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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 93,  December 2003, pp. 153-156

The World Council of Churches

Ms Doris Peschke

Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe 

(Representing the World Council of Churches) 

Your Eminence, Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have the privilege to convey to you the greetings of Rev Dr Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches who regrets not to be able to attend himself due to other commitments. The World Council of Churches attaches great importance to the themes tackled by this V World Congress of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and thus highly appreciate the invitation extended to the World Council of Churches to participate in this event.

Since its foundation in 1948, and based on previous ecumenical co-operation, the WCC has been involved in refugee assistance. 40 years ago, the World Council of Churches initiated the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, at that time to address the then new challenges related to the pastoral care for migrant workers in Western Europe. Today, CCME is an ecumenical agency on migration and integration, refugees and asylum and against racism and discrimination in Europe based in Brussels, Belgium. It serves Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Churches and Councils of Churches in Europe to coordinate their advocacy for migrants and refugees at the level of the European institutions. CCME closely cooperates with the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches.

CCME is the European member of Global Ecumenical Network on uprooted people coordinated by the World Council of Churches, which meets annually to exchange on challenges and trends, to strengthen each other in the common commitment to assist displaced persons. 

As the President of the Pontifical Council, H.E. Cardinal Hamao has stressed yesterday, ecumenical cooperation in the churches’ work with and for migrants and refugees is fortunately more established than in other areas. We are very pleased that e.g. we were able to establish a Christian Network against Trafficking in Women in Europe together with Caritas Europa, which is also supported and recognised by the European Commission. In two weeks, first results of this new network will be published. It would be important to extend this collaboration further.

The ecumenical cooperation in these fields is rooted in our common Christian tradition and belief. To love the stranger is one of the essential teachings of Jesus Christ, as is to aid those in distress, those excluded from society, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the prisoners, today we would probably add, those who do not have documents authorising their stay. 

At the European level, our Commission closely cooperates with the Secretariat of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the EU, with the International Catholic Migration Commission, Caritas Europe and Jesuit Refugee Service Europe as well as with Eurodiaconia and the Quaker Council for European Affairs. We are convinced that this cooperation not only makes our efforts more effective, but that it strengthens also the Christian witness in society today. 

Challenges today

This Congress seeks to renew pastoral care of migrants and refugees. We regard this as very important as we are facing tough challenges today. In Europe, e.g. asylum for refugees is put in question by governments by establishing ever higher hurdles for access to the territory. Those refugees who do manage to come are often rejected simply on the ground that they could have remained in a third country on their way. The debate on asylum is still focussing on false asylum claims rather than on the root causes for displacement of people. 

In addition to the problems refugees face, this debate has created the image of asylum seekers being criminals, thus societies are less prepared to extend solidarity. As a consequence, churches do not only have to assist and care for refugees, but they also have to counter the increasing hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers. We hope that we can ecumenically embark on common action geared towards what Prof Zamagni named yesterday: efficient and fair asylum procedures.

Not only, but increasingly throughout Europe, asylum seekers and irregular migrants are detained for long periods. Often their detention conditions are worse than those of convicted criminals. They have less access to facilities of recreation, training, and sometimes even movement outside the cells while they need special attention and assistance. This is an additional – and often new – task for prison chaplains, who should be offered training and supervision.

The UN Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants, Gabriella Rodriguez has pointed out that migrants who are neglected and denied assistance are extremely vulnerable to falling victim to criminal networks of traffickers and smugglers. Abused minors and raped women, as well as exploitation and horrendous prices for a journey – supposedly towards a better life, too often resulting in death – are reality today. We are facing new forms of slavery, where people are regarded as mere property. As churches, we have to speak out against this as it denies the dignity of the person who is first and foremost God’ creation. 

Migration and globalisation

Indeed, economic globalisation has changed patterns of migration. As in many cases our Christian services are facing problems of persons in distress, we sometimes forget that in principle migration is a rather old phenomenon, it is normal and it is beneficial. The Bible is full of stories of migration, where God called on persons to leave their home and follow him. In the mission of the churches, a global approach has always been present. Therefore, the challenge today may lye in developing practical migration schemes and ensuring the rights of migrants and their family members. The International Convention for the Rights of All Migrants and their Family Members is an important part of a truly international concept of migrants rights. The Assembly of the Conference of European Churches at its meeting this summer in Trondheim has thus called on European governments to ratify this Convention. We would hope that we can jointly work in this direction, as rights for every person, without exclusion, are essential to counter exploitation and new forms of slavery.

Of course, migration will always pose challenges to societies, and to churches. How do we live the diversity, how do we respect different religions and cultures, how do we develop cohesion and sustainable bonds between communities of different denominations and traditions? How do we contribute to creating “welcoming societies” which we regard as essential when we talk about integration of migrants? How can we foster bonds of migrants with their country of origin which are beneficial for the individual, the society in the new and old home country?

Our Commission attempts to address some of these issues with acknowledging the role of black and migrant churches and congregations. In March next year, a conference will be organised jointly by our Commission and the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy at Ciampino to tackle the question of  “Being Church Together”. 

In conclusion, may I express my gratitude for the privilege to attend this congress. The World Council of Churches and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe sincerely hope that we will find adequate ways of making the common views and existing cooperation on migration more visible in societies in Europe and the world at large, in order to give in this world where divisions are creating violence and suffering, a common testimony.

Thank you for your attention.