Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

People are not plants! Why do people move? Let “humanitas” speak!

By Rev. Paul Lansu

In recent months and years, boat people have arrived at different tourist beaches in Méditerranée countries.[1] In many cases, tourists have been helping these people coming bringing them on land. In other cases, tourists have been upset because of the landing of death bodies, Libyan migrants for instance, in the backyard or on the beach of their hotel. Tourists asked as soon as possible for another hotel where they were not confronted with the migrant problem and to continue their vacation free of worries. This is about human dramas and dilemmas and the world turns its back on evading confrontation. Let the others solve it!

There is at least a group of people who are indignant and want to help refugees in concrete terms as much as possible. Nowadays, people are being blamed for saving migrants’ lives and providing the humanitarian assistance, which EU Member States are unwilling or unable to provide according to international law and EU law.

These humanitarian activists are very often strongly opposed by, among others, different governments and political leaders of the European Union, such as Italy. It has gone so far and it has come so far that aid workers are being punished. The targets include volunteers, peace and human rights activists, NGO’s, lawyers, crewmembers of rescue ships, migrants’ family members, and journalists, mayors and priests. Solidarity has been and is criminalised by the EU countries. The number of facts of people who have criminalised for humanitarian activities has grown rapidly since 2015. Is this the new normal?

Fear of migrants sells. The anti-immigrant discourse in Europe and elsewhere as in the USA is very high today. Fear of immigrants earns politicians votes. Immigrants will keep coming.

Helping people both legally and morally turns out to be a crime. It seems anti-migration and criminalisation is becoming a normal practice. In this way, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[2] is totally eroded and made unbelievable. However, that means that the standard reduction has increased dramatically in recent years and that care for other people is no longer important. It is a burden!

Are migrants no human beings? Are not all men created as equals? So human dignity is at stake. The European Economic and Social Committee stated that solidarity is not and will never be a crime.[3] In addition, Caritas Europe issued a statement against the criminalisation of solidarity as a threat to our democracies.[4]

It is not just about migrants

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be held on Sunday 29 September 2019 on the theme “It is not just about migrants.” In the message of his Holiness Pope Francis for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees,[5] Pope Francis highlights his repeated and explicit calls of concern for migrants and refugees should be understood as being integral to his deep concern for all of humanity.

His message aims to convey to us how deeply involved  ‘’as Christian communities and societies we are and that we are all called to respond and to reflect how our faith and commitments are engaged in responding to vulnerable people on the move.”

In an increasingly globalised world, where migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion, Pope Francis reminds us that each encounter with the other, is an encounter with Christ and in extending the hand of love, friendship, assistance and support to the most vulnerable, we are extending our hands to Christ and open our hearts for the Other(s).

The heart should have no borders

On 26 June 2019, Pax Christi International awarded its annual peace prize to European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL),[6] Greece. ELIL is one of the few organizations that provide legal assistance to refugees and asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos, where refugees flock en route to Europe. Since the founding of ELIL in 2016, around 150 lawyers from 17 countries have provided free legal aid to more than 9,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

ELIL is grateful that their work to uphold the rule of law, to protect human rights and to ensure substantial access to legal aid for refugees in Lesbos is recognized in this way. It is hoped it will help raise awareness of the elementary importance of ensuring that legal assistance for refugees throughout their asylum procedure.  The work of ELIL is very relevant and critical activism for peace and justice.

The Pax Christi International Peace Prize awarded to ELIL is a meaningful and political statement. Especially, because the political debate in Europe is deeply polarised and is in many ways demonizing migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. This completely conflicts with the vision of a Europe that should respect human dignity and fundamental rights.

In his speech at the award ceremony, the outgoing co-president of Pax Christi International, Bishop Kevin Dowling, stressed the importance of human dignity and of solidarity, which are common threads in Catholic Social Thinking. Refugees and migrants are primarily people and should be treated as people. A constant lowering of norms and values is breaking through in our democracies. Let “humanitas” speak!

People are not plants!

