The world must show compassion for migrants’ fates

Lidia Dudkiewicz talks to Fr Wieslaw Wojcik, TChr, Director of the Institute for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, connected with the Society of Christ Fathers to Polish Migrants.

Lidia Dudkiewicz: – In November 2009 you participated in the Sixth World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, which was held in Rome. Its themes was, ‘A Pastoral Response to Migration in the Age of Globalisation’, five years after «Erga migrantes caritas Christi».’ The above-mentioned document is the instruction of 2004, issued by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. We could read in the press that the Holy Father Benedict XVI himself was interested in the Roman congress.

Fr Wieslaw Wojcik, TChr: – The congress, held on 9-12 November 2009, gathered ca. 300 participants from 86 countries. They attended a special audience with Pope Benedict XVI. In his speech the Holy Father stressed that migrants were not ‘a problem’ but constitute a "resource" to be appropriately appreciated for humanity's authentic progress and development, understanding between nations and building peace and growth in which every nation should be interested. According to the Holy Father migrations throw light at the unity of the human family, show the meaning of hospitality and love of neighbour. However, daily gestures of sharing, collaboration and care for others, especially for those in need, should follow those values. The Pope also focused on many human dramas connected with the phenomenon of migration. He explained that the economic crisis, together with huge increasing unemployment, limits possibilities to employ people and increases the number of those who cannot find any jobs, even temporary employment. Therefore, many people, forced to leave their lands and communities, must take jobs in conditions that often contradict their human dignity because these people have no way out. The other moderators of the sessions in Rome were: the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliň, the Secretary of the Council Archbishop Agostino Marchetto and the Undersecretary Fr. Novatus Rugambwa. The sessions were dedicated to the issues related to migration in the age of globalisation. Apart from the analysis of the fundamental general problems concerning the existence of itinerant people and pastoral care of migrants the participants devoted much time to specific themes related to young migrants and refugees, care of migrants and refugees in prisons and transition camps. The congress participants had the occasion to share their experiences in smaller language groups.

– Certainly, the congress was an occasion to present a picture of contemporary migration…

– Migrations have reached a record number of 200 million people who have left their homes for various reasons. The biggest group is the Chinese (35 million), the Hindu (20 million) and the Philippine (7 million), so mainly the citizens of Asian origin. In Europe there are 64 million migrants. 33 millions of all migrants in the world are refugees asking for political asylum, having no citizenship of the country of their residence. Most of them come from the developing countries. Ca. 15 million are illegal migrants who often fall prey to slave trade organised by criminal groups. It is estimated that there are ca. 740 millions of the so-called internal migrants who move within their country because of military conflicts or because they seek better living. I mean first of all migration from rural areas to cities. We could also notice an increase in temporary and swing migration, which differs from the migration that occurred several decades ago when the permanent migration was prevailing.

– Has the present world crisis influenced the picture of migration?

– Facing the financial and economic crisis workers-migrants experience the effects of the decreasing market of labour to the greatest extent and they are the first on the list to be fired and the last to be employed on the conditions of normal wages. 20 million Chinese migrants have already lost their jobs. Masses of workers having the Philippine background return to their country. The governments are concerned about the economic balance and the Church is concerned about the spiritual conditions of itinerant people. One can see an increasing women’s migration, which has a very negative effect of children’s upbringing. Children are devoid of their mothers’ care (care drain). In some countries, e.g. the Philippines, special programmes for ‘children-orphans’ whose parents work abroad have been worked out.

– Living in a society that is different from your own is a real challenge for migrants. The problem of assimilation appears. Does integration mean that migrants must adjust to the local model of living to such an extent that they become copies of the locals, i.e. they reject their cultural roots?

– If it were so we would speak about assimilation and not about integration. The problem is that assimilation also means impoverishment for the host society because the human and cultural capital, which the migrants could contribute, is reduced to minimum or even fully rejected. Undoubtedly, migrants should take necessary steps to become part of the local life. But this process should not be devoid of respect for the cultural legacy that all people bring with them. Migrants and refugees should be given the chance, and be convinced of that, to contribute to the life of the society that is new for them. Language plays the key role and is indispensable for that. But there are also other things. Another extreme may be the situation where in the new environment migrants become aware of their identity more than they were before they chose migration. Thus they may look for security, approaching those who come from the same country and culture. However, if they do not open themselves to wider reality of their host country they face the risk, together with their fellow countrymen, to create some kind of ghetto and consequently, they face marginalisation in social life. In case of forced model of assimilation, which is a source to humiliate people and their cultural heritage and tradition, migrants will revolt and use violence sooner or later.

– How can we help those who seek shelter and asylum in a foreign country, those who escape from war and persecutions?

– Migrants must have the right to the status of refugee without the danger of being arrested. One cannot accept the situation in the United States where since the year 2000 the number of arrest immigrants has had an over 200 % increase. Annually the federal government of the United States arrests 280,000 immigrants, including children, pregnant women, the sick and disabled. The Church organisations have limited access to the detainees.

– What does the collaboration between the Church and the other organisations helping migrants look like?

– The Catholic Church, represented by the Holy See, maintains diplomatic relationships with 177 countries and through its observers in the biggest international organisations, e.g. the United Nations, the European Union, has insight into the process of shaping international politics. The Jesuit Refugee Service, Caritas, the Catholic Service and other lay organisations are involved in the struggle for migrants’ rights. For instance, in 1990 the UN accepted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Members and Members of their Families. This agreement was implemented on 1 July 2003 and John Paul II fervently demanded its ratification. Today Benedict XVI continues that. This convention protects the rights of illegal migrants in some aspects. One should also mention the initiative of the African Union Summit in Uganda (Kampala) during which the declaration protecting the co-called internally displaced peoples was adopted. The Catholic Church and other Christian Churches as well as numerous organisations do their best to help migrants. They organises places where migrants can live, conduct language courses and provide vocational training. They try to minimise discrimination and xenophobia. The existing threats, like slavery, slave trade and various forms of exploitation, lack of food, medicaments and school education, show that many things should be done to protect migrants as far as their humanitarian, economic, political and spiritual aspects are concerned. In the countries that enjoy security and stabilisation one can see the need of bigger integration of migrants with the local environment, both in the structures of the Church and public life. Any state and single organisation cannot take up the challenge of migration. There is an urgent need to create a world organisation of migrants, which could co-ordinate common activities to help migrants.

– That’s why it is good to celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Since we can look broadly, and together, at the phenomenon of contemporary migration of peoples and stand on their ways with a kind look in order to help them, to show care and simple human solidarity. Since these people need a loving look and concrete help.

"Niedziela" 3/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: