ROME – For the Vatican’s point man on migration, ever since the crisis reached a fever pitch in 2015, the mass movement of people has been painted in an overly negative, ominous and threatening light – a narrative he says, that needs to change.
When it comes to the perplexing question of migrants and refugees, “we need positive stories,” Jesuit Father Michael Czerny told members of the International Catholic Migration Commission March 7.
He said the migration crisis which has captured the public eye and dominated much of the world’s political discourse over the past few years has largely been painted in a negative light.
As one of two co-secretaries for the Dicastery for Integral Human Development’s section for migrants and refugees, Czerny said part of their job is “to help change the narrative” on the issue, because “the public view is negative.”
Czerny was one of three panelists addressing the 2018 U.N. global compacts on migrants and refugees during the ICMC’s March 6-8 plenary assembly in Rome. Speaking alongside him were Father Fabio Baggio, who serves as the second secretary for the dicastery and helps Czerny to oversee the section for migrants and refugees, and Stephane Jaquemet, the ICMC’s head of policy.
In comments to CNA, Czerny said a simple answer for the negative reaction is globalization and the fact that it was first viewed “as the great leap forward for the whole world, it was supposed to benefit everybody … the bitter, bitter, bitter disappointment of people all over the world and the way in which they’ve been betrayed by their economic and political leaders, is easy to scapegoat on people who are different from us, and who need and deserve our help but who are caught up in this pattern.”
Czerny said that in his view, the prevalent negative narrative on the migration issue has nothing to do with migrants and refugees, but is rather “a misplaced disappointment with our leaders.”
Migrants and refugees, he said, “are being scapegoated. So I think by telling the truth and by telling positive stories, that’s how I hope we can reverse that narrative.”
Especially where the Church is concerned, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of human trafficking “should feel that they are part of the life of the Church,” he said. “They should feel that they are welcomed and accompanied.”
Part of the dicastery’s task, he said, is to ensure that “migration is a matter of choice,” and that no one is forced to leave their home country, especially not as a result of poverty or violence.
However, since migration is and always will be a reality the world has to face, another part of their mission means supporting the Church “in her mission to accompany migrants.”
“It’s no lie” that societies have been “enormously enriched” by migration and will continue to do so, he said, and pointed to the global compacts as a means of both helping migrants throughout their journey and making the process more bearable when they arrive.
The UN is drafting compacts aimed at improving the international community’s response to large movements of refugees and migrants, ensuring safe and orderly passage for migrants, as well as to protracted refugee situations.
According to Czerny, issues of pastoral interest for the Church are ensuring that migrants, refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers, and victims of trafficking have the adequate resources and support needed to arrive safely and integrate into their new societies.
To this end, he pointed to the four-point “action plan” outlined by Pope Francis in his message for this year’s World Day for Peace, titled “Migrants and Refugees: Men and women in search of peace.”
The four points – to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate – have been adopted by the Holy See as a response to the migration issue and have been widely promoted in the diplomatic scene.
By promoting and advancing the integral development of migrants and refugees, the Church is putting into action “what social doctrine has taught all along,” he said, adding that by helping migrants and refugees integrate, the communities where they live become enriched.
In his comments to CNA, Czerny noted how many western governments in particular, not wanting to take in their share of the influx of migrants and refugees, try to solve the problem by providing financial support to countries of origin so citizens don’t have to leave in the first place.
“We have been trying to promote – we the west, the well-developed countries, have in some ways been trying to promote development in the third world practically since World War Two,” Czerny said. However, “the results are not very impressive.”
“So if there is going to be a real effort to promote real integral sustainable development, God bless us, let’s do it,” he said, but cautioned that if this promise of “development” is in reality “a way of trying to trick and bribe people to stay home because we don’t want them here, I think we should denounce it.”
In his comments during the panel, Jaquemet outlined the process of drafting and discussing the compacts.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the compact on refugees, Jaquemet said, is the issue of “solidarity,” because there are many states who have taken in refugees for years, but are now seeing a decrease in financial support.
“Those countries are not happy,” he said, noting that western countries tend to be “quite reluctant to go into formal commitments in terms of burden sharing and solidarity.”