arms trade that fuels armed conflict and civil war, climate change, unjust economic policies, poverty and corruption as some of the underlying causes of this fundamental global trend. The safety of vulnerable women and children who may fall prey to smugglers and human traffickers is paramount and must be addressed.

Jamie Cutteridge, deputy editor of Premier Youthwork called for a “depoliticising and a re-humanising of the situation” as he explained the situation is seen as a political issue, not a humanitarian one. He praised the BBC’s Songs of Praise for broadcasting from the camp at the weekend.  “Where would we have found Jesus at teatime on a Sunday? It wouldn’t have been in a nice sleepy church, it would have been in the migrants’ camp, so that’s where the Church needs to be.”

Commenting on tory outrage at the BBC, David Schneider suggested their bibles ought to be amended thus:

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