Pope Francis said that the global rise in migration should be dealt with by addressing its root causes, not by building walls, in an interview aboard the papal plane on Sunday, according to Reuters.
"Builders of walls, be they made of razor wire or bricks, will end up becoming prisoners of the walls they build," the pope said.
The pope said that wealthy countries have an obligation to humanely deal with migration when asked about US President Trump’s recent threat to shutdown the US-Mexico border to discourage migration.
And though he didn’t call out specific leaders, the pope acknowledged that migration has become a heated topic in recent years.
"I realize that with this problem [of migration], a government has a hot potato in its hands, but it must be resolved differently, humanely, not with razor wire," he said.
Between 2000 and 2017, global migration increased by 49%, becoming both a major driver of economic gains and also a source of tension in many countries, according to the United Nations’ International Migration Report. In addition to voluntary migration, there are currently 22 million people around the world who have been displaced from their countries by forces like conflict, persecution, natural disasters.
The majority of migrants end up in high-income countries where there are generally more work opportunities, but low-income countries take in 84% all refugees and asylum seekers, according to the UN’s report. Although migrants and refugees are caused by different factors, they often get lumped together when countries close their borders.
Migration has become more polarizing issue in some countries than others.
In the US, for example, President Donald Trump has threatened to close the US-Mexico border to prevent asylum seekers from crossing and said he will eliminate foreign aid to the Northern Triangle, where large numbers of asylum seekers originate.
Throughout Europe, migration has propelled far-right, anti-immigration parties to power in Italy and Germany, and fueled events like Brexit in the United Kingdom. In Thailand, a crackdown on undocumented migrants has also targeted refugees and asylum seekers, and Morocco has a nearly zero-tolerance policy for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
The general intolerance towards migrants around the world has led many to take extreme risks, including contacting smugglers, traversing perilous landscapes, and crossing dangerous bodies of water in search of safety and opportunity. Since 2000, more than 60,000 migrants have died while seeking safety.
Pope Francis has long called on countries to take a more humane approach to handling migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. The UN, meanwhile, urges countries to adopt a new compact on migration that recognizes the changing nature of the global economy, the role climate change plays in displacing people, and the various root causes driving migration.
The pope said that addressing skyrocketing levels of inequality would go a long way toward reducing migration flows.
"With fear, we will not move forward, with walls, we will remain closed within these walls," he told reporters on Sunday.