Why are people on the move? First, people are not plants! Migration is a constant in human history. Our planet has become a world in motion. Between 1960 and 2017, the overall numbers of migrants tripled. Today, 3 à 4 per cent of the world population, or one out of every twenty-nine humans, lives in a country different from the one they were born in. Mass migration has become the defining human phenomenon of the twenty-first century.

Today, according to UNHCR there are at least 70.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide,[7] both within a country (IDPs) as well as abroad. Never before has there been so much human movement. In addition, never before has there been so much organised resistance to human movement. One effect of this is the withdrawal of countries from multilateral institutions and treaties.

Walls, fences or barriers will do nothing to stop people on the move. Not at the Mexican & USA border, not anywhere else. They will keep coming, on foot or in boats, by digging tunnels, on planes or on bicycles, whether you want them or not. Drive is a human element. Nevertheless, open borders is not an option in principle. However, at least people should keep their hearts open.

It is very important to listen with an open heart to the stories of refugees. What they have experienced and what difficulties they are in. In most cases, migrants have left a love behind, sometimes their whole family. Many of the refugees have taken big risks and travelled in dangerous situations. Their only option is to leave from a country of misery toward a better and promised country. Is it because our globe already has many inhabitants that we are denying migrants to look for a better life?

Consequences of colonialism

The many conflicts and wars of the last centuries have caused a lot of migration. People do not want to be involved in armed conflicts. They seek protection for themselves and their families, preferably in their own neighbourhood, or if necessary further away.

A deeper reason is to be find in colonialism, which began with a huge migration, when millions of Europeans moved overseas to invade, settle and rule other countries and even over other continents. That resulted in huge displacement of locals and in worldwide slavery. Slavery was abolished in the last century. However, in some countries slavery existed until a few decades ago.

Many of the issues that make people emigrate are home-grown: corruption, malfeasance and mismanagement by local rulers, and inherent societal issues that preceded colonialism, such as the treatment of women. Western values have been imposed on other civilisations, which contrasted with the individuality and the character of the local population.

All around the world, civil upheaval causes people to flee, and many conflicts have been ongoing for years or decades. There are the wars that everybody knows about, such as in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria; then there are the little-known ones, such as the Moro Muslim conflict in the Philippines,[8] which has cost a cumulative 120.000 lives, and the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo,[9] which has taken over 60.000. Many of these conflicts have their origin in colonialism or botched colonial population transfer or map making. One of the latest dramatic examples is the 2015 Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.[10] Almost a million of them have fled over the border to Bangladesh.

Small arms

War creates refugees. The purchase and sale of small arms is another cause of people on the run. Just as the sale of small arms fuels domestic strife and spurs migration, the sale of heavy weapons is instrumental in creating conflict between nations. To date, 130 countries have signed the 2014 United Nations Arms Trade Treaty,[11] the only serious effort to stem the trade in conventional arms around the world.

Climate change

Climate migration is not new. In the twenty-first century, the number one driver of migration might be climate change. According to the UN, a fifth of the world’s population will be affected by floods by 2050. Therefore, many of them will move to dry land. According to the International Organisation for Migration,[12] at least 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050. The figure could be as high as one billion, which would be one out of every ten people. That means that in some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant.

You can set up a wall to try to contain 10.000, 20.000, and one million people, but not 10 million. Migration by climate change has been dramatically increasing in the recent past. Since 1992, droughts, floods and storms have affected 4.2 billion people. Today, 1.8 billion people are suffering the effects of drought, land degradation and desertification. According to the UN high commissioner for refugees, since 2008, 22.5 million people have had to flee their homes because of climate-related extreme weathers events, like hurricanes or droughts. Climate change affects everyday life.

In conclusion

This debate requires individual and common solidarity. Solidarity is one of our norms and values. Solidarity will first be structural, organized solidarity. It is painful to see that most governments remain stuck under the .7 % of the development cooperation budget. The same governments argue for the elimination of the causes of migration but do little or nothing specifically about it. You cannot maintain double and contradictory rhetoric.

Today, and since the 1980s, solidarity is not a buzzword. It remains in full completion. Trends within political groups push solidarity towards the private sphere. It is not always certain that the necessary involvement with other people will continue to exist. Charity is good and it is good for interpersonal relationships. It is also necessary, but rather temporary, fragmentary. If solidarity dies, it harms the citizen.

