This teaching and advocacy document of the England and Wales Episcopal Conference on the Catholic response to migrants and refugees provides timely guidance in our polarised European societies. It offers sound advice on migration and asylum, not only for Catholics, but for any person of good will who considers human dignity as the basis for a harmonious social coexistence. It is not a mere compilation of principles of the social doctrine of the Church on the matter, but a reflection on how these principles should be applied to the current challenges faced by our states and societies.
There is a primary right of every person to remain in his or her own homeland in dignity and safety. If the conditions are not met, there is a recognised human right to migrate. But it should be stressed that nobody should be placed in a position to become a forced migrant. States, and the international community as a whole, must address conflicts that provoke forced displacement and migration, as well as situations of persecution. Along with the right to migrate and the right to flourish in one’s homeland, there is also a right to return to one’s homeland when the situation allows it. These rights are not always duly recognised or protected with the consequent undermining of both international law and individual human rights.
An exaggerated nationalism that goes beyond the legitimate love for one’s homeland can lead to us not acknowledging the common humanity that we all share. A basic pilar of the Christian concept of the human person is that we have been created by God in “His image and likeness”, as imago Dei, and therefore we all have an inalienable dignity. This is not just a rhetorical expression, but an axiomatic theological and moral principle.
No matter the circumstances in which a person finds themselves, the reality of the unalienable dignity of each person should inspire and guide our actions towards those who are our already in our cities and villages as well as to newcomers. Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating them, as proposed by Pope Francis, is a roadmap of Christian behaviour when meeting those who left their homeland looking for international protection or a better future for them and their families. A different ethnic, racial, religious or social background of a migrant should not be an excuse to deny a humane treatment. There is no Christian alternative to treating a human being humanely.
The President of COMECE, Jean-Claude Cardinal Hollerich S. J. highlighted recently that migration and asylum policies should be driven not only by solidarity and responsibility but also by generosity. Christian standards are not based on the “moral minimum” (sometimes imposed by law) but aim at the integral development of all and everyone in the context of the common good. Nobody deserves to be left behind: there are no second-class human beings. With due respect for the public order and the legitimate rights of the local population, in particular those in need, European states and societies have the resources and means to integrate a large number of migrants and refugees, as the drama of the persons fleeing from the war in Ukraine demonstrates. When some hosting European states or societies lack, for a certain period of time, the possibility to host more migrants or refugees, or are overburdened, the international community should look for alternative ways to assist those persons in need of protection.
For years, the England and Wales Episcopal Conference has played a leading role in the Catholic Church on migration issues, including preventing and combating trafficking of human beings in a decisive and creative way, even beyond its geographical boundaries. COMECE has benefited, and will continue benefiting, from the valuable experience of the Catholic Church in England and Wales to better address the migration phenomenon, advocating for the human person to be at the centre of any pastoral, social and political action. We congratulate the Conference for its tireless work for the promotion and protection of migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking and express our gratitude for this excellent document that is an important step forward towards this shared goal.