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Pontifical Council for Migrants: Humanity first
June 09, 2013

Pontifical Council for Migrants: Humanity first
After a fire destroyed their homes in Mae Sot, Thailand, Jesuit Refugee Service supported Burmese families in their rebuilding efforts. Burmese people make up approximately 65 percent of Mae Sot's population, and while JRS considers them to be refugees, the Thai government views them as economic migrants, limiting their access to services and legal documentation. (Oliver White/Jesuit Refugee Service)
"Recognizing Christ in all people means we can't ignore boats of migrants on the high seas, we can't leave children in migration detention centers, we can't ignore people because their displacement was caused by poverty or because they never crossed an international border," said Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr. Peter Balleis S.J.

(Rome) June 9, 2013 – Jesuit Refugee Service welcomes the latest report, published Thursday by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, as hugely significant to host communities receiving mixed flows of migrants and refugees.

According to the report, Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons, this century has brought in shifts in migration, and the Church must change with it.

In his presentation of the report, His Eminence Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council, called the Church to remember it is not only asylum seekers and refugees in need of assistance, but people displaced within their own countries and the survivors of trafficking.

"In the past it was much easier to distinguish between voluntary and forced migration, between those who moved away looking for a better job or education and those whose life was threatened by persecutions," said Cardinal Vegliò.

"It is not easy to distinguish between refugees and undocumented migrants, nor can it be assumed one is in need and the other underserving. Recognizing Christ in all people means we can't ignore boats of migrants on the high seas, we can't leave children in migration detention centers, we can't ignore people because their displacement was caused by poverty or because they never crossed an international border," said Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr. Peter Balleis S.J.

"His report is an urgent call to action to the church and society as a whole. Rights are important, but not sufficient. People need to be welcomed into their new communities, and communities need to be supported," added Fr. Balleis.

This document is a reminder that we are not at liberty to turn a blind eye to those who "are dying on our doorstep," said Dr. Katrine Camilleri, Assistant Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Malta. She reminded listeners of a young woman, 22, who died crossing the Mediterranean from northern Africa to Europe. Her grandfather made a chilling indictment of Europe's compassion for migrants.

"The meaning of human existence ends where Europe's external borders begin. … My granddaughter died a very painful death, although she could have been saved. Just 22 years old, her life was taken away from her. … How can it be that for 23 days our children could be seen from several ships and still not be saved? This is just callous.... This new dimension of indifference towards people is more dangerous than hate," her grandfather said.

This grandfather, along with Church cardinals and human rights activists are calling for people to recognize the humanity in people migrating and seeking protection.

"The purpose of this document is to direct and raise renewed awareness to the various forms of forced migration and the challenges as a community in welcoming them, showing compassion, treating them fairly which are just a few simple steps to take, yet offer them hope for the future," Cardinal Vegliò went on to write.

Vegliò's and Camilleri's call for inclusion were echoed by other refugee advocates, including Cardinal Robert Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and Mr Johan Ketelers, Sectretary General of the International Catholic Commission for Migration, also calling for a deeper understanding about what causes people to move, and how we can be there for them as a global church.

"This story confirms one of the most important things I have learnt in the years I have worked for JRS: refugees need not only protection from persecution – they also need to be with their families, to be supported by a community and to be received in conditions of dignity," Camilleri said.


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Documents are available on the JRS International website

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Mr Christian Fuchs
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