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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 109 (Suppl.), April 2009




Cardinal Peter Appiah TURKSON

Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana

(in absentia)


From 13th to 18th November 2007, the Bishops of the Council of European Bishops’ Conference (CCEE) met with those of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) at Elmina, Ghana. In attendance were such partner agencies as MISEREOR and the Church-in-Need. The occasion of the meeting was the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave trade; and the meeting was held under the theme, I know the suffering of my People” (Ex 3:7): Slavery and New Forms of Slavery.

This meeting was the latest in a series of meetings between the Council of European Bishops’ Conference and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, which has been running since 2004, and with which the two continental Conferences seek to manifest and to live the communion and solidarity that need to exist between the two Church bodies.

The need for the African Church to live in communion and solidarity with the European Church (whose missionaries had laboured to establish an African Church), which was once a mere desire haboured by some African and European Bishops working at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Synod of Bishops as well as the Pontifical Council, Cor Unum, became one of the prominent themes of the First African Synod (1994).

The Church in Europe gradually warmed up to the idea, and in February 2003, the Commission of European Union of Bishops (COMECE) met with some African Bishops at Lisbon, Portugal to consider Europe and Africa as partners in solidarity. Subsequently, the European Bishops discussed the urgency of meetings between the African Church and the European Church at its Plenary Assembly at Vilnius, Lithuania from 2nd to 5th October 2003. The agenda for the meetings, however, were not to be limited to Africa but to reflect the common responsibility of the Bishops of Europe and Africa, especially, for Evangelization.

The Bishops of Africa warmly welcomed the decision of the European Bishops at their Plenary Assembly in Dakar, Senegal (5th to 13th October 2003), and greatly rejoiced at the prospect of sitting with the Bishops of Europe to deepen the sacramental and pastoral communion, which must exist between the African and European Churches.

A preparatory commission, made up of African and European Bishops, as well as representatives of partner Agencies, met to draw up the agenda for the meetings of the two Churches, and they include the following:

  • A life communion between the European and African Bishops on the basis of their sacramental brotherhood, instead of economic considerations;
  • The discovery of the depth of their common responsibility for mission and for evangelization in a globarlized and a secularized world;
  • A common reflection on the nature of the human person, social relationships, Evangelization and living the faith in Europe and Africa;
  • A consideration of the various types of collaboration, which already exist between Europe and Africa (between dioceses, missionary groups, non-governmental organizations and governmental bodies);
  • New forms of collaboration, reciprocal aid and exchange of ideas between Europe and Africa in the face of challenging situations, like migration, poverty, economic aid, relations with Islam, health, HIV/AIDS etc;
  • The joint contribution of Africa and Europe to peace and development; 
  • The planning and the beginning of a programme of meetings of different forms in the future e.g. from purely Episcopal encounters to meetings including lay people to discuss specific issues.

The first meeting of the Bishops of the two continental Churches was held under the theme Communion and Solidarity between Africa and Europe. With this theme as its primary objective, the meeting discussed:

  • The challenges and the aspirations of the Church in Africa and Europe;
  • Collaboration between Africa and Europe for a more just world;
  • Co-responsibility for a renewed Church at the service of the world.

In the same spirit of communion and solidarity between the two continental Churches, ten African Bishops, ten European Bishops and representatives of partner agencies met last November 2007 in Elmina, Ghana to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. The meeting studied Slavery and New Forms of Slavery on the two continents and in the world.

This diachronic overview of the inception and activities of the joint meetings of CCEE and SECAM Bishops serves to draw attention to the rather recent history of the meetings, and to advert to the fact that migration issues have not been taken up yet, although they stay on the agenda of the joint meetings.

At the meeting in Elmina, for example, migration issues came up as spin-offs of discussions on Slavery and New Forms of Slavery. For slavery, in a variety of forms that it takes, is often associated with displacement of people, either forcibly or voluntarily. It easily becomes the lot of displaced people, migrants. Otherwise, it is the plan of the joint meeting to take up the issue of migration at its next meeting in November 2008 at Liverpool, Great Britain; it will provide a SECAM-CCEE forum for an in-depth consideration of the issue. In this regard, the rest of our presentation on the topic shall be:

  • A survey of how the interventions at Elmina related slavery and its new forms to migration;
  • Some measures and initiatives taken by CCEE and SECAM member Episcopal Conferences to deal with the phenomenon;
  • The line-up of topics on migration to be treated at the Liverpool meeting in November 2008.

Interventions at Elmina on Migration

Out of the thirteen interventions which were made at Elmina on Slavery and New Forms of Slavery, six of them mentioned migration and population movement as related to slavery.

Bishop Gabriel Anokye of Ghana (a SECAM participant) led a brief roundtable discussion on Children Slavery. According to him, 1.2 million children are victims of child trafficking. The two major routes in West Africa, along which children are trafficked, are Mali-Burkina-Faso-Ivory Coast route, and the Togo-Benin-Nigeria-Cameroon route. Ghana is a strategic transit point between the two routes. Child trafficking is not motivated only by the need for labour on cocoa, coffee and tea plantations and their use as child soldiers, their trafficking also forms part of the global sex trade, where they serve as sex workers. Analysis relates the phenomenon with poverty, war and famine.