From a justice perspective, we know that you should always look at a social system from the point of view of the least-favoured, in this case the people on the move. So from the bottom up. Never from the top down. The ratio essendi, the ground of our being, the ground of existence of each of us is being human, unique and irreplaceable. Everyone must be given a fundamental equality. Why not?

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[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK-0DbOG3zk
[2] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf
[3] https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/news-media/news/statement-criminalisation-solidarity
[4] https://www.caritasinternational.be/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/190617_Caritas_Europa_criminalisation_solidarity_FINAL.pdf?x67227
[5] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-05/pope-francis-message-world-day-migrants-refugees-full-text.html
[6] https://www.paxchristi.net/news/pax-christi-international-recognises-european-lawyers-lesvos-recipient-2019-peace-prize/7296
[7] https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moro_conflict
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ituri_conflict
[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Rohingya_refugee_crisis
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arms_Trade_Treaty
[12] https://www.iom.int/migration-and-climate-change-0
Nonviolence, Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

A cross of human bodies

by Rose Berger, Sojourners

I spent five hours as a guest of the U.S. Capitol Police last week. It was hot, really hot. And those plastic handcuffs leave bruises.

I was one of 71 Catholics arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police in the rotunda of the Russell Senate building in Washington, D.C., for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” while praying the rosary. My prayer was — and is — to end the warehousing of immigrant children in cages — 63,624 of whom have been apprehended by border patrol at the southwestern border between October 2018 and June 2019 and seven of whom have died after being in federal custody since September. More than a dozen Catholic orders and organizations sponsored the event. Seven Catholic bishops sent letters of support.

I’ve been arrested more than 30 times for nonviolent civil disobedience, beginning when I was in high school. It is one way to say “no” to inhuman laws, to show how to build a “‘moral frontier’ in one’s own identity, by openly and publicly challenging authorities who [are] practicing inhuman orders,” as Mexican Gandhian strategist and Catholic Pietro Ameglio puts it.

When laws become so egregious that life and creation are at risk, then the moral imperative is clear: Disobedience in the face of what is inhuman is a personal, religious, and social virtue to increase the good.

We were in the Russell Senate building to pierce the veil of morally isolated political leaders who are caging immigrant children…

Read the full article here.

Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

A young Catholic immigrant prepares for the terrorising threat of deportation

by Arlin Karina Tellez Martinez

The weekend following the Fourth of July, the immigrant community continues to prepare itself against the terrorizing threats of ICE raids made by Donald Trump. I spent my Fourth of July, preparing a deportation packet for my family and me. The packet includes all our important information in case one of us is deported. My calls home have become shorter in an effort to avoid my mom’s questions about my emotional well-being. I prepare to train community members and inform them of their rights in case they are detained by an ICE agent, but I can’t bring myself to share the same information with my parents without feeling like I am already sentencing them to their deportation. Anti-immigrant legislation is not new, tied with the criminalization of Black and Brown bodies. The reports of death seem so familiar to us; it’s almost as if we’re desensitized from the heavy reality of what another death in our community means.

The death of Oscar Martinez and his daughter, Valeria, has been weighing heavily on me. It was a trigger that I hadn’t experienced before. I crossed the border at the age of four. I crossed the same river where the bodies of Oscar and Valeria laid with my own mother. The image shown across various news articles continues to make me sick, and it sent me back to the night that I crossed, the water weighing down my jeans, being constantly assured by my mother that Mickey Mouse was on the other side of the river and all I had to do was to be quiet…

Click here to read the rest of this article.

Refugee Stories

Pope critical of “meanness” toward migrants and refugees

by Tony Magliano

“The signs of meanness we see around us heighten our fear of ‘the other,’ the unknown, the marginalised, the foreigner,” and thus many migrants seeking a better life end up as recipients of this meanness, said Pope Francis in his recently released 2019 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message.

The Holy Father warned that when we allow fears and doubts to “condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – racist” – there is a serious problem. For “in this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself; it deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord.”

This wonderful idea of actually encountering the Lord, and all others, is one of Pope Francis’ major themes. He is trying to inspire us to build not personal walls, nor national walls, but instead a “culture of encounter.”

