ROME – With several key countries opting out of the December adoption of the United Nations global migration compact, including the United States and Italy, some have wondered whether Pope Francis’s absence from the meeting might have impacted how many countries are willing to sign.
Despite a two-year campaign pushing nations to adopt the compacts, which were conceived during a U.N. general assembly in September 2016, the Vatican announced earlier this month that Francis will not be traveling to Marrakesh, Morocco for the Dec. 10-11 United Nations Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
The decision came as a surprise, since Francis has been vocal in calling on government leaders to adopt both the migrant and refugee compacts in what the pope describes as a four-step process of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating those who’ve made the difficult choice to leave home.
Though the compacts are non-binding, several nations have opted out of the Marrakesh adoption ceremony, including the United States, Italy, Hungary and Austria, with other nations such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Israel also likely to pull out.
Present estimates put the number of nations who will adopt the compact, most of whom will be represented by ministers of some form who are in charge of migration for their countries, at more than 170 out of the 192 U.N. member states, with some 10-12 heads of state or government already confirmed.
In comments at a Nov. 28 news briefing, Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who oversees the migrants and refugees section of the Vatican department for Integral Human Development, said that although Francis’s participation at the event was highly anticipated, he does not believe the pontiff’s absence has affected the number of countries willing to sign on.
Looking at the countries who have already publicly stated that they will not attend, he said that in his opinion, “even the Holy Father would not have persuaded them because they’re not migrating, they’re maybe not dealing with the real issues, but rather with short-term political and domestic interests.”
Likewise, Anne Gallagher, president of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), said migration “in every country is so political.” Some countries “can get political mileage out of taking a certain position,” she said.
“It’s in everyone’s interest that migration is regulated” rather than happening in a “clandestine” way, she said, adding that nations also have a responsibility not only to address migration itself but its causes, which are often linked to poverty or conflict.
Gallagher said some nations might fear adopting the compact would mean sacrificing their national interests, but since it’s a non-binding agreement focused on protecting the rights of individuals, “there is no reason for any country not to get into this.”
Stephane Jaquemet, ICMC director of Policy and head of the Civil Society Coordinating office for the Global Forum on Migration and Development, told journalists part of the problem is that the discussion on migration is still “toxic.”
Pointing to the more than one million migrants who entered Europe in 2015, he noted how three years later, in 2018, there have only been some 100,000 migrants, yet the phenomenon is still being described as “a crisis.”
“I’m sorry, this is not a crisis, but still we use that language,” he said, adding that in his view, migration for many countries “has artificially become the number one subject,” whereas the primary concerns ought to be issues such as the economy and creating jobs for young people.
“You have ten subjects which are objectively more important than migration, but a number of politicians want to turn migration into subject one, because you can over-simplify, you can use fear and hatred, and it’s a good way of gaining votes, unfortunately,” he said.
However, Jaquemet said the fact that nations are even coming together to address the topic in the first place is progress, and voiced belief that at least some countries, such as Italy, who will not participate in the Dec. 10-11 meeting have withdrawn due to internal divisions, and they might still be present for the formal signing of the compact a week later in New York.
None of the speakers believed there would be an immediate change after the signing of the compact, but all stressed the importance of having the process more regulated.
Czerny voiced support for a “multilateral” approach, saying “it’s an indispensable key to solving the world’s problems” including migration and climate change.
Since the Holy See does not get involved in local policy decisions, the Catholic Church’s main goal, he said, is to “promote dialogue and not confrontation,” and to foster a culture of encounter where fear does not prevail.
He said he does not know who will be going as part of the Holy See’s delegation, but stressed that after two years of “practically miraculous work” on the compact, including the publishing of 20 pastoral action points, “we deserve a party, and the two days will be a celebration of the achievement and of mutual encouragement.”
Going forward, he said the Holy See’s approach to the migration compact will focus on implementation, taking the compact “off the shelf” and applying it to concrete situations.
“This is how we will implement the compacts … [with] a fully human and fully Christian response to vulnerable people on the run,” he said.