Host Countries Might Miss a Chance With Migrants

Vatican Urges Integration Not Assimilation

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- When immigrants arrive to their destinations, integration is a two-way street, according to the secretary of the Vatican's council on migration.



Archbishop Agostino Marchetto said today that immigrants do not have the sole responsibility of adapting to the culture of their host countries and that citizens of nations that receive migrants also have to be ready to make changes.

The archbishop made this affirmation as the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers began its conference on how the topic of human mobility has developed in the past five years. The council secretary began the event with an overview of the phenomenon in some of its salient aspects.

He looked at some of the causes of migration, but noted Benedict XVI's affirmation in "Caritas in Veritate": "On this earth there is room for everyone: Here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself -- God's gift to his children -- and through hard work and creativity."

Archbishop Marchetto also reflected on the relationship between immigration and development.

He noted that "the cause-and-effect ratio between the two terms of the binomial is not linear. It is believed that lack of development in countries of origin triggers emigration, because it is difficult to ensure a decent life in them, or even meet basic survival needs for oneself and one's family. Yet emigration itself can also generate a lack of development, which becomes quite difficult if a country of origin is deprived of its best human resources who are used to make a significant contribution to local production and its ancillary processes."

Related to this latter consideration, the prelate mentioned the problem of "brain drain," and the recruiting of skilled laborers by developed countries.

Millions moving

In any case, immigration is a widespread phenomenon, the archbishop observed, noting that at its peak between 2005 and 2008, there were an average of 3.3 million migrants per year around the globe.

The obvious consequence to these numbers is that the issue of immigrant integration is faced by masses of people.

"Does integration mean that immigrants must adapt themselves to the local model of life, to the extent of becoming copies of the native people, thus neglecting their own legitimate cultural roots?" the archbishop asked. "If this were the case, they would be assimilated rather than integrated."

The Vatican official contended that such "assimilation" is an "impoverishment of the host society, because the cultural and human contribution made by immigrants is thus minimized or even cancelled out."

"Undoubtedly," he said, "immigrants should take the necessary steps to be socially included in their places of arrival, but this process should respect the cultural heritage that everyone brings with them."

"Therefore, true integration occurs where interaction between immigrants and the native population is not limited to social and economic relations, but is fully acted out, including in the area of culture," Archbishop Marchetto added. "Both parties, however, should be willing to do so, because the driver of integration is dialogue, which presupposes a reciprocal relationship."

The Vatican conference concludes on Thursday. The Holy Father addressed the participants today.