Keep dignity of Tamil refugees in mind during immigration debate
Statement by Archbishop J. Michael Miller
August 25, 2010
The arrival of 492 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka has generated much discussion about Canada’s immigration policy and the appropriate means of dealing with the men, women and children who recently came by ship.
Some of the reaction has focused on the desperate individuals who have arrived on our shores, smuggled here to flee persecution in their homeland. There has been outcry, much of it hostile, about queue jumping, abuse of the system, and the need to keep Canada from being overrun with would-be refugees.
It is critical at this time to keep in mind the fundamental dignity of each human person, particularly these new arrivals. In his own life and ministry, Jesus identified himself with refugees and other marginalized groups: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
Catholic Social Teaching is uncompromising on the rights of refugees, and these