Challenging compacts: Towards a more effective, practical engagement with migrants and refugees
On 14 January 2018, the Catholic Church will observe the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The theme this year is “Welcoming, Protecting, Promoting and Integrating Migrants and Refugees”; Pope Francis in his message highlights “the Church’s concern for migrants, displaced people, refugees and victims of human trafficking”. He makes a passionate plea for more meaningful commitments from every section of society and challenges all for a more proactive response to the cries of the migrants, refugees and other displaced.
The historic ‘United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants’ was held in New York on 19 September 2016. It was the very first time that the UN General Assembly had brought together Heads of State and of Government to develop a blueprint for a more effective international response to perhaps the single most important crises of modern times, which affect millions across the globe today.
The outcome of that watershed meet was ‘The New York Declaration’, which was signed by 193 Member States (including India). It stated, “We declare our profound solidarity with, and support for, the millions of people in different parts of the world who, for reasons beyond their control, are forced to uproot themselves and their families from their homes. Refugees and migrants in large movements often face a desperate ordeal. Many take great risks, embarking on perilous journeys, which many may not survive. Some feel compelled to employ the services of criminal groups, including smugglers, and others may fall prey to such groups or become victims of trafficking. Even if they reach their destination, they face an uncertain reception and a precarious future. We are determined to save lives. Our challenge is above all moral and humanitarian. Equally, we are determined to find long-term and sustainable solutions. We will combat with all the means at our disposal the abuses and exploitation suffered by countless refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations”. (#8-10)
To realise in practise the lofty ideals encompassed in the Declaration, world leaders committed themselves to drafting and approving, by the end of 2018, two Global Compacts: one regarding refugees and the second, for safe, orderly, regular and responsible migration. Both these compacts are meant to comprehensively protect, promote the rights and integrate migrants and refugees into the mainstream. It is not going be smooth sailing. Already on 3 December 2017, the United States announced that it was withdrawing from the two Global Compacts. India on the other hand has literally shut its doors on the persecuted Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. Xenophobia, racism, discrimination and exclusiveness is on the rise in several countries. Fortunately, most of the world is still concerned about the plight of refugees and migrants and hopefully, by the end of 2018, the two Global Compacts will see the light of day!
Pope Francis reminds world leaders of that Summit saying, “At the United Nations Summit held in New York on 19 September 2016, world leaders clearly expressed their desire to take decisive action in support of migrants and refugees to save their lives and protect their rights, sharing this responsibility on a global level. To this end, the states committed themselves to drafting and approving, before the end of 2018, two Global Compacts, one for refugees and the other for migrants. Dear brothers and sisters, in light of these processes currently underway, the coming months offer a unique opportunity to advocate and support the concrete actions, which I have described with four verbs. I invite you, therefore, to use every occasion to share this message with all political and social actors involved (or who seek to be involved) in the process which will lead to the approval of the two Global Compacts”.
On 1 January 2018, the World Day of Peace (India observes it on 30 January, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi) the message of Pope Francis focused on “Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace”. His message is an invitation to “all people and all nations on earth” to realise that refugees and migrants are “men and women in search of peace”. He urges all through four key verbs to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees saying, “In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands. We know that it is not enough to open our hearts to the suffering of others. Much more remains to be done before our brothers and sisters can once again live peacefully in a safe home.”
In order to prepare a more effective response the Migrants and Refugees Section (M&R) of the Vatican has published a significant booklet ‘Towards the Global Compacts on Migrants and on Refugees 2018’. This document (https://migrants-refugees.va/20-action-points) is rich in content with practical points for committed engagement from all sections of society. It is an open invitation to reflect, to internalise and to engage in practical responses in order to respond to the realities of the refugees and migrants today. The document needs to be shared with all women and men of goodwill... All are encouraged to interact with political and social actors, at every level, to ensure the approval of the two Global Compacts! Several organisations are already involved in this campaign. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) http://en.jrs.net for one, has adopted the hashtag #Do1Thing so that the Global Compacts become a reality among all.
The compacts and the journey towards them are challenging indeed. Their actualization necessitates a radical change in our attitudes and a political will for its implementation. Only then, will we be able to say that we are serious in our commitment to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants, refugees, and the displaced.
*Indian human rights activist, currently based in Lebanon, with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications