numbers ‘an affront to human dignity’
trafficking in refugees deplored
urged to show greater compassion for migrants who flee poverty
asked to avoid harmful stereotyping
of education stressed - special programmes needed
Jesuit Provincial Leaders from countries across Europe today called on Governments to give a more compassionate response to those coming to Europe as economic migrants. Their statement was issued to mark the 20th anniversary, on Nov 14th 1980, of the founding of the Jesuit Refugee Service.
While admitting that ‘there is a difference between those fleeing for their lives and those fleeing poverty’ the Jesuit Provincials went on to say that ‘fleeing poverty is legitimate and also deserves a response both in the long term through the promotion of well-oriented aid to developing countries and in the short term, some compassionate response to individuals arriving from those countries.’ The Provincials pointed out that ‘admitting migrants does not only mean stopping forced return but providing housing, social services, education and the right to family reunion.’
The Provincials said that because of demographic shifts, European countries are now realising they need immigrants ‘as an essential economic resource’. But they warned that ‘migrants should not only be considered as economically convenient but as human beings with rights.’ The Provincials also commented that ‘if our Western economies attract the brightest and the best from developing countries and even pro-actively go out to recruit them, this can leave those countries deprived of the very talent which would greatly contribute to their growth.’ The statement deplored the trafficking in refugees and asylum seekers.
The statement speaks with concern of
an increasingly harsh attitude on the part of governments, indicated by
measures such as ‘tougher visa requirements, deterrence measures such as
detention and removal of social benefits, measures by which a state denies
responsibility, for instance, readmission agreements, temporary protection,
safe country of origin and safe third country policies.’ The Provincials
mentioned a particular concern about the ‘growing detention of asylum
seekers and migrants.’
The responsibilities of the media to report on refugee issues in a balanced way were highlighted by the Provincials. When media reportage is balanced, it can help promote balanced attitudes to refugees and asylum seekers. When it is not, it can encourage racism and xenophobia. ‘The media need to be aware’ said the Provincials ‘that they can fan the flames of hatred and increase already exaggerated fears. This can lead to attitudes of hatred and mistrust and even to attacks on migrants.’ The Provincials urged media professionals across Europe ‘to agree a set of protocols for the reporting of refugee issues.’
The Jesuit Provincials highlighted the role of education: ‘Educators have a key role to play in ensuring that the generation to come has responsible and informed attitude to refugees and asylum seekers. We urge the development of suitable programmes at all educational levels’ they said.
The Jesuit Refugee Service was founded in 1980 by the then Jesuit Superior-General Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ. It works in 65 countries worldwide.
We write at the time of the 20th anniversary of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an agency founded specifically to assist refugees and to plead their cause. We write too at a time when there are about 50 million refugees world-wide with no sign of this number decreasing. We write, knowing that such an affront to human dignity and global solidarity must be challenged. We write in this Jubilee Year 2000 knowing that the Christian conviction from which our Order was founded and from which we work today impels us to speak out. We write because the unacceptable gap between what our society could do if it had the will and what it actually does must be challenged.
Europe stands at a crossroads: a geographical crossroads between East and West, a cultural crossroads between our various cultures and a crossroads between rich and poor, North and South, developed and under-developed. Such crossroads can be the source of conflict and tension; the wars of this past century bear witness to what can happen when such tensions are allowed develop into hatred and violence. Such crossroads can also be the source of creativity and idealism; the great cultural achievements of this continent show what can be done when humankind reaches towards its true dignity.
The causes of the refugee crisis are complex and at the same time simple: war, our inhumanity to each other, racial hatred, famine and searing poverty. It is tragic that alongside great technological advances and economic prosperity in one part of the world, we have, in other parts of the world, such intense suffering.
The Signs of the times
There are many aspects of the refugee issue today that give us cause for special concern.
Unscrupulous trafficking: As legal entry routes are closed off, people desperate to enter Europe are forced into the arms of often unscrupulous traffickers. As European governments attempt to crack down on smuggling people in, the methods of illegal entry become increasingly dangerous and expensive. The recent discovery at Dover of 58 people who had died of suffocation in a container shocked us all. But we must take action and not let those deaths be just a one-day wonder which is soon forgotten.
