By Linda Bordoni
As thousands of forced migrants continue to flee conflict and poverty in the countries, an increasing number of governments are implementing new migration plans and policies aimed at turning people back and discouraging them from setting out in their journeys of hope.
Italy, one of the main gateways into Europe for mostly African and Middle Eastern migrants, has just approved a controversial plan on immigration and asylum.
Its priority is to send home as many “illegal” migrants as possible, which would imply an increase and acceleration of forced returns, especially through bilateral agreements with the migrants’ home and transit countries, even those where the government is a dictatorship, or whose systematic violations of human rights are well known.
Jesuit Fr. Cedric Prakash, who is wrapping up a three year experience as Regional Advocacy and Communications Advisor for Jesuit Refugee Service Middle East and North Africa (JRS MENA), has been living and working side-to-side with refugees from war-torn Syria and from Iraq, from whom he says, he has learnt a lot and gained new perspectives.
“I’ve grown, I’ve learnt so much, especially to listen to the cries, to the pains and suffering of refugees and displaced persons” Father Prakash said, reminding us that Pope Francis constantly urges all men and women of good will “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”.
He really believes, Fr. Prakash says, that it is incumbent on every one of us who claims to be a disciple of Jesus to reach out to and welcome refugees and displaced persons, who whom there are millions.
scenario at odds with Christian values
In a political scenario that increasingly rejects migrants and seems only to be concerned about protecting national borders and turning people back, Father Prakash reflects on how any person who calls him or herself a Christian has the duty to ask some crucial questions.
“Europe has known war, has known violence and a lot of Europeans have fled their own native lands and sought refuge in other countries” he points out, “so when the ‘Aquarius’ rescue ship is not allowed to dock in Italy or in Malta” there are some serious considerations to be made.
Fr. Prakash says “it’s not about whether the person (the migrant in question) merits asylum or not, but can we be humane? Can we allow the boat to dock? Can we provide these people with the possibility of having a bath and some food?”
He points out that even as the government goes ahead with its current policies to turn people away, there are many local organizations who are doing good work for the displaced and for refugees.
“But what we need, now, are good government policies,” he says.
Fr Prakash notes that his own government in India has stopped allowing the Rohingyas to come in: “I think this is a criminal act”.
He remarks on the fact that there are a series of UN Directives, Mandates and Protocols already in place that aim to safeguard the dignity of the person involved and that most countries have agreed upon and also that the Global Compact on Migration is shortly to be signed, a document that “Pope Francis has been talking about”.
Fr. Prakash also reflects on the fact that there are some people who purport to be “good Catholics” but do not refrain from expressing their belief that migrants are “invading their countries”.
“And this good Catholic takes me to church and goes and kisses Mary, the Mother of Jesus…” “So what is the meaning of faith?” He says. “How do we understand faith today?”
Perhaps people should be encouraged, he continues, to ask themselves why they are angry towards their neighbour for no reason and go beyond the surface to find out who is fuelling violence in this world and who controls and derives profit from the sale of arms and
So-called Christian countries profiting from the sales of arms and
Suggesting we visit the website, for example, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, it is easy, Fr. Prakash says, “to find out that the top manufacturers of arms and
“How do we deal with this? And the fact that an enormous amount of violence is taking place in so-called Christian countries? And the many instances of violence perpetrated against our neighbour? It’s mind-boggling” he says.
No religion advocates violence and intolerance
Commenting on the fact that people are labelled according to their religion while no religion advocates violence, Fr Cedric Prakash notes there are people who “misuse or misinterpret” religion to legitimize their own acts of evil. This, he says, “cannot be accepted”.
“Let’s accept a human being with compassion, with mercy, with love, in the framework of justice” he concludes “so we can truly make of our world a better place”.