A humane approach to migration
The shipwreck, in which over three hundred migrants lost their lives in a vain attempt to reach the island of Lampedusa on 3 October last, made migration a banner headline issue in most European countries. It captured our hearts but it also focused our minds on the plight of migrants and how we were treating them. Yet it is sobering to remember that upwards of twenty thousand people have drowned in efforts to cross the Mediterranean over the last years. The Bishops of COMECE have been studying the contemporary phenomenon of migration and asylum in the EU at their Autumn Plenary meeting from 13 to 15 November in Brussels.
A humane approach to migration
An important distinction must be kept in mind between regular and irregular migration. The Bishops feel that the legal provisions which must in all cases be respected need greater flexibility and a sensitivity to human needs.
An EU Commission Official from DG Home briefed the bishops on the current legal framework within which the issue of migration and asylum is addressed. Even though there are legal instruments which in theory apply across the board, there is a disparity between member states in the way they are put into effect. Countries which border on the Mediterranean feel they carry too much of the burden. The Bishops received a letter from their brother bishops in Malta asking for Solidarity with their country. Solidarity between all EU Member States is essential.
Should peaceful circumstances or social and economic conditions in their countries of origin permit it, most who at present opt to migrate would prefer to stay and make lives for themselves and their families at home. Greater outside assistance to countries of origin might entice would-be migrants to stay in their native land. The bishops were of the view that coordinated assistance to countries of origin and support to countries of transit is needed to stem a migratory flux. Therefore a more coherent EU migration policy, coordinated with other policies of the Union (such as Trade, Cooperation aid and Foreign affairs), is necessary.
COMECE insists on a more humane approach to migration and asylum and would hope to contribute from 2014 to the reshaping of the future home affairs policy of the EU.
The Bishops were briefed on the practical experience of the Community of Madrid concerning the integration of migrants. Regional, local authorities are key actors in integrating migrants. Parishes can also play a crucial role in welcoming and integrating migrants.
Human trafficking is a scandal
It is estimated that in the EU at the present time there are an estimated 880,000 victims of human trafficking. Many are engaged in forced labour, in the sex industry or are victims of organ trafficking. Modern slavery, a spin-off of unregulated migration, is hugely lucrative.
The bishops heard a moving testimony of a trafficked woman from the Sophie Hayes Foundation, and they also heard of the successful fight against crime and the rescue and rehabilitation programme which resulted from the partnership operated by the trafficking unit of Scotland Yard and the Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales. It was felt that this model of good practice and hands-on partnership, which is functioning so successfully in the UK, could be shared with Catholic bishops and their agencies, and especially women religious, in other member states of the EU.
A Church that is hospitable
COMECE Bishops are worried about xenophobia directed against migrants in some parts of Europe. This is a legitimate concern. The Bishops emphasise however that migrants are an opportunity for our societies and parishes in terms of talents, cultures and skills they contribute. It is essential in their view that parish communities throughout Europe welcome migrants and do all they can to make them feel at home.