By Sean O'Donnell - 14 January, 2018
Today is the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis’ message for today entitled, “Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees”, stresses the need to create a welcoming environment for migrants and refugees. The Holy Father writes, “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age.”
The message puts forward an action-oriented initiative and a template for a shared response based on the four key concepts: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate. In each of these areas practical suggestions for close collaboration with state institutions and other agencies as well as for individuals are given.
In welcoming migrants and refugees, personal safety must be a priority over national security. The Pope calls on states to provide safe and legal pathways to migration with access to basic services, and encourages the involvement of private and community sponsorship programmes to support government initiatives.
On protecting migrants and refugees, Pope Francis focuses on the defence of migrants’ rights and their dignity, independent of their legal status. This protection must begin at the start of the journey in the country of origin through to the country of destination. He expresses his concern for the protection of underage migrants who are legally provided for under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and warns against any form of detention of children relating to their migration status. Children should be guaranteed access to health, education and the right to nationality.
Pope Francis asks for the further empowerment of migrants and refugees in order to achieve their potential as human beings. The abilities and gifts that migrants bring must be valued and appreciated. The freedom of religious belief and practice is very important. He calls for a determined effort to promote social and professional inclusion of migrants and refugees particularly in the employment sector.
Integrating migrants and refugees the Pope sees as the key to shaping societies and cultures, and opportunities can be created for intercultural enrichment. He invites everyone “to use every occasion to share this message with all political and social actors involved (or who seek to be involved) in the process which will lead to the approval of the two Global Compacts” that states have committed themselves to draft and approve before the end of 2018.