South American bishops say countries must work together to face migrant crisis

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ROME – Catholics who work at the border of Peru, Bolivia and Chile met May 23-25 in Arica, Chile – a small city in the north of the country – to reflect on the reality of migrants in the region. At the end of the three-day meeting, the participants said no country alone can meet the challenges presented by the migration crisis.

Many governments in the region – particularly in Chile – have tightened their entry requirements, but neither this nor the harsh terrain, the length of the journeys, nor the COVID-19 pandemic, have been able to stop people in Latin America from setting off to seek a better life.

Migration on the continent has increased due to economic uncertainty, security problems, and political crises. The situation in Venezuela alone has created more than five million migrants, most of whom, about 4.6 million, are being accepted by neighboring countries.

In a final statement, those gathered at the May meeting said that “In the light of the Word of God and the testimonies of the participants, we are aware of the complexity of the urgent pastoral care of our brothers and sisters in a situation of human mobility.”

In times marked by political, social, economic, and humanitarian crises that countries are going through – aggravated by the pandemic – “it is important to recognize that no country in the region can, acting alone, meet the challenges that migration presents.”

According to the United Nations, in 2021 there were 210 million poor people in Latin America, one of the most unequal continents in the world in terms of wealth distribution.

“Catholic communities, increasingly free from all fear, are called to build bridges with newcomers by promoting an authentic culture of encounter,” the meeting’s participants wrote, quoting Pope Francis.

”These communities are invited to see the presence of many non-Christian or non-believing migrants and refugees as a providential opportunity to fulfill the evangelizing mission through witness and charity.”

The meeting’s document emphasizes pastoral and social actions by every sector of society in order to avoid “deepening the cracks of social exclusion” in the face of such an overwhelming issue.

The group also highlighted that, for many people, “migration continues to be a sorrow and suffering, which is aggravated when they receive dehumanizing treatment by state, civil and/or ecclesiastical organizations.” 

Society at large, the group’s message stated, should reflect and try to understand “that we are facing a situation never before seen in the region, marked by forced migration processes that urge us to develop actions that strengthen social values, always putting people as the central axis.”

A state’s legitimate right to defend its sovereignty, they wrote, cannot be done “in an indolent manner.” On the contrary, it is “essential to humanize the treatment received by migrants, refugees, victims of trafficking and smuggling, promoting processes of reception, protection and integration with dignity, in accordance with the law and respecting international treaties, only then can discourage irregular migration.”

In a statement, the Bishop of Arica, Moisés Atisha Contreras, said that the meeting has been held eight times over the past 15 years.

“The theme has always been the border situation, human mobility, human trafficking,” he said. “These last two, three meetings with this one, are marked mainly by the forced migration from Venezuela, but also the Haitian situation.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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