There are many lies that have been spread about migrants and refugees; lies that they are murderers, rapists and criminals of all sorts. But numerous studies point to the contrary.

The vast majority are good decent human beings who pay taxes while enjoying virtually no benefits. And they are working at jobs most citizens will not do – like the back-breaking work of picking our vegetables and fruits, washing dishes and landscaping. Furthermore, they add fresh vitality to our towns, cities and parishes. They need us and we need them! This is what Pope Francis’ “culture of encounter” is all about…

Click here to read the whole story.

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* Photo from https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/16/eu-steps-address-refugee-crisis
Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

Belgian “sorry” is not enough for the Congolese

By Nadia Nsayi
Pax Christi Flanders

In an interim report calls a working group of the UN around people of African descent in Belgium the Belgian State on to to express apologies for the atrocities committed during the colonization. Policy Officer Nadia Nsayi goes into a title expands on the content of the report.

This week a working group of the United Nations shared a preliminary report and recommendations on the human rights situation of people of African descent in Belgium (Afro-Belgians). The findings of the group confirm what we already read in previous studies such as the study of the King Baudouin Foundation from 2017: structural racism and discrimination prevent full participation of African Belgians in our society. The report shows what opinion makers have said for quite a while: there is a link between Belgium’s colonial past in Africa and the contemporary racism against people of African descent in Belgium.

The Belgian colonialism in Congo was a cocktail of imperialism–the urge for overseas territories to dominate–and capitalism—the profitable exploitation of raw materials and local forced labourers. This economic project was promoted as a ‘humanitarian mission’ of civilization that was based on a racist ideology of white superiority and black inferiority. The suppression of the Congolese lasted 75 years. The legacy of that colonization is still visible today, but also felt by surviving relatives.

Colonial life ideas and complexes. According to studies, Afro-Belgians, the largest group coming from the ex-colony Congo, face structural discrimination in education, in the labour market and on the rental market. This does not mean that all white Belgians are racists, or that all Afro-Belgians have no chance. But it expresses the fact that people in our country with black skin too often face unequal opportunities compared to their white fellow human beings. This is not acceptable.

I find it distressing to see that racism and discrimination continue to ruin our society. Since the visit of the UN group in 2005, there are fortunately also steps which have been put forward, though those are too small. However, I am hopeful. Local politicians and ordinary citizens take joint initiatives to look at our colonial past straight in the eye. They choose together a future with more mutual understanding and respect…

Read more by clicking here.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: “…it’s just a lack of understanding between the two parties”

The following interview was done by Innocent Umezuruike Iroaganachi, a member of the Young Peace Journalists of Pax Christi International (YPJ – PCI), and the World Catholic Association of Communication (SIGNIS). He holds a Bachelor and Master of Arts in Communication Studies, a doctoral student specializing in Peace and Development Communication Studies and a part-time lecturer at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) Nigeria. Currently, he is the blog writer and website content editor for Asante Africa Foundation and an emerging media leader with the Centre for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics (CSAAE).

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Summary:

In recent past, Kaduna, a state located in the central part of Nigeria, having a huge Christian and Muslim population in the south and north respectively. The state has for some time, been marred with conflicts and violence, leading to the loss lives and properties. In this interview, a resident of the state, who for some security concerns, wish to go by the name Mr. Divine, shares his and family’s experience of the conflict and survival of the crisis, with Innocent Iroaganachi, a Peace Journalist, with Pax Christi International (PCI).

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Can you narrate how you knew about the crisis?

Mr. Divine: Well, I went to my aunt’s place at Kujama, because she was having a thanksgiving for the successful restoration of her husband and daughter’s health, my mum and little sister also went there with me. When we wanted to leave, we followed my cousin in his Hilux vehicle to save transport cost, hoping to drop my other cousin and his family first at the park inside town, so they could board a cab and head back to Zaria, where they reside. We had barely left Kujama, when my aunt called and told us that there is a little unrest in Kujama market. We taught it was a minor thing, until when we got to the park and she called again, reiterating that it is serious, saying “they are killing people” that “we should leave town quickly before the information reaches there and they start fighting over there.” So we bought all the sits in the available cab for my cousin and he left immediately. Then we saw a lady that lives in Kujama, with my other cousin, she told her what was happening, helped her pack her load into our car, then tried to get out of town as discreetly as possible.

