World Refugee Day in Kenya World Refugee Day in Kenya  (ANSA)

World Refugee Day promotes "Hope away from Home"

June 20 marks the UN World Refugee Day with the focus this year on "Hope away from Home. A world where refugees are always included." It's a theme the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) holds dear as well: integrating refugees and helping them contribute to their host countries, a win-win scenario.

By Thaddeus Jones

This year's World Refugee Day promoted by the United Nations aims to promote the message that inclusion of refugees in communities where they have found safety from war, conflict and extreme situations, can enable them to rebuild their lives and contribute to host countries. In this way they can also send remittances back home, gain valuable experience, and return home to rebuild their countries. These possibilities constitute winning scenarios for everyone when made possible.

World Refugee Day celebrates the strength and courage of those forced to flee their home countries due to wars or persecution. The Day looks at the challenges refugees face, their needs and dreams, but also how to mobilize political will so that the best and most effective support can help them and their host nations thrive. Over 108 million people have been forcibly displaced globally, and more than three quarters of them are hosted by low to middle income countries. 

Protect and serve

The goals of this World Refugee Day are also held dear by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), based in Geneva, which is marking this day while its Governing Committee meets here in Rome. ICMC's mission is to protect and serve uprooted people, including refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people, victims of human trafficking, and migrants, regardless of faith, race, ethnicity or nationality. It is often the coordinating center for much of the Catholic Church's global refugee and migrant outreach. 

Ms. Christine Nathan, President of the ICMC Governing Committee
Ms. Christine Nathan, President of the ICMC Governing Committee

Elected president of the ICMC Governing Committee a year ago, Christine Nathan of India, brings a wealth of experience to the job having worked in India to improve the rights of migrant workers. She also served eight years as a regional specialist for workers' education at the International Labor Organization (ILO) directing its activities across 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. She is also a member of the Migrant and Labour Commission of the Archdiocese of Mumbai.

Any way to survive

In an interview with Vatican News, Christine Nathan, underscored how most people on the move are escaping wars and desperate situations back home, such as unemployment, underemployment and exploitation. While she has focused primarily on migrant worker rights and assistance, the bottom line for refugees and migrants is the same: survival.

Responding to a question about who are all these people we hear about taking such desperate journeys, spending life savings to flee their homelands at the mercy of human traffickers, she replied they are not only those fleeing war, but migrants just looking for a way to put food on the table.

“They are not looking for luxuries. They are looking that there should be no fear where tomorrow's meal is coming from. So they do not want to have a five star life or a four star life. They just want the basics.”

Christine Nathan notes that the sending countries often suffer from high levels of unemployment, extreme poverty, and widespread exploitation. And despite the existence of worker laws and regulations, the implementation is often poor or not possible. Survival wages there may not even be possible. 

Need for recognition

The challenges in the arrival countries often regard worker exploitation, where migrant workers earn much less, often off the books, than citizens of the country. Yet they are contributing to the economy of the destination country, and even back home when they send remittances that boost foreign reserves and GDP of their home countries.

“It's their blood, sweat and tears which is increasing the GDP of the receiving country and the economy of the (home) country. But they are not recognized in both countries. They are exploited where they go and they are humiliated and exploited when they come back home.”

So the governments of both sending and receiving countries of migrants and refugees are benefitting with these new workers, she points out, but the workers often do not receive due recognition or any acknowledgement of what they are doing that helps both sending and receiving countries, including the possibility to regularize their legal status or receive a just wage and basic worker protection.

“So we want to advocate with the governments to develop and implement fair and just policies and practices related to work.”

Pope Francis' global advocacy

Christine Nathan is grateful for the strong and clear words of Pope Francis on these issues, especially during his pastoral journeys, when he appeals for a welcome for refugees and migrants that allows them also to contribute to their host nations' economy, a win-win scenario.

“Migration is inevitable. It's been happening since time immemorial. It's not just happened now, but the challenge today is much different than earlier...So what are we really doing with migration? How do we assist or support the families, the heads of the families who have gone out with their children?”

These and many other questions she poses are the focus of lively social and political debates around the world. In the meantime, she is working so that ICMC continues to provide the emergency and long term support to migrants and refugees arriving in different countries, helping them contribute locally to the countries where they have landed, with the long term view of possibly resettling in their homelands when the situation allows.

Listen to the full interview with Christine Nathan, ICMC President

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20 June 2023, 11:55