Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

Is migration the “mother of all problems”?

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.

Social Issues

Institutional racism: A poorly known concept

by Nicolas Rousseau, BePax

“I never intended to hurt anyone.” In many cases, the media debate about racist polemics comes down to one question: Was there an individual racist intent? Yet racism can also be the product of the normal and routine functioning of institutions.

Today, one vision predominates: racism would necessarily be produced by a “bad” and intolerant person. Not only is racist intent not always necessary, but individuals are not the only source of racism. It can also arise from institutional, collective or ideological practices and representations. In a survey conducted in Marseille in the social housing sector, the researcher Valérie Sala Pala questions this issue and focuses on a particular dimension of racism: institutional racism.

A priori, the main mission of institutions in the HLM sector is the granting of a roof to people in situations of socio-economic precariousness. However, the researcher highlights various developments that have profoundly affected the field of French social housing since the 1980s. In particular, the impossibility of ignoring certain considerations in terms of sound financial management. This includes avoiding unpaid bills and housing degradation to maintain a healthy financial situation.

As a result, the criteria for allocating social housing are also changing. In addition to “traditional” criteria such as the socio-economic status of candidates, a whole series of criteria related to this need for sound financial management come into play. And faced with this set of criteria, those responsible for the decision to grant a HLM have a margin of interpretation. Finally, with the obligation to proceed on a case-by-case basis through a “fine attribution”: to be able to distinguish between a good and a bad candidate via an analysis of potential risks, problems likely to occur…

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Social Issues

Racism and social media: The judge or the computer programmer?

by Edgar Szoc, BePax

At a time when, for a growing part of the citizens, social networks are the first source of information – without hierarchy, editorial work and ranking other than that imposed by our “friendships” and the obscure operation of algorithms, it is vital to ask what links this new mode of sociability and “consumption” of information has with racism and calls for hatred.

This is a truism: the emergence of the Internet in general and social networks in particular has brought about considerable transformations of the modes of communication of information but also of “political affects”. Without listing here all these transformations, it may be useful to return to the sometimes paradoxical effects of one of the main ones: the radical democratization of the process of publishing, publishing or disseminating information. . To get an idea, just remember how reduced was the circle before the advent of the Internet for people likely to address more than one thousand people at a time. In this privileged situation, there were only a few political representatives, rare scientists or experts, representatives of civil society.

Ambiguous horizontalization

Henceforth, if the barriers to mass diffusion have not disappeared, they have fundamentally changed in nature: it is no longer a few ” gatekeepers ” who are in charge of deciding who has a sufficiently legitimate and “authorized” word can be broadcast. Or, in any case, alongside the old media logic that continues, have appeared new rules if no legitimacy, at least advertising, which make visibility on social networks depend not on the recognition of this legitimacy by these famous ” gatekeepers ” but the mastery of the rules and codes of this particular grammar to social networks.

No one will dispute the democratic virtues of this “horizontalization” of the process of publishing, publishing and disseminating information, which at least potentially allows Facebook’s 2 billion users – to speak only of this network, to benefit from loudspeakers which they were deprived until then. But no one will be able to dispute that 2 billion loudspeakers do not necessarily facilitate the hearing and that, via Facebook and other networks of the same type, it is the coffee of the trade which is invited in the “consumption” of information…

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Beyond electoral politics: A responses to Commonweal Magazine’s editorial, “After Charlottesville”

by Adrienne Alexander

As a Black (U.S.) Catholic, it was disappointing to read the “After Charlottesville” editorial which managed to repudiate President Trump’s response, while producing a similarly dissatisfying reaction.

For one, Charlottesville is in no way an anomaly: it is a continuation of racial animus and violence that America has never confronted. Being a nation of laws didn’t stop thousands of Black people from being lynched, for example.

It is important to acknowledge that Charlottesville occurred in a context where White identity is growing stronger, along with the feeling that White people are being discriminated against and losing out on jobs to minorities. This cannot be ignored. It is exactly what propelled Donald Trump to the White House. Ignoring this reality and simply placing hope in elections falls short.

As a Christian, I believe strongly in the powerful combination of faith and works. As someone who works in politics, I believe strongly in the power of organizing. And as a Black person, I know that the hard and tedious work of confronting racism is incumbent on White people.

I would feel much safer if White allies acknowledged America often falls short of the ideals they espouse, and began standing up to racism wherever it occurs. Only then will we make progress on racial injustice in this country.

Adrienne Alexander is a union lobbyist in Chicago, IL. She is a former member of the National Council of Pax Christi USA. You can follow her on Twitter @DriXander.


Charlottesville: A clear and urgent invitation

by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International Co-President

Despite decades of faith-based activism, I remember very few occasions when the invitation has been so clear and urgent. As their town became a lightning rod for white supremacists, Charlottesville faith communities issued a call for clergy and religious leaders from other parts of the country to come to Charlottesville to participate in carefully orchestrated nonviolent resistance to the public demonstration of racist violence planned by extremist groups for August 12th.

I was able to get to Charlottesville for the interreligious service at St. Paul’s Memorial Church on Friday evening. The standing-room-only gathering was solemn and prayerful. Traci Blackmon, Cornell West, Lisa Sharon Harper and other leaders from many different communities and traditions spoke a powerful message in word and music – that fierce, risky love is stronger than hate, a message repeatedly affirmed by all of us present. “CongregateCharlottesville” organized a response to expected violence that was intentionally nonviolent and very articulate in addressing the roots of racism and white supremacy.

As a Catholic, however, I was very disappointed that no Catholic clergy or leadership person participated in the service itself. Were Catholic religious leaders invited and did they refuse to participate – or are we so invisible in the struggle against racism and hatred that no one in Charlottesville knew a Catholic leader to invite?

During the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in early July, I was on panels in two different breakout sessions focused on violence and racism. A repeated plea from African American deacons who were also on the panels was for the institutional Catholic Church to be more visible in response to the violence of racism. They were particularly focused on bishops being “in the streets,” but how do we as the Church/people of God become more visible and engaged in a consistent way? Pax Christi USA has been working for over 20 years to become an anti-racist organization. Lots of important effort has been dedicated to recognizing our own participation in the mortal sin of racism and to rooting out our ways of living and organizing that perpetuate racism. But I am convinced that is not enough. Racism is systemic in U.S. society – woven into the fabric of the structures that shape our ways of life.

Some of us have been deeply involved in the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative for the past few years. That effort to engage the institutional Catholic Church worldwide in teaching and developing our understanding of active nonviolence is very clear that one major form of violence we are trying to counter is the institutionalized violence of racism. But what does that mean? How do we live that commitment?

Strategic nonviolence has to be contextual. Racism is the context here. I believe those of us who live white privilege have to be attentive to our own racism but we also have to be more visibly in the streets and engaged in dismantling racist structures in our society. Our statements of shock and solidarity are important but insufficient. Holding a candle in front of the White House is a good step but not the only important step. If we take Catholic social teaching seriously we have to figure out why there was no visible Catholic presence in Charlottesville and do something about it!