Sunday 14 January 2018, is the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. In his message to mark the day, Pope Francis stresses the need to create a welcoming environment for migrants and refugees stating that:
"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 Holy Father calls us to express our solidarity with migrants and refugees at every stage of the "migratory experience - from departure through journey to arrival and return."
Acknowledging the enormity of this responsibility to journey with migrants and refugees the Pope encourages all who are called to respond "with generosity, promptness, wisdom and foresight, each according to their own abilities".
Pope Francis proposes an action-oriented initiative and provides a template for our shared response on four related fronts: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.
In each of these areas there are practical suggestions for close collaboration with state institutions and other agencies as well as for individuals.
Firstly, in welcoming migrants and refugees Pope Francis emphasises that personal safety must be a priority over national security. He 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.
Secondly, in protecting migrants and refugees he focuses on defending their rights and dignity independent of their legal status. This protection the Pope suggests must begin at the start of the journey in the country of origin through to the country of destination. He expresses 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. The Holy Father believes that children should be guaranteed access to health, education and the right to nationality.
Thirdly, Pope Francis further calls for the empowerment of migrants and refugees to achieve their potential as human beings. In promoting them we must recognise and value the abilities and gifts that they bring. Of particular importance is the freedom of religious belief and practice. He calls for a determined effort to promote social and professional inclusion of migrants and refugees with access to employment being a key factor.
Finally, Pope Francis highlights integrating migrants and refugees as the key to shaping societies and cultures that create opportunities for intercultural enrichment. He invites all of us "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.
The Office for Migration Policy will prioritise its work with the UK Government and other partners to create welcoming environments and provide well-resourced Community Sponsorship Programmes in parishes across England and Wales, where migrants and refugees are welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated within our communities and the wider society.
Bishop Paul McAleenan is the Lead Bishop for the Office for Migration and Policy - See: www.cbcew.org.uk/CBCEW-Home/Departments/International-Affairs/Migrants-and-Refugees/About-OMP
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