An issue for a wider Europe: As the borders of Western European countries are closed, the problem is pushed further East. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic now all receive Sri Lankans, Sudanese and others, many seeking work, many seeking safety, most seeking to go further west.
Globalisation opens markets but not borders: Globalisation has opened borders to information, capital, and goods but not to people. The aim is to keep refugees and migrants at a distance. Sophisticated measures are being created to keep newcomers out. These include: tougher visa requirements, deterrence measures such as detention and removal of social benefits, measures by which a state denies responsibility, for instance, readmission agreements, temporary protection, safe country of origin and safe third country policies. Of particular concern is the growing detention of asylum seekers and migrants.
Media can increase stereotypes: The media need to be aware that they can fan the flames of hatred and increase already exaggerated fears. This can lead to attitudes of hatred and mistrust and even to attacks on migrants. This is especially true in urban areas that are already deprived and where people may - wrongly - feel that refugees are receiving benefits while they themselves are being victimised as a result. Conversely, where media reporting is more balanced, it can greatly help the integration of refugees and migrants in a local population; we commend the instances where this has occurred.
Those fleeing poverty need a compassionate response too: There is a difference between those fleeing for their lives and those fleeing poverty. However, fleeing poverty is legitimate and also deserves a response both in the long term through the promotion of well-oriented aid to developing countries and in the short term, some compassionate response to individuals arriving from those countries.
Need for immigration: some European countries are now realising they need immigrants as an essential economic resource due to demographic decline. However, migrants should not only be considered as economically convenient but as human beings with rights. Furthermore, if the economies of the developed world attract the brightest and the best from developing countries, even pro-actively going out to recruit them, this can leave those countries deprived of the very talent which would greatly contribute to their growth.
Action called for
1. We welcome the commitment of EU states to the full and inclusive application of the 1951 Convention as stated in Tampere.
2. Regularisation of migrants in the EU, a positive trend in countries like Belgium Spain, France or Italy, should ease the hardship faced by migrants and by rejected asylum seekers who cannot be expelled.
3. Harmonisation of immigration and asylum policies should be based on security and justice but also on the human needs of people. Admitting migrants does not only mean stopping forced return but providing housing, social services, education and the right to family reunion.
4. The media can play a positive and constructive role through the provision of information in a professional manner. We urge media professionals across Europe to agree a set of protocols for the reporting of refugee issues and to work with JRS, the UNHCR, ECRE and other bodies to achieve this. We urge them to avoid terminology and phrasing that is likely to heighten xenophobia.
5. Educators have a key role to play in ensuring that the generation to come has a responsible and informed attitude to refugees and asylum seekers. We urge the development of suitable programmes at all educational levels.
In 1999, the 15 EU member states received roughly 360,000 applications for asylum. In a world of around 50 million displaced persons, this represents a small proportion of the whole and it is vital that a sense of proportion is maintained.
Furthermore, we should not forget that Europeans have also been migrants in the past. An estimated 50 million people emigrated from Europe between 1800 and 1940, including 17 million from the UK and Ireland, 10 million from Italy, 6.5 from Spain and Portugal and 6 million from Germany. This emigration continued up until the 1970s in countries such as Spain and Ireland.
Refugees are among the most vulnerable today. They have left their homes, their families and they bring with them few possessions. Perhaps all they have left is their dignity as human beings. We must respect this dignity, safeguard it and work to enhance it. In this way our own dignity is enriched, we promote human solidarity and we build a common future.
Our world today is faced with a choice. We can build barriers, exclude some people and include others. We can erect walls which will need to be ever higher as the clamour of those left outside grows louder. Or we can work to create a global order where justice and equality prevail and where our belief in our common humanity is enshrined and made incarnate in the structures of our society. History has shown us that the way to war and violence lies in the first solution while the way to peace and development lies in the second.
· We call on governments to open up more generous legal possibilities for people to enter Europe both as asylum seekers and as socio-economic migrants.
· We urge Jesuits to do all in their power to cultivate a public opinion which is more favourable to the rights of people in movement.
· We ask the media to take care to avoid all headlines that would increase xenophobia.
· We urge that the Gospel respect for human dignity and hospitality be the guiding principle in our treatment of migrants, asylum seekers and immigrants.