Pope Francis’s encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, published in 2020, set the universal context as to how our response should be to migrants and refugees. It expresses the need to “acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.” In today’s context, this concept is increasingly under threat from nationalist or individualist tendencies, with the highest price being paid by those viewed as ‘the other’ – whether living abroad or new arrivals to our shores. Reinforcing the message of Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis call on us to counter this prevailing trend by working towards the establishment of a single ‘we’, encompassing the whole of humanity. It is through this lens that the Catholic Church sees the movement of people across borders and through which we should consider our response to migrants and refugees seeking to build their lives here.
For the past 109 years, the Catholic Church has promoted an annual observance of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. This, year Pope Francis has chosen the theme: “Free to choose whether to migrate or stay”.
At least 100 million migrants in our present-day world are deprived of the choice to stay at “home”. Pope Francis captured their dilemma very well in his Message for the 109th Day of Migrants and Refugees which the Catholic Church observes on September 24, 2023:
“Persecutions, wars, atmospheric phenomena and dire poverty are among the most visible causes of forced migrations today. Migrants flee because of … fear or desperation.”
In our service to migrants and refugees in all regions of the world, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) hears the testimonies of those who desperately wanted to stay but finally faced the reality that only by leaving home – at least temporarily – could they assure the safety and a dignified future for their family members.
Putting an end to forced migration
Pope Francis asks us to make a commitment on this World Day of Migrants and Refugees, by seriously considering “what we can do, but also what we need to stop doing” by putting an end to so much forced migration in the world.
“We need to make every effort to halt the arms race, economic colonialism, the plundering of other people’s resources and the devastation of our common home … To make migration a choice that is truly free, efforts must be made to ensure to everyone an equal share in the common good, respect for his or her fundamental rights, and access to an integral human development.”
He reminds us of Jesus’ requirement for entry into His Kingdom, “… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35-36). The Holy Father shares his conviction that “These words are a constant admonition to see in the migrant not simply a brother or sister in difficulty, but Christ himself, who knocks at our door.”
One way to ensure that forced migration can be eliminated in the future is to ensure that decent and dignified work, with just and fair compensation, is available in all parts of the world and to eliminate the exploitative conditions, trafficking of people, and slavery that still is prevalent in so many parts of the world.
The shocking reality
According to the UN’s International Labor Organization:
- 49.6 million people, one in every 150 people living in today’s world, are living in modern slavery today, of which 27.6 million are in forced labour and 22 million in forced marriage.
- Of the 27.6 million people in forced labour, 17.3 million are exploited in the private sector; 6.3 million in forced sexual exploitation, and 3.9 million in forced labour imposed by governmental authorities in the countries in which they live.
- Women and girls account for 4.9 million of those in forced sexual exploitation, and for 6 million of those in forced labour in other economic sectors.
- 12% of all those in forced labour are children. More than half of these children are in forced sexual exploitation. (International Labor Organization, Facts and Figures, Modern Slavery, and Human Trafficking)
- Migrant workers are more than three times more likely to be in forced labor than non-migrant adult workers.
The ICMC was able to pledge its commitment to promote decent and dignified work during the June 2023 session of the International Labor Conference, which was held in June 2023, in Geneva, Switzerland. This event was attended by approximately 5,000 delegates representing governments, workers and employers, and non-governmental organisations, including ICMC and the members of the “Future of Work: Labour after Laudato Si’ Initative, which is managed by ICMC and includes numerous other Catholic-inspired organizations (see https://futureofwork-labourafterlaudatosi.net/ ).
Pope Francis’ prayer on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2023:
God, Father Almighty,
grant us the grace to work tirelessly
for justice, solidarity and peace,
so that all your children may enjoy
the freedom to choose whether to migrate or to stay.
Grant us the courage to denounce
all the horrors of our world,
and to combat every injustice
that mars the beauty of your children
and the harmony of our common home.
Sustain us by the power of your Spirit,
so that we can reflect your tender love
to every migrant whom you place in our path,
and to spread in hearts and in every situation
the culture of encounter and of care. Amen.
See information and some useful resources from the Jesuit Refugee Service UK: https://www.jrsuk.net/wdmr2023/
See Message by Pope Francis for WDMR2023 – 20230511-world-migrants-day-2023
See Resource ‘Love the Stranger’ Catholic Bishops of England and Wales – PDF Document: Love the Stranger.