Dublin Archbishop Says Economics Cannot Be Only Factor in Considering Immigration

"The Church must be a space where real human concern reaches out from our hearts to the migrant or the refugee as a brother and sister"

Dublin, (Zenit.org) | 918 hits

Here is an address given today by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, vice president of the Irish bishops' conference, at a conference called "Journeying Together: Challenges Facing the Migrant Today."

The conference marked the 10th anniversary of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi  

* * *

Just two weeks ago the population of Switzerland voted, in a referendum, by a narrow margin to place a cap on overall immigration into the country, including the immigration of citizens of the European Union, with which Switzerland has agreements on the freedom of movement of each other’s citizens.

The vote went against the indications given by the Swiss government and the opinion of Swiss business and industry interests, who felt that their country needed workers, especially highly qualified workers in order for its modern economy to flourish in today’s global context.

Migration is an intrinsic part of the DNA of a globalised economy and a globalised world.  People have a right to emigrate – though not a right to immigrate into any specific country.  People who find that there is no hope for them within their own country will inevitably try to move to a country which offers promise – and may indeed even need them as part of the labour force.  For many, however, that promise may end up in exploitation both regarding the manner in which they get to another country and regarding the welcome that they receive.  In the long run, however, a global economy based on freedom of movement of goods and services will unavoidably require a level of freedom of movement of people.  The question is how such movement can be healthily managed, rather than be left to the invisible hand of economic need or an equally hidden hand of the exploitation of people.

It will not have escaped anyone that Pope Francis after his election decided to make his first journey outside Rome to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is in many ways a symbol of how the aspirations of those who seek a better chance for themselves and for their children have been exploited.  Hundreds have died on their journey across the Mediterranean, many of them women and children.  People have been forced to spend their entire savings and those of their families to exploitative ship owners, if ship is the appropriate term.  Great credit is due to the people of that small island who have done much to provide an initial welcome to immigrants and whose own tourist based economy has genuinely suffered.

Migration is an intrinsic part of the DNA of a globalised economy and a globalised world, yet negative reaction to the Swiss vote on capping immigration was at best mooted and in many cases the results were taken up with discreet approval.  Leaders in France and in Britain and in other European countries - especially those where there are to be local elections in the near future – showed even a veiled satisfaction as they looked at the Swiss initiative.  Britain wishes to renegotiate part of the European treaties focusing in particular on the question of immigration; yet freedom of movement is a fundamental and untouchable part of a package of treaties on freedom of movement of goods and services, of people, and information at the centre of the very idea of the European Union. 

Immigration is an election issue in this year of European elections.  People are fearful about loss of jobs and loss of national identity.  Those who wish to limit immigration speak not in terms of opening borders to immigrants, but of floodgates and massive movement of the unemployable, of welfare seekers, of the culturally un-integrate-able, and of criminals and terrorists.

These discussions constitute welcome ammunition for those who espouse anti-European sentiment in some countries.  We are fortunate in Ireland that we have never had a strong anti-European or anti-immigrant political current.  This does mean that anti-immigration thought could never, and indeed does not ever, arise.  We should be carrying on a constant on-going examination of conscience to look more clearly at our attitude to immigration and to immigrants.    We have to be alert to the first signs of racism or xenophobia.  We have to be aware of the areas where there is subtle discrimination against immigrants.  We have to enhance democratic and transparent judicial control of processes.  We have to identify and speak out at signs of polices which place immigrants and their children at disadvantage.

Irish immigration laws are complex and the culture of Irish immigration policy is often ambivalent.  Ireland needs foreign direct investment, and as part of that need there is openness to welcoming highly qualified immigrants, in areas like information technology, research and health care.  But Ireland is less friendly to the less skilled; we have in part an ambivalent “green card” immigration culture.  Our processes for recognition of asylum are too long and restrictive.  Trafficking of vulnerable people into Ireland is a significant problem and it is vital that the underlying organisations behind trafficking be tackled and be successfully prosecuted.  Ireland should be in the forefront in international cooperation for the prevention of trafficking. 

