The Roman Catholic Church’s annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees doesn’t take place for another few months — it’s held each year in January — but Pope Francis has a message for politicians that just can’t wait.
On Monday he published a message urging politicians and lawmakers to respect the rights of migrants, arguing that human rights should trump national security concerns.
"The principle of the centrality of the human person...obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security," he said.
Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, and war.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) July 8, 2017
His statement includes specific, practical remedies to address the current poor treatment of migrants, like ensuring that border agents are properly trained in order to guarantee the dignity and safety of migrants. He also said that migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees should be guaranteed access to basic services, and that political leaders need to develop “alternative solutions to detention for those who enter a country without authorisation.”
Currently, in many countries, asylum-seekers — including unaccompanied children — are held in detention centers.
In the US, for example, asylum-seekers are kept in detention centers while their cases are processed, which can take many months and may still result in their deportation. Until their residential status is determined, asylum-seekers can be held in jail-like facilities indefinitely, according to Human Rights Watch.
Unfortunately, the situation in the US shows no signs of improving as the Trump administration ended a detention alternative — of the sort the pope is calling for — in June this year as part of a cost-cutting measure, according to the Chicago Tribune. According to a spokesperson for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Family Case Management Program that was shut down was a less restrictive alternative program catering to “special populations, such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, [and] families with very young children.” The program operated more like a counseling center than a prison offering asylum-seekers housing, healthcare, education, and access to social workers.
Pope Francis has been raising awareness around the treatment of migrants since the beginning of his papacy.
I express my solidarity with migrants around the world and thank all those who help them: welcoming others means welcoming God in person!— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) December 18, 2016
“Throughout the first years of my pontificate, I have repeatedly expressed my particular concern for the lamentable situation of many migrants and refugees fleeing from war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty,” his message says.
In a visit to Mexico last year, the pope decried immigration policies that push desperate people to turn to smugglers and drug dealers for help crossing the border, inadvertently supporting human trafficking, according to Reuters. At the time, his visit and message contradicted that of then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
A year later, just weeks after President Trump took office, Pope Francis reiterated this sentiment saying, “I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges.”
But the pope’s message isn’t just meant for the US. He has also called out the conditions in migrant centers in Europe and criticized its lackluster response to the refugee crisis.
“The present wave of migration seems to be undermining the foundations of that ‘humanistic spirit’ which Europe has always loved and defended,” he said in an address to diplomats in Vatican City last January. He encouraged European countries to find “the right balance between its two-fold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and to ensure assistance and acceptance to migrants”.
National security concerns are often used as grounds to suspend human rights. In the case of migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees, national security concerns — like terrorism — are have recently been used to legitimize detention without due process, according to Human Rights Watch.
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