In recent weeks, national and international news have reported so many dramatic situations regarding migrants and refugees. The human drama is beyond comprehension and has become a global challenge
Yesterday, March 27, 39 people died in a fire at a migrant detention center in Mexico, set in protest of their impending deportation; 28 of those were from Guatemala.
On March 25, Canada virtually closed its borders to refugees because the Safe Third Country Agreement now applies to its entire border; this means that any refugee who wants to come to Canada must now do so from within his or her own country (risking his life for months while waiting for a response from the government) or arrive by plane or boat directly into the country, without going through the United States or another “safe” country. Otherwise, they must seek refuge in the first “safe” country they reach. When we know that few countries in Africa or Latin America have direct flights to Canada and that, in addition, obtaining a tourist visa that would allow them to arrive in the country are difficult to obtain, we might as well say that Canada is no longer a welcoming country. Since Saturday, I can’t stop thinking about a young Congolese mother who faced a closed border because she didn’t know about the policy change. After having made the journey during 18 months, passing from Congo to Brazil and all the countries of Latin America to arrive in Canada with her children who are respectively 5 years old and barely 4 months old (she gave birth, on the way), here she is in front of a broken dream… just because she was a few hours late.
The Mediterranean Sea has become a real cemetery. On February 26, nearly 100 migrants died 150 meters off the Italian coast when their boat crashed into the rocks in the south of the country; among them were 14 children! Many of these migrants came from Afghanistan and Iran, fleeing very difficult conditions. Over the past 10 years, more than 26,000 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean Sea simply seeking dignified human living conditions.
Tomorrow, next week, next month, the news will continue to plague us with stories as sad as the next. Many governments around the world seem to have forgotten that the right to leave one’s country and seek asylum is a right recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And let’s be frank: when a person or a family comes to the point of wanting to leave their “home” to look for another one, the situation has become dramatic. I don’t believe that anyone does this willingly.
Time for a Real Change!
At times, the challenges are so great that we feel paralyzed by the immensity of the task. Faced with these situations, what can we do concretely? What concrete actions can we take? I propose three paths: see – judge – act.
“The Lord said: “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt and I have heard them cry out under the blows of their oppressors. Yes, I know their sufferings” (Exodus 3:7). To see is the first step to undertake. We must know the reality, listen to the stories of the migrants, try to understand their situation. Why not do something concrete such as to go and meet a person, a family. To have a coffee, to listen with compassion, to create bonds in order to be part of their social integration, this is what could allow our human communion to grow.
“You shall not oppress the migrant; you yourselves know the life of the migrant, for you were migrated to the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). In the discernment that is proposed to us, we must dive deep into our heart to discover God’s call. His Word, the events that weave their way through our daily lives, the mission that we have accepted by committing ourselves, these are all elements that can help us to discern, to judge which is the next step to take. I also suggest that we let the word of the Magisterium enlighten our reflection. It is our responsibility to inform ourselves of the situations in different countries. But I also invite you to read chapter 4 of Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis’ encyclical on fraternity and social friendship, which is eloquent in helping us to deepen the Christian and human action to be undertaken.
“The King will answer them: “Amen, I say to you, whenever you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Christian action is not primarily a solidarity movement to be founded; it is a charitable gesture to be offered. It can also be a volunteer work with a social organization where along with others we can build a more human and fraternal world. It means defending the stranger in the face of hurtful and, let’s face it, xenophobic words and gestures. A gesture, however small, can help build the new city. But let’s have the courage of a simple gesture. It will open many doors… but first of all the door of our heart!
The issue of migrants and refugees is more than a social reality. They are real people, our brothers and sisters in humanity! It would be too easy to wash our hands of these dramatic situations, saying that it is beyond our capacities. The time has come to enlarge the space of our tent, to have a frankly greater, more real openness to our brothers and sisters in need. Through our faith commitment, all Christians are called to respond to these difficult situations. Father Henri Roy, at the first YCW Congress in Montreal in 1935, proclaimed loud and clear: “The helpless, we will help them !” We, too, are called to live in this same daring and prophetic spirit. The lives of our brothers and sisters depend on it!
Photo: Flickr, Jim Forest, European migrant crisis