In his paper on Prostitution: une Nouvelle Forme d’esclavage! Point de vue d’un Observateur Africain Et Chretien,[1] Father Ferdinand Banga of the Democratic Republic of Congo observes that in the middle of the nineties, prostitution reached international levels. With the trend of globalization, the end of the cold war and the opening of borders, we see the expansion of, and the improvement in the trade networks, with the development of the sex industry and sexual tourism, and with it the intensification of prostitution. More than ever this problem tends to take transnational dimensions.

Generally, the exportation of prostitutes is from sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe (countries of former Soviet Union) to Western Europe. But a new form of prostitution has emerged whereby women, who are not financially poor, are attracted to the lifestyle of the southern countries and move there to search for young people with whom they have sexual relations at very low rate.

Within Africa itself, Father Banga talks about the movement of women and children, due largely to prostitution, poverty and political instability. Rwandan prostitutes, for example, flock the border towns of DRC and Lake Kivu, where the personnel of United Nations (UN) and agents of international organizations are stationed. Prostitution, he avers is partly responsible for migration of people from one country to the other. The phenomenon is so widespread that 1 out of 35 inhabitants of the planet, is a migrant, and 48% of the international migrants are women. International prostitution is a despicable development, which requires the concerted pastoral action of the Churches of the North and the South.

Bishop Anton Cosa of Maldova (a CCEE participant) in a paper on Liberazione  dalle nuove Schiavitù: Prassi Pastorali: Tratta di Donne, Bambini e Organi identifies the cause of the various forms of human trafficking, especially, from Eastern Europe to the West. He considers new and emergent forms of trafficking, and proposes some socio-pastoral responses to the situation.

For Bishop Cosa, the collapse of Soviet Union is a predominant factor in the movement of people from East to the West. The collapse gave rise to two blocs of unequal socio-economic conditions. Poverty and exodus became correlative terms. Migration from the East has been aggravated by the propaganda of the media, which present the East with images of an affluent West. And all the countries of the former communist block are interested in wealth, the search for which many migrants become victims of exploitation.

 Kosovo is the biggest transit point between Eastern European countries and the West, because it is a UN protectorate. From Kosovo, Italy is the next point to European countries, where migrants are constrained to live under clandestine conditions. Their irregular status exposes them to all abuses and exploitations, including the sale of their organs. Based on the June 2005 document of the Holy See on human trafficking, the Church has happily developed socio-pastoral initiatives such as the anti-tricking foundation, known as Regina Pacis Foundation, and collaborates with the state to address the situation.

Bishop Ciriaco Benavente Mateos of Albacete (a CCEE participant) presented a paper on Immigrants Africains sans Papaiers d´Identité en Espagne et son Exploitation aux Lieux du Travail. According to him, the same reasons advanced by Bishop Cosa about migration from Eastern to Western Europe are to a large extent true about migration from Africa to Spain. The modern media nowadays present the North to the Third World as a paradise and the land of promise where milk and honey flow. But for most migrants, the route to the North is a desert filled with emptiness or a place whose price is death.

Statistics quoted indicate that 16% of all migrants in Spain are from Africa (especially Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria and Senegal), and that is about 731,210 out of a total migrant population of 4,482,568. Most of these are registered but about 58,000 are said to be un-registered. And the prospect of repatriation (as required by the repatriation accords, signed between Spain and some African countries like Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal), makes the migrants to destroy all documents and identity traits. The resultant situation is a very vulnerable population, open to abuse and exploitation.

The Spanish Church speaks publicly about the plight of the illegal aliens, their vulnerability and exploitation, and invites local Church groups to help migrants.  These groups provide hospices and places for inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue among the migrants. Additionally, the Church of Spain has established channels of dialogue with the Churches of the countries of origin of the migrants, and has set up agencies to collaborate with those countries for development. 

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants presented a paper on Migration and New Slaveries. In his intervention, he invited the meeting, with statistical figures, to recognize the magnitude of the migration phenomenon. According to him, there are 191 million international migrants in the world. And 60% of these presently live in developed countries, where women migrants outnumber the men.

While he recognized the dangers attendant on the migration phenomenon (trafficking, forced labour, enslavement and exploitation), he also challenged the meeting to consider the value of migrants and their contribution to the host countries. As done by the Secretary General of UN (in his report of 2006), the Archbishop called for a positive regard for migrants, reiterating his observation at the global forum on Migration and Development (Brussels, July 2006) that migrants contribute to the well-being of their host country.

Migration as seen by the UN, he remarked is a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life. Nevertheless, it is important to concede that experience of migration has also evolved in some less positive ways. Migrants of both sexes are increasingly exposed to exploitation and abuse by smugglers and traffickers, sometimes losing their lives. Others find themselves trapped behind walls of discrimination, xenophobia and racism as the result of rising cultural and religious tensions in some societies. 

