Photo by Manus Aronson. Courtesy of World Council of Churches

POLITICAL crises over migration and the plight of refugees remain high on the international agenda, but calls for humane and thoughtful responses are also gaining greater prominence.

Research supported by SCI on attitudes towards migration in Europe challenged simple narratives around public opinion and exposed the complex range of factors influencing the views of individuals.

In France, despite the public’s anxieties about immigration and integration, polling revealed widespread concern about the rise of racism. German society has been affected by concerns over immigration, but the polling also showed a majority believed in the obligation on societies to accept refugees.

Research in Italy similarly returned a range of attitudes on migration, but revealed a willingness to respond positively to leadership on the issue by the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church and the leaders of other Christian congregations from around the world recently made a significant intervention on the migration issue, though it was overshadowed by the international focus on Brexit, the US elections and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

The three-day ‘World Conference on Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the context of Global Migration’ was jointly organised in September by the World Council of Churches and the Vatican’s Office for Integral Human Development, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

A joint message issued after the conference in Rome is worth revisiting, given its strongly worded condemnation of xenophobia, its attack on racism, and its calls for governments to deliver on pledges to address the treatment of migrants.

“Conscious of a rise in xenophobic and racist reactions to refugees and migrants,” said the joint message, “we have striven to describe, analyse, understand and address the exclusion, marginalization, stigmatization and criminalization of migrants and refugees, and the justifications for these attitudes and discourses which now exist in several different parts of the world, even within the churches.”

The statement added: “As Christians from different denominations and regions – together with representatives of inter-religious, civil society and inter-governmental partners – the common basis for our reflections is the conviction that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights and equally to be respected and protected.”

It added: “Migration – the movement of people – is an inherent feature of the human condition…We are all migrants and sojourners, and we are all members of the one human family.”

‘RACISM IS A SIN’

The conference cited “brutal conflicts and the lingering consequences of global economic crisis and austerity policies” as some of the factors driving migration.

There was also agreement that racism is a “social construct” separating people “in the name of a false notion of the purity and superiority”.

“Racism creates and maintains the vulnerability of members of certain groups, denying them their rights and their existence, and seeks to justify their oppression. In this sense racism is a sin, in both its personal and systemic expressions, radically incompatible with the Christian faith.”

The conference also drew links between faith and human rights.

“We are called to accompany and hold accountable those who exercise power and participate directly in decisions that affect the future of the human community, at national and international levels. The advice that all believers can offer may be inspired by the `golden rule’, common to different traditions, according to which one should `do to others what you would have them do to you’.

“This `golden rule’ is reflected in fundamental human rights, which are conditions to be achieved for others as well as for ourselves, and call for the construction of social cohesion.”

Photo by Marianne Ejdersten. Courtesy of World Council of Churches

Delegates cited the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and urged the United Nations and its member states to implement protections for migrants contained in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, plus the Global Impact on Refugees.

The conference recognised “the concerns of many individuals and communities who feel threatened by migrants”, but called for efforts to “seek to raise a narrative of love and of hope, against the populist narrative of hate and of fear”.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is an ecumenical movement which brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories, representing over 500 million Christians.

Pope Francis met the delegates at the Rome event, where he spoke out against “suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred” towards those of different ethnicities, nationalities or religions.