Boat Loads of Migrants

What horrible news we are hearing about the tragedy of those persecuted in their own lands, by ISIS or Boko Haram, who then risk and often lose their lives in a desperate bid to escape the slaughter. For these brave individuals, the only option is to board a flimsy craft over-loaded with similarly desperate people trying to escape the carnage in their own countries. Carnage which, I find myself realising, we are largely responsible for in Britain. Especially with regards to Libya, from where the people are fleeing as a direct result of Britain & France's intervention and lack of any cohesive plan as to what to do once Colonel Gaddafi had been deposed.

The current conflict in Syria has caused the worst humanitarian crisis this century. More than 3 million people have fled the country and many are making the perilous journey to seek safety overseas. A large number of those trying to get to Europe by boat are Syrians. Amnesty International has some of the individual stories which shine a light on the tragic reality of the migrant journeys and the impossible choices faced by the migrants.

The bureaucrats decided that scaling down rescue plans was a good way to discourage those taking to boats on the African coast, but this has been demonstrated to be desperately wrong. Migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe should be returned to where they came from, UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said.

Our immediate reaction is to feel threatened, to stem the flow, to stop them coming here, revealing perhaps some sort of auto-xenophobia. If we stop and think, recalling that these are human beings in trouble who are made in the image of God we might pause to reflect on Matthew 25:51-50.

I would argue that we have an opportunity here to turn this into a positive, but showing these poor people how civilised our society is and by embracing them and adding them to our community.

The Church holds that the free movement of people is a basic human right. Pope Leo XIII spoke out about the need for a moral approach to social thinking, balancing on one hand compassion for the poor and respect for the dignity of labour and, on the other hand, for respect for property and the family—all held together by the core idea of the common good.

In the pivotal encyclical Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labour) in 1891, he developed a systematic presentation of principles of the rights and responsibilities of people. It is considered a foundational text of modern Catholic social teaching.

Many of the positions in Rerum Novarum were supplemented by later encyclicals, in particular Pius XI's Quadragesimo anno (1931), John XXIII's Mater et magistra (1961), and John Paul II's Centesimus annus (1991).

Rerum Novarum commented on the situation of immigrants; in later documents, popes and bishops' conferences have synthesised the Catholic theological tradition to articulate three basic principles on immigration.
  • First Principle: People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.
  • Second Principle: A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.
  • Third Principle: A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy. 
Because of the belief that newcomers compete for scarce resources, immigrants and refugees are at times driven away, resented, or despised. Nevertheless, the first principle of Catholic social teaching regarding immigrants is that people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families. This is based on biblical and ancient Christian teaching that the goods of the earth belong to all people. While the right to private property is defended in Catholic social teaching, individuals do not have the right to use private property without regard for the common good.

Every person has an equal right to receive from the earth what is necessary for life—food, clothing, shelter. Moreover, every person has the right to education, medical care, religion, and the expression of one's culture. In many places people live in fear, danger, or dehumanising poverty. Clearly, it is not God's will that some of his children live in luxury while others have nothing. In Luke's Gospel, the rich man was condemned for living well while the poor man starved at his doorstep (Lk 16:19-31).

The native does not have superior rights over the immigrant. Before God all are equal; the earth was given by God to all. When a person cannot achieve a meaningful life in his or her own land, that person has the right to move.

The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine no. 297 teaches:
Immigration can be a resource for development rather than an obstacle to it. In the modern world, where there are still grave inequalities between rich countries and poor countries, and where advances in communications quickly reduce distances, the immigration of people looking for a better life is on the increase. These people come from less privileged areas of the earth and their arrival in developed countries is often perceived as a threat to the high levels of well-being achieved thanks to decades of economic growth. In most cases, however, immigrants fill a labour need which would otherwise remain unfilled in sectors and territories where the local workforce is insufficient or unwilling to engage in the work in question.
This is tempered by no. 298:
Institutions in host countries must keep careful watch to prevent the spread of the temptation to exploit foreign labourers, denying them the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights that are to be guaranteed to all without discrimination. Regulating immigration according to criteria of equity and balance [643] is one of the indispensable conditions for ensuring that immigrants are integrated into society with the guarantees required by recognition of their human dignity. Immigrants are to be received as persons and helped, together with their families, to become a part of societal life.[644] In this context, the right of reuniting families should be respected and promoted. [645] At the same time, conditions that foster increased work opportunities in people's place of origin are to be promoted as much as possible. [646] 
In our society, we are constantly espousing the values of aspirational ideals such as equality. If all equality means is that all kinds of sexual behaviour are equal, how meaningless is it in terms of progression or civilisation? A true measure of a civilised society is the degree to which that society values the contribution and freedom of its denizens and the degree to which is protects each one of them.

If we truly believe in that as a country, I think we need to condemn the attitude of vocal individuals like Katie Hopkins, who wrote a dreadful article in The Sun newspaper which suggested using gun boats on migrants and condemned them as "vermin". I had to wonder whether this was an attempt to pander to a xenophobic audience? If so, I think (I hope) she underestimated the humanity of Sun readers. I am genuinely shocked by Katie, who seems to have reached into parody and the ridiculous with these comments.

I have long considered that all our interests would be better met if we spent the money we have bombing Iraq and Afghanistan building schools and hospitals and sharing our wealth and culture with those in the world less fortunate than we are. We have to learn that an aggressive approach only leads to incredible bitterness and ultimately revenge and retribution.

I would like to see a strategy from someone, some politician or journalist, which involved integrating and welcoming these people; a way to turn their lives around and give them some positive experience that would allow them to feel valued and a part of our societies in Western Europe. The real problem we face on so many levels is people feeling disenfranchised and separate from the societies in which they live. Surely the challenge we face is to embrace the stranger and to find ways to be united in our fundamental humanity?

The other bit of Scripture this made me think about was Matthew 22:
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying,  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
We cannot simply covet the goods of the Kingdom and exclude those who are strangers, or who we are afraid of. We have a duty and a responsibility to embrace the stranger in their humanity. Their right to peace and security are just as valid as our own, and their own situation is largely the result of our politicians misguided interventions.


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