Initiatives of CCEE-SECAM member Episcopal Conferences

To provide assistance to extremely vulnerable groups affected by both natural and human disasters, the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa, known as IMBISA, for example, set up a department of Refugees and Migrant Workers in 1987. And due largely to the situation of conflicts and wars, many other Episcopal Conferences on the continent have established Commissions of Migrant and Itinerant People; in collaboration with CARITAS, CRS and other organizations they offer material and pastoral support to refuges and displaced people. In Kenya Episcopal Conference, the Commission includes refugees, migrants and seafarers.

During the First African Synod in 1994, the issues of refugees and discalced people came up for discussion, and based on the submission of the Synod Fathers, the Servant of God, John Paul II said in Ecclesia in Africa that “one of the most bitter fruits of wars and economic hardships is the sad phenomenon of refugees and displaced persons, a phenomenon which, as the Synod mentioned, has reached tragic dimensions. The ideal solution is the re-establishment of a just society, peace, reconciliation and economic development. It is therefore urgent that national, regional and international organizations should find equitable and long-lasting solutions to the problems of refugees and displaced persons. In the meantime, since the continent continues to suffer from the massive displacement of refugees, I make a pressing appeal that these people be given material help and offered pastoral support wherever they may be, whether in Africa or on other continents” (EIA no. 119).

Driven by pastoral solicitude to address the phenomenon of refugees, the dioceses of Westminster and Brentwood, and the Archdiocese of Southwark recently commissioned the Von Hugel institute of St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge to do pastoral research enquiry into the needs of migrants in London’s Catholic community. The report of the enquiry is titled, The Ground of Justice. The report is based on stories of migrants, although many were reluctant and afraid to tell their stories. From the interviews, the document reports on the global origin of immigrants, their different educational backgrounds, the particular difficulties or disadvantages of non-English speaking immigrants, their fears, social needs, accommodation and their search for home-away-from-home, the efforts of the Church’s to provide such a home, and the experiences of a committed but stretched clergy to deal with the various needs.

Similarly, but on a limited and a parochial level, some diocesan communities have been dealing with the issue of migrants without waiting for international conventions or protocols, and with a view to fostering the integration of migrant communities and equipping them for a transformed economic and social life in their new environment and for an eventual return to their countries. For example, there is an initiative called Ghanacoop, a group which employs a network of stakeholders in socio-economic and cultural activities to foster integration. The stakeholders and partners include Fairtrade, IOM, COGNAM, Corad, and Italian Embassy in Ghana etc. And the objectives of Ghanacoop are as follows:

  • reciprocity of relationship between Ghanaian migrant community in Northern Italy and their Italian counterparts in Modena and Reggio Emilia;
  • Development of business and economic activities between Ghana and Italy;
  • Facilitation of socio-economic and cultural integration between Ghanaian migrants and the host communities;
  • Promotion of social enterprise and cooperatives in Ghana;
  • Enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of Ghanaians both in Italy and in Ghana.

This is a very local initiative but it is an example of how the life of a migrant community can shed the trappings of vulnerability and exploitation.  

Migration Agenda for the meeting in Liverpool

As mentioned earlier, the main theme of the next CCEE and SECAM meeting in Liverpool (November 2008) is “I was a stranger and you made me welcome” (Mt 25:35): Migration as a new point of Evangelisation and Solidarity.

The meeting shall be opened on the first day with a keynote address by the Archbishop of Liverpool on “I was a stranger and you made me welcome” (Mt 25:35): Biblical and Theological Perspectives. This will be followed later by two presentations, one from Europe on the World Migration Situation (the speaker shall possibly come from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People), and the other from Africa on Migration from Africa to Europe (a Bishop from Ghana is designated for the presentation). 

The second day shall reflect on European and African Migration Policy. Here again there will be two speakers, one from Europe (possibly a British parliamentarian) and the other from Africa (a Bishop from Mauritania is designated). This will be followed with a roundtable discussion on the Pastoral Care of Refugees, with two experiences each from Europe and Africa.

On day three, a roundtable discussion (led again by two people each from Africa and Europe) shall be held on the Pastoral Care of Migrant Workers. This will be followed by another roundtable discussion (led by four people) on the Pastoral Care of Migrant Students. The last discussion shall be held on the Pastoral Approaches in a Multi-Cultural Situation.

It is hoped that following the lead of the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes no. 27), the message of the Servant of God, John Paul II of May 2002 on Twenty-first Century Slavery: the Human Rights Dimension to Trafficking in Human Beings, the instructions of the Roman Curia (Erga migrantes caritas Christi of the pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants), and the initiatives of various groups and Conferences, the continental Churches of Africa and Europe can find concrete ways of collaborating with one another to stem the ills of migration when they meet in Liverpool. Until then, we hope that the outcome of this convention will be forwarded to the organizers of the joint CCEE-SECAM meeting for consideration and incorporation in their plan of action on the pastoral care of migrants and displaced people throughout Africa and Europe.


[1] The paper was not read at the seminar but submitted thereafter for publication in the Acts.