ROME — Pope Francis is calling on the international community to not only welcome refugees, but also to provide development assistance to countries where migration originates to eliminate the reasons why people abandon their homes.
“It is necessary to avert, if possible at the earliest stages, the flight of refugees and departures as a result of poverty, violence, and persecution,” said Francis, who repeatedly identified himself as a “son of immigrants” during his recent trip to the United States.
The pontiff said that as migration continues to grow, with victims of violence and poverty forced to leave their homes and often exploited by human traffickers during their journey, survivors frequently encounter “a lack of clear and practical policies regulating the acceptance of migrants.”
Francis’ words came in a message for the Vatican-sponsored World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016, to be observed Jan. 17. The theme is “Migrants and refugees challenge us: The response of the Gospel of mercy,” a clear reference to the Holy Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8.
“The Church stands at the side of all who work to defend each person’s right to live with dignity, first and foremost by exercising the right not to emigrate and to contribute to the development of one’s country of origin,” Francis wrote.
But Francis also called for migrants to respect the laws and traditions of their host countries.
Migration, the pope says in his message, goes beyond politics, economic implications, and coexistence.
“All these complement the defense and promotion of the human person, the culture of encounter, and the unity of peoples,” he wrote.
In the two-page message presented Thursday in Rome, Francis also wrote that residents of the welcoming countries must act because “indifference and silence led to complicity whenever we stand by as people are dying of suffocation, starvation, violence and shipwreck.”
Presenting the document in Rome, Italian Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Vatican’s Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, insisted on the importance of helping the countries where migrants and refugees originate.
“Every person has the right to emigrate,” Vegliò said. “But above all, there’s the right to not to emigrate, that is, to be able to remain in our own land.”
According to the International Organization for Migrants, in the past nine months, more than 500,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea. The countries of origin are Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Albania.
There are an estimated 46.3 million migrants, with 90% of them coming from the developing world.
According to the Washington-based think tank Migration Policy Institute, the United States is the desired final destination for 20 percent of those who flee their homes because of hunger, violence, and war.
Some 3,900 migrants have died trying to reach Europe this year; 133 have died on the border between Mexico and the United States.
“It’s not easy to speak of a solution,” Vegliò said. “We all agree on speaking of will to help and doing so with a Christian spirit, but it’s not easy to have a concrete response.”
For this reason, the prelate said, his council is working with the Vatican’s secretary of state to draft a document addressed to bishops conferences around the world to provide “a practical and concrete solution to the Holy Father’s request of welcoming families.”
In September, the pope requested all European parishes to welcome a refugee family, including the two Vatican churches, St. Peter’s and Santa Anna, which are now hosting a Syrian family each. In Italy alone, since then, more than 2,500 people have been welcomed in parishes, with 150 other churches expressing their will to do so.