Pontifical Council for the Pastoral
Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
Presentation of the Pontifical Message
for the World Day of
Migrants and Refugees 2002
Archbishop Stephen Fumio HAMAO
President of the Pontifical Council
phenomenon of migration
The phenomenon of migration has dramatically
increased over the last decades. Nowadays more and more people are moving from
one country to another, from one continent to another.
More than 190 million people actually live outside the country where
they were born. International
migrants, for economic reasons, are calculated at some 175 million. In
addition to them, there are 16 million refugees under the mandate of the UNHCR
(United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the UNRWA (United Nations
Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). There is
also an increase in the number of people forced to
leave their homes and areas of residence without crossing national boundaries,
the so called “internally displaced persons.”
These amount to some fifty million people. Half of them are in
refugee-like situations and would qualify for refugee status if they would
cross the border of their country; the other 25 million have been displaced by
natural disasters. In these
figures are not included millions of internal migrants, persons who migrate
within their own country to earn a living.
Among migrations there is need to make an important distinction between
voluntary and forced migration. Voluntary migration in fact is seen as related
to offers of work and the demand for laborers. Forced migration, on the other
hand, originates in conflicts, human rights abuses and political or religious
repression. While this distinction has some validity, it can be difficult in
practice to distinguish between the two. The element of free choice is often not
the principle reason that pushes a person to move abroad.
Beyond the conflicts, oppression and abuses of power mentioned above,
there are unfortunately other elements that leave little margin to the free
choice between putting up with or fleeing conditions of life that have become
unsustainable. I refer to extreme
poverty, a disastrous economy, degradation of the environment, demographic
imbalances, lack of minimum provision for safety, health and services in times
of crisis or also absolute lack of citizens’ participation in political
We now present some notable changes in the field
of migration in respect to the past.
think first about the entry of many women in this movement. Formerly it was
mainly men who left their homes, the land of their ancestors, to go for work in
another country. More recently
migration movements are more and more marked by women, who go as wage earners
and not any more only to accompanying family members.
characteristic element are the bonds among migrants today. Though migration
represents drastic changes of life because of being away from the country of
origin, many migrants today are more connected with it, thanks also to easier
travel and means of communication.
are furthermore climatic changes that are becoming a factor of migration. In this regard, in the coming years these will
enormously increase of population movements.
Perhaps tens of millions within 25 years will be forced to emigrate owing
to desertification or a rise of the sea level.
New political problems as factors for migration are not lacking either. The
political climate has also changed, unfortunately, for the worse for migrants
and refugees. After 11th September 2001, the fear of terrorism
has increased, so that governments and political parties are issuing new and
ever stricter laws for maintaining order and security.
Stricter checks are done, rendering more restrictive the very norms on
asylum, an institution of great tradition in international legislation.
In many minds, then, immigration is often linked to the idea of growth in
criminality. It follows that the
general attitude towards persons of other cultures and religions living close to
us has become more hostile, even xenophobic and racist. Added to this are
ignorance about the other, prejudice, and political manipulation, which make
migrants, refugees and asylum seekers suffer unnecessary among us.
And they have already had enough of that.
there is, in this our provisional list, the necessity of immigration in some
regions, also because the population of many countries is ageing, a fact that
means forming new migration and economic policies.
The impact that all this will produce will be of further interest to
fact, when we report numbers and establish classifications among persons
involved in the phenomenon of migration, we have to remember that we are
speaking about “human beings,” each one of whom has a face, a history,
persons loved and who love, having problems, joys and sorrows.
Each one of them is an individual with rights and duties, with
requirements, aspirations, qualities, and fragility like our own.
And precisely here enters the issue of personal and international ethics.
The substantial difference with us, however, is that their life has been
dramatically marked by their place of birth.
All, therefore, especially if we profess to be Christians, have to
understand and help to understand that to be born in a disadvantaged country or
in an oppressive State should not for ever compromise rights, duties,
opportunities and – especially – dignity, whether we speak about a citizen,
a migrant or a refugee, whose documents are in order or not.