In which particular ways, did the crisis affect you and your family?

Mr. Divine: Well for starters, we were scared, because we were caught up in the middle of the crisis, in a Muslim area and the rest of our family at home were also terrified and scared for our lives. We barely managed to escape, as they blocked us with weapons in their hands. It was a terrible experience. I tell you, my mum is yet to recover from the shock she had that day. Same with my cousin driving the car.

What were the immediate steps taken by the government to address the situation?

Mr. Divine: Implementation of curfew in the affected areas; improving security, especially in the affected areas; organising peace campaigns to educate the public on the importance of peace, unity and togetherness, irrespective of our ethnic and religious diversities.

What can you say about those suggesting, the crisis to be religious and ethnic based?

Mr. Divine: Well, they might be right and they might be wrong, I can’t really say at this point in time, but I can tell you one thing for sure, that is, no religion supports the massacre and killing of innocent people and destruction of properties.

After your experience during the crisis, do you still feel confident relating with those alleged to have caused the crisis?

Mr. Divine: To be honest, NO! But I’m working on it.

In what ways have the crisis traumatised you and your family?

Mr. Divine: Well, personally for me, I don’t really feel comfortable, anytime I’m around those alleged to have caused the crises. It’s really difficult, especially for me that my school is far. Just last week I was in the park to go back to school and pay my fees, I wasn’t comfortable at all, throughout my stay in the park, I was scared that the crises will just start again. My mum hasn’t even gone to town, where the crises met us since that October 21st, she still has dreams of the incident of that day and doesn’t relate comfortably with those of the opposite religion that attacked us. She is still terrified and it is same with the rest of my family members, we told about the incident.

Who are those most affected and how are they suffering as a result of the violence?

Mr. Divine: It’s mostly the poor and those innocent people, who have no idea of what is going on, but find themselves trapped in the middle of the crises. For the poor, when the crises start, curfews are been implemented and when that happens, there is a hike in the price of foodstuffs, thereby making it very difficult for food to be available for them and there is no movement, so they have little access to food. For those innocent people trapped in the middle of the violence, they might end up losing their lives or properties, and this will affect others too, because some of these people affected and suffering are the bread winners of their families.

What can you say were responsible for the continual use of violence by aggrieved parties during such crisis?

Mr. Divine:  I think it’s just a lack of understanding between the two parties, if we understand that we are all one Nigeria, irrespective of our religious and ethnic differences we won’t result to violence but find peaceful ways of resolving our issues, because you will agree with me, that if you have a dispute with your brother, you won’t choose violence, rather you will find other ways to sort it out.

What was behind the spread of the crisis?

Mr. Divine:  Well, mostly rumors, and as a saying goes, news travel fast in Africa, once it gets to the ears of one person, a 100 people have heard it, especially now that we have things like mobile phones and the internet.

How were the media in Kaduna responding during the crisis?

Mr. Divine: Well, the media really helped in this trying time, because when the crises started, as soon as they got the information, they disseminated it and most people were able to run to safety on time. The media also helped in passing information from the government to the people, especially during the curfew periods. The media was also one of the means, the government used in educating the people on the importance of peace and togetherness, by organizing radio and television programs using the media.

What are the visible steps taken by the community and government to avoid a reoccurrence in the future and to reconcile all aggrieved parties?

Mr. Divine:  The government is working hand in hand with the community, by organizing peace campaigns to educate the public on the importance of peace, unity and oneness, irrespective of our religious and ethnic diversities and difference in culture. They are doing so, by organizing seminars and also using the media, such as radio and TV stations to educate people on this. They are also working hard to repair places which have been affected (damaged) during the crises.

Are their particular efforts by the residents to assist in bringing a lasting peace to crisis of this kind?

Mr. Divine: Definitely, they are organising vigilante groups to keep the area safe and everyone is being advised to be security cautious and avoid spreading false rumors.