Ireland is a country with a long tradition of emigration and we must be grateful for the manner in which other countries, at times of greatest difficulty in our history, welcomed Irish immigrants.  Ireland with such a history and indeed a live memory of welcome and protection by other countries should have a clear policy on welcoming refugees from particularly dramatic situations, such as Syria.  Our Asylum policy in such emergencies should not just be calculatingly politically correct but “Flathúlach”.

Irish immigration policy is inevitably linked with that of the United Kingdom and at times one has the feeling that Ireland goes out of its way to avoid giving any impression that we are “wetter” than Britain on immigration.  This is a not a totally unrealistic position. We do not want the freedom of movement between Britain and Ireland to be exploited by elements of organised crime or terrorism.  Ireland and Britain have a different policy concerning the Schengen Agreement, but Ireland could not enter the Schengen Agreement on its own without reconstructing the border between North and South – something that is politically a no-go thought.  Britain and Ireland are linked, but Ireland should not be just following along trends in Britain.  Both today and especially tomorrow if anti-immigration policies became more vocal in Britain, Ireland should been seen to take a lead in matters of constructive managed immigration which is good for both countries.

I welcome this Conference because it is a forum in which part of that examination of conscience of which I spoke can take place and where we can look calmly and rationally at all dimensions of the theme of migration, placing at its centre the fact that immigrants are men and women with their rights and dignity.  For the Catholic Church, immigration must be guided by that Caritas Christi which is in the title of the document of the Pontifical Council for Migration and Tourism whose anniversary we celebrate today. Reflecting the charity of Christ means that we build a global culture marked by a genuine and caring encounter with the other. 

The Churches have a special role in welcoming and integrating immigrants.  Immigrants are people with their own culture and religious traditions.  People have a right to be able to worship in their own traditions.  Here in Dublin we have Mass on most Sundays in wide variety of languages, and we have a lively presence of other Christian Churches, especially of the Orthodox Tradition.  We learn from each other and we enrich one another.   Here in Dublin in the Roman Catholic Church we have celebrated an annual Festival of Peoples for some years now and the Church of Ireland has a strong outreach to immigrants of various backgrounds.  Relations with the Islamic leaders and communities are warm and open.

In speaking of immigration the term integration is one which must be understood correctly.  Integration does not mean that immigrants must immediately become “more Irish then the Irish themselves”, to use the phrase of my old school books.   Migrants retain their own culture and identity and they have every right to share the richness of their culture with their children.  However the experience of other countries has also shown the limits of the policy of “multi-culturalism”.  Multi-culturalism can over stress the specific identity of immigrant cultures and thus generate a sort of parallelism of cultures, which can then – especially in the midst of poor social and housing policy - create a ghettosim, either physical or cultural.  Ghettos will only build up walls of division, rather than break down barriers of misunderstanding.  Integration of immigrants involves both respect for cultural difference as well as a sharing of common values within the culture of the receiving country.

Emigrants represent an injection of fervour and renewal in our Churches.  Often in Dublin if you see a group of young people at Mass they may well turn out to be a group of immigrants.  The Church in Ireland has benefitted from such an injection of enthusiasm and hope.

The argument is very often used that the different ethnic mix in modern Ireland means that our system of denominational schools is no longer appropriate. I am very much in favour of greater diversity in the patronage of schools, but the fact is also that most immigrants to Ireland are very religious and would wish their children to have an education with a strong religious rather than a secular ethos.

Those of us who have memories wave of the Irish emigration to Britain in the 1950’s will know just how much those emigrants were supported by the presence of Irish chaplaincies and centres in Britain, which offered them pastoral support and the warmth of a home from home.  Many of the more vulnerable immigrants to Ireland today – especially men who are separated from their families - need that same kind of support, especially if their language skills in English are limited. 

