Welcoming, protecting, promoting, integrating migrants and refugees by Archbishop Jason Charles Gordon, January 9
Men and women in search of peace. This is how the Holy Father, Pope Francis, calls migrants and refugees. His message for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, being celebrated on January 14 (today) again focused on four verbs—welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees. We need to listen deeply to the message of the Holy Father. This is a truth that requires of us pastoral conversion and conversion of heart.
Refugees flee their homeland for fear of persecution, whereas migrants leave by choice, in search of better opportunity. Such a basic act of preservation by refugees, human beings seeking peace, is met however, with disdain. Instead of being embraced, clothed, welcomed or fed, refugees are subject to further humiliation by us, our friends, communities, and nations, and treated as unworthy of dignity and respect.
Yet, we are all part of one human family, men and women united in origin and destiny. We need to build a culture of solidarity based on the universal common good. This is a requirement of our Catholic Social Teaching.
The human experience of seeking asylum is far from new. In ancient times, the norms of hospitality and honour allowed for movements of peoples. In modern times, states agree in principle to protect refugees, but actually, never have we failed them more.
We need to remember that the Holy Family was a refugee family. They fled their home to protect their son from Herod. They lived in Egypt for years till they could return home.
No region on earth remains unaffected by this phenomenon, the Caribbean included. Because of its location, Belize has a longstanding tradition of protecting Central American refugees. Now Aruba, Curacao, Suriname and Guyana, are all hosting Venezuelans seeking refuge.
Globally, there are 65 million persons displaced and 22.5 million of these are refugees. No region on earth remains unaffected. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have seen a nine-fold increase from 2016 to 2017 of persons seeking asylum. The majority of asylum seekers and refugees hail from Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, Bangladesh, Colombia and Jamaica.
We do have however, about 20 different nationalities represented in the over 2,000 officially registered at the end of 2017: a far cry from the actual numbers in need of protection as we receive new persons at a rate of 110 to 150 weekly. Of this, about 10 per cent are children who remain in a position of vulnerability without guaranteed access to education.
Their parents face many obstacles in trying to provide a safe life for them. Without the right to work, or even have an identity document, asylum seekers and refugees face exploitation and discrimination daily. For some, the frustration is nearly unbearable. How can we help?
The responsibility of protecting migrants and refugees in Trinidad and Tobago has so far been borne by the Living Water Community as implementing partners with the UN Refugee Agency. We must all play our part in this human drama to welcome, protect, promote and integrate displaced people into our communities.
I am calling on parishes, families and communities of faith to take an increasing responsibility to work in solidarity to protect refugees. We as a Church need to do our part to assist these vulnerable brothers and sisters.
Hospitality is a core virtue of the Church. When we give hospitality, we give it to Christ (Mt 25). Creating a sense of belonging for the persecuted should be part of the Church’s day-to-day work.
The Church should always be a homeland for those in need of one, and provide a sense of brotherhood for those without. In the Holy Father’s 1995 World Migration Day message, we are reminded that “In the Church no-one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere”.
St John Paul II taught us that, “the theological dimension is needed both for interpreting and solving present-day problems in human society”. Thus, the Church, in answering this call to address the signs of the times, takes a multidisciplinary and faith-based approach to addressing such complex problems as refugee displacement, a challenge more important than ever now.
This challenge requires us to first see, understand and judge it, then to act, in a spirit of solidarity. This requires prayerful reflection, not only into our own lives and own values, but also into discerning our community, and how we collectively view and treat refugees.
We all have a duty to recognise and understand the world in which we live. Are we comfortable with what we see? When basic human rights are violated, are we serving the common good?
This challenge also requires concerted action, in forming solidarity-based partnerships, to take collective responsibility for the vulnerable.
The Holy Father advocates four pillars on which we can act: welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees. In welcoming, we should work to create safe and legal pathways for persons on the move; in protecting, we defend the rights and dignity of these human beings; in promoting, we empower them to achieve the full potential as human beings; in integrating, we enjoy opportunities for intercultural enrichment.
In practical terms, we can assist with sourcing or providing low-cost accommodation, improving or providing access to social services, promoting opportunities for leadership and service, welcoming them into our communities, embracing the diversity they bring—their food, language and culture and sharing warmly of ours.
Further, we can defend them. We can advocate for their rights as fellow human beings to the authorities and support other efforts to do so. If each parish adopted a few refugee families and worked with them towards integration, this will be a big step forward.
I am asking you to consider, as a disciple and as an organisation, how you will help our brothers and sisters who are in need.