My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Last week, I was scheduled to speak at an event sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations surrounding the United Nations High Level Discussion of Development and Migration. Unfortunately, my recent hospitalization prevented my participation.
This is the first time that the topic of migration has been discussed during these high level discussions, which follow the General Assembly meetings. Each year, different topics are approached, and it is incredible that such a worldwide social problem as migration has never been considered. However, this has been several years in the making. If you recall, almost five years ago, I served as the U.S. representative to the parallel United Nations commission, The Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM). The GCIM produced its final report, which became the impetus for the United Nations taking up the issue of development and migration.
These two issues are inextricably tied together. People migrate because usually there is a lack of development in the countries from which they come. On the other hand, those who migrate do assist in the development of the countries they leave, sometimes by sending remittances or gifts back to the relatives they left behind. In addition, some return to their home country to start a business, or they become what is known as diaspora communities, which assist their home countries in various ways.
Most recently, a new term has been coined that migration is development. The pockets of the underdeveloped world in which we live are the main cause for forced migration and labor migration. Recently, we have seen the tragedy off the coast of the island of Lampedusa in Italy where a boat carrying almost 500 asylum seekers from North Africa capsized less than one mile from this Sicilian island, which is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and one that is easy to reach from Africa. More than 300 people were killed. The hope of these migrants is to reach the European mainland and find asylum in some country. There is a mixture of those who are fleeing persecution and those who are seeking economic betterment. It is so hard to judge the motives of those who risk their lives to find something better.
In our own country, we see the same dynamic with the flow of people across our southern border, or those who come with a visa and overstay its time. Sometimes we have two signs at our boards: no entry and help wanted. Which one are the migrants to obey? They need work, and we need workers. Unfortunately, that rule of law which would dictate that no one should break a law in order to improve their life goes by the wayside.
The topic of the paper I was to present at the event, sponsored by His Excellency, the Most Reverend Francis A. Chullikatt, Apostolic Nuncio, was the overall scope of the Syrian humanitarian and refugee crisis. In the paper, I cited the current situation, some of which is well known and some of which is not well known.
The internal civil war raging in Syria is producing refugees on all sides, especially among the Christians. I looked back to a column I wrote for this space in 2007, when I returned from a trip with His Eminence, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The purpose of the trip was to highlight the plight of the Iraqi refugees of that time. It is most interesting for me to read that Cardinal McCarrick and I had an opportunity to visit with the President of Syria, Bashar Hafez al-Assad, in an effort to encourage him to keep taking refugees from Iraq. It is a little known fact that almost one million Iraqi refugees, 60 percent of whom were Christian, were being housed in Syria and away from the conflict that was raging at that time in Iraq.
Unfortunately, now we see the reverse situation for many of the Christians who sought temporary asylum and have returned to Iraq, and others have fled to Jordan and neighboring Lebanon. The residents, especially the Christians, seem to be in harm’s way between the rebels and government forces.
Recently, I received a visit from a bishop from Syria who personally explained the situation in that country. It is utter chaos and something that is truly beyond belief. In the short paper that I was to deliver, I pleaded for the intervention of the United Nations in supplying basic services to those who are fleeing to neighboring countries. It has become the latest humanitarian migration crisis that the world needs to confront.
The various worlds of development from overdeveloped to underdeveloped afford an opportunity to put out into the deep in understanding our economic situation in a more globalized world. The old concept of developed and underdeveloped nations is giving way to a more dynamic understanding of the interdependence between nations. Join me in praying that as we better understand our economic systems we can improve the lives of people.