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Challenging Commitments

posted Jan 12, 2018, 2:15 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Jan 12, 2018, 2:15 AM ]
The Church observes the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on January 14, 2018. The theme of Pope Francis' message - 'Welcoming, Protecting, Promoting and Integrating Migrants and Refugees' challenges us to a greater commitment not to abdicate our responsibility, but to positively respond to the cries of the forcibly displaced and excluded. 

At the United Nations Summit in New York on September 19, 2016, world leaders expressed their desire to take decisive action in support of migrants and refugees, to save their lives and protect their rights, sharing this responsibility on a global level. To this end, the states committed themselves to drafting and approving, before the end of 2018, two Global Compacts, one for refugees and the other for migrants. 

Pope Francis states the coming months offer a unique opportunity to advocate and support the concrete actions with regard to Refugees and Migrants. He invites all to share this message with all political and social actors involved in the process which will lead to the approval of the two Global Compacts. 

On September 19, 2016, the UN General Assembly held a special session under the banner 'United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants' that brought together Heads of State and of Government to develop a blueprint for a more effective international response to perhaps the single most important crisis of modern times, which affects millions across the globe today. 'The New York Declaration' signed by 193 Member States (including India) was the outcome of this meet. 

The 24-page document said, "We declare our profound solidarity with, and support for, the millions of people in different parts of the world who, for reasons beyond their control, are forced to uproot themselves and their families from their homes. Refugees and migrants in large movements often face a desperate ordeal. Many take great risks, embarking on perilous journeys, which many may not survive. Some feel compelled to employ the services of criminal groups, including smugglers, and others may fall prey to such groups, or become victims of trafficking. Even if they reach their destination, they face an uncertain reception and a precarious future. We are determined to save lives. Our challenge is, above all, moral and humanitarian. Equally, we are determined to find long-term and sustainable solutions. We will combat with all the means at our disposal the abuses and exploitation suffered by countless refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations." (#8-10) 

On paper, and in theory, this is fine. In reality, it is a different take: on December 3, 2017, the United States announced that it was withdrawing from the two Global Compacts. India, on the other hand, has literally shut its doors on the persecuted Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. With xenophobia, racism, pseudo-nationalism and exclusiveness on the rise in several other countries, the actualisation of the two Compacts is not going to be easy. Thankfully, most of the world is still concerned about the plight of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons, so hopefully, by the end of 2018, the Global Compacts will see the light of day! 

The 51st World Day of Peace was observed by the Church on January 1. Significantly, the theme of the message of Pope Francis was "Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace". In doing so, he has challenged "all people and all nations on earth" to respond to the needs and aspirations of the refugees and migrants because they too are "men and women in search of peace." He has called upon the world community to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees in a compassionate and meaningful way. 

It is the heartfelt hope of Pope Francis that this spirit will guide the process that in the course of 2018 will lead the United Nations to draft and approve two Global Compacts - one for safe, orderly and regular migration and the other for refugees. 

Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist, currently based in Lebanon.