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Fr. Czerny: Fear has no place in dealing with refugees

January 27, 2017 -- Since 1914, the Church has used the World Day of Migrants and Refugees to highlight the great need for nations to welcome those seeking shelter from the evil and horrors that inflict their homelands. It is a message about compassion and hospitality, yet it is frequently greeted with anxiety and fear, perhaps more today than ever.

Even in Canada, which has done more for refugees than many countries, the undercurrent of fear can be felt. It is a fear we all must overcome.

In his Address to the Popular Movements in Rome in early November, Pope Francis highlighted the drama of migrants, refugees and displaced persons.

“No one should be forced to flee from his or her country,” he said. “But the evil is doubled when, in these terrible circumstances, migrants fall into the clutches of human traffickers in order to cross borders.

“It is tripled if, arriving in a land where they hoped to have a better future, they are treated with contempt, exploited and even enslaved. Or else, they are simply not allowed to enter.”

While the root causes may seem far away, many Canadians are helping those fleeing from the evils which the Holy Father decried. Over the past 20 years, Canada has accepted 10,000 or more refugees per year. But Canada’s contribution is just a drop in the bucket, and much poorer countries are receiving many more refugees. For instance, Africa cares for and hosts millions of refugees — nine million in East Africa alone. The poorest African countries are the generous hosts of the vast majority of refugees.

"No one should be forced to flee from his or her country."

Both government programs and private, community-based sponsors welcome refugees to Canada. For this reason, perhaps, Canada does better than many other countries in refugee integration. Newcomers are part of the overall economic and demographic mix that Canada needs for its vitality and prosperity.

Yet some Canadians, as well as citizens from other well-developed countries, remain anxious. People can be afraid of what the future might bring — afraid of losing their jobs, of losing their identity, of being harmed by the stranger. But this is really an expression of anxiety people feel about the uncertainty in their own lives; it has nothing to do with immigration.

Often, those who are loudest about supposed threats lack first-hand knowledge. Unfortunately, they may have had little contact with newcomers, much less interacted to integrate with them, to assist and befriend them.

As for fears about violence, Canada has not had a single incident of a refugee engaging in an act of terrorism. The two attacks of October 2014 were committed by young men born in Canada.

Thanks to Canada’s unique private sponsorship program, which began in 1979, many Canadians have welcomed and assisted refugees personally. At present, these focus on refugees from Syria, currently the source of the largest number of refugees. I hope Canada remembers other fleeing populations, which remain under the radar.

Another issue is collaboration between sponsors and government agencies. In working with citizens’ groups, government services can be inefficient, and so the groups end up wasting money and losing momentum and enthusiasm. So here’s something Catholic Register readers could do: pressure the government to be a better partner with your parishes and other citizens’ groups in making sponsorship work for the benefit of all.

Looking beyond Canada, the question remains: how to deal with the many? Can Canada assist the countries in Africa receiving the great majority of refugees? Can Canada help to address the root causes?

As Jesus always does, the Church calls its followers to selfless love and service, to accompany those in need in order to secure abundant life for everyone.

Fr. Michael Czerny, SJ, is a Canadian Jesuit who is Under-Secretary of the Migrants & Refugees Section in the Vatican’s new department for Integral Human Development. As the Church marks the 103rd World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Jan. 15, The Catholic Register asked Fr. Czerny to reflect on the significance of the day and the challenges ahead.

[Source:The Catholic Register]


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