By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International
Europe is now home to people from all over the world. In most European countries, we see the increase of rejection of new foreign citizens in Western society. Anti-migration sentiments are growing. In the south and east negative attitudes prevailed. In Italy for instance, one in every two persons perceive migration as a problem. Several European countries have built fences and barriers at their borders playing on people’s fear of foreign threats and focusing on the dangers from immigration of terrorism. Recent elections in different EU states demonstrate that concerns surrounding migration and asylum continue to dominate the public space, shape national, and EU politics. Extremist (right wing) political parties are winning votes massively.
Migration remains the biggest challenge and is a debatable issue both in public opinion as well as in politics. Is this question the mother of all problems? Negative perceptions of “outsiders” have caused divisions not just between countries, but also within communities, political parties, the media, at street level, even within families. This topic will make a big difference in the next EU elections in May 2019.
Unhappiness characterizes modern man. Many people experience living in a chaotic world. Fear of innovation is the result of this. Determining or confronting other customs and cultures gives rise to resistance, even hatred and racism. Because the “stranger” is now also visible in the small cities and municipalities, the fear of migration is growing. It all became so unexpectedly and chaotic, loss of political control. Emotions are put to the test. Hosting in my neighbourhood refugees of different cultural and religious backgrounds is a sensitive issue. The fact that refugees/migrants want to go to places where they are among themselves is understandable but that does not help the integration. Ghettos should be prevented.
Some politicians use the rhetoric of keeping and “kicking migrants out.” That can result in criminalising these people. Even Prime Ministers or Presidents of EU member states use xenophobic rhetoric and hate speech against migrants and refugees. That behaviour is observable within authoritarian populist leaderships in Europe. The microphone of xenophobia is often the megaphone of a loud minority.
Migration is not going to stop
We cannot and must no longer withdraw ourselves from the needs in the rest of the world. Due to the expansion of the EU some years ago, we see economic migration from Central and Eastern European countries in the direction of Western Europe. There is also the economic migration from former Soviet Republics into Eastern and Central European countries as well as negative attitudes toward Middle Eastern (Muslim) refugees recently arrived in many European states. Refugees will continue to turn up in the EU because it is the only haven within reach for dozens of conflict areas.
Accepting the other and integration of new people is not an easy thing to do. That asks specific programmes, budgets and especially the political will to implement or apply values and standards not at least the principles of democracy and human rights, including the rights of minorities. Political will includes also recognising the concerns of ordinary people. We cannot underestimate that. Two obligations should come first: care for the welfare of the own population within the borders and care for victims of violence both within and outside our borders.
Fear of the Other
Since some time a culture of fear has been created. Behind the fear of migrants lies in many cases the fear of the unknown. We speak also about the fear of the Other, which stems from the fear of the Self. The Self that goes through an identity crisis feels vulnerable vis-à-vis the Other. Are we afraid of the other? Fear is also about change. When change looks out of control, it stirs social tension and political polarization.
The EU should develop some robust collective instruments to deal with migration challenges. With no clear public action in sight, fear remains and the populist wave can grow. Public action includes burden sharing and ways of solidarity. Our priority of concern must go to the thousands of women and children who are the most vulnerable groups in the communities. Young refugees, minors, often end up in criminal networks, prostitution and child labour.
The immigration issue is a huge challenge. As said that needs political will and especially the recognition that the world has significantly changed and our principles must be applied in different ways. The aim should be a sensible, pragmatic and compassionate migration policy. The question is how to best manage migration and coordinate on an international level. There is no purely European or purely national way to solve to this challenge: a mix of these and integration can be the only effective solution. That needs dialogue!
A human and Christian approach
The common basis for our thinking and attitudes is the conviction that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights and equally to be respected and protected. Every person has the same right to be respected, whatever his origin. Because of this, we are called by God to resist evil, to act justly, and pursue peace to transform the world. Evil can be seen in attitudes of exclusion, marginalisation, hate speech, racism, stigmatization and criminalization of migrants and refugees.
The drivers of (forced) displacement and migration are extreme poverty, food insecurity, lack of opportunity, climate change and insecurity. Religious extremism is often the breeding ground for terror, violence and fear. Respect is required for the rights of all people on the move, regardless of their status. The West has a moral obligation to help those fleeing violence and persecution.
Racism is a sin. Rejecting the “other” is a threat to our Christian identity. People of faith must condemn racism because it denies human dignity and the mutual belonging to the one human family and defaces the image of God in every human being. All media and public opinion makers should stop to dehumanise the other.
Xenophobia or “fear of the foreigner” must be converted into understanding, meeting and possible cooperation. Assistance in emergencies and for survival should not be denied.
The Gospel is calling the faithful to welcome the stranger as an act of love inspired by faith (Matthew 25:35-40). Jesus Christ identifies himself with the stranger. Based upon the principles of our Christian faith and the example of Jesus Christ, we should raise a narrative of love and hope, against the populist narrative of hate and fear. Every human being is worthy of respect and protection. Matthew 7:12 should inspire us: “do to others what you would have them do to you.” That is a golden rule! Our duties to the “others” includes welcoming, protecting, offer hospitality and to integrate.
Integration of refugees or migrants often involves abuse of power and often ends in new forms of slavery and unfair competition on the labour market. Only an inclusive approach that considers all dimensions of the human being and calls for the participation of each one in society can effectively fight against discrimination and exclusion.
Churches are important actors in civil society and political life. Their role as conscience-keeper should be fully assumed. A culture of encounter and dialogue should be promoted. We should recognize God in the faces of the other, the stranger and migrant.