At a Church-sponsored conference like this, I feel that I can particularly stress the challenge of the pastoral care and the on-going faith formation of immigrant Catholic communities.  Immigrants, when they are far from home, can very quickly - also because of the complex and long hours they work and the different religious culture – lose contact with their religious roots.  This is a special responsibility of the Church of the receiving country, but requires contact with the authorities of the sending Church and the help of specialised emigrant chaplaincies, which are not just social welfare agencies but part of the Gospel outreach of the Church.

Emigration has a long history in Irish culture. I remember in particular the emigration of the 1950’s and ‘60’s.  My own father emigrated for some years in the 1950’s.  In the 1960’s I remember how the numbers of vulnerable Irish emigrants to Britain was high.  As a seminarian I followed the path of many young men who had left Artane or other Industrial Schools at 16 and within a short time were off to Britain with little or no money or qualification or personal anchor in life.   The numbers of Irish in British prisons was very high.  Many drifted from menial job to menial job or simply lost employment.  Many today still find themselves alone and lonely with little or no community support. They must not be allowed to become forgotten or worse abandoned Irish.

At other times emigration became a sort of safety valve within the Irish economy as employment became scarce.  Today we have once again a situation of high emigration and a very high proportion of Irish emigrants is composed of third level graduates.  It is sad to watch at Christmas the toing and froing of young Irish emigrants who come home to their families and a few days later must sadly go away once again from the country which had educated them but has not been able to provide them with sustainable employment. At the same time there was many an empty chair last Christmas in homes right across Ireland.

One of the major challenges for our government is that of addressing the challenge of high youth unemployment in Ireland.  Our figures are lower than those of many countries in continental Europe, but if one builds into the statistics the level of recent youth emigration then the instance of real youth joblessness is higher.  Jobs are created not by governments but by entrepreneurship and business.  But government has to ensure a favourable environment for the creation of youth employment. 

Ireland has high quotas of talented young entrepreneurs, but I often hear of the difficulties they encounter, for example, in getting finance to start of business.  It is vital for employment to ensure that entrepreneurship and creativity can flourish among the young.  But we have also to ensure that job opportunity reaches out to the less advantaged in society.  Our educational system has to foster creativity but also equity and inclusiveness for the marginalised.  The creation of employment for young people will help stem emigration and will also, as was the case until the recent crisis, encourage the return of successful Irish talent to our economy.

Migration is an intrinsic part of the DNA of a globalised economy and a globalised world.   Do we really accept this and what are the consequences?    At the root of this affirmation is not just a reflection on the nature of a globalised economy.  At the root of this affirmation is the fundamental principle of the interdependence of all of us as members of the one human family.  When God created humankind he created us as a family, with obligations and responsibilities toward each other.

Pope Francis has continually stressed what happens when this interdependence in responsibility is rejected.  He speaks of a “globalization of indifference” which can only be changed by a broad based change of attitude.  He says that “a change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”

This is not just a political appeal, but a real call to a change of hearts.  A culture of encounter is never an armchair culture, where – maybe even with wisdom and perception – we observe realities from a safe distance, ensconced in our own comfort zone.

Pope Francis spoke very forcefully on this when he visited Lampedusa and recalled the numerous deaths that had taken place among migrants fleeing misery and poverty.  You will allow me to quote at some length:

Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me.

Yet God is asking each of us: "Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?" Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul…!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged.

The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!

Pope Francis recalled a figure in the work of the Italian writer Manzoni.  The figure’s name was "the Unnamed". The Pope adds:  “The globalization of indifference makes us all ‘unnamed’, responsible, yet nameless and faceless”.

My hope is that this Conference will arouse within the Church not just political concern, but a real change of attitude.  The Church must be a space where real human concern reaches out from our hearts to the migrant or the refugee as a brother and sister and embraces the migrant really with that“Caritas Christi” which is the mark of the Christian life.

If we do not change attitude and heart then we will work on the calculations of narrow economic self-interest and the thought patterns behind the Swiss referendum will become a model that is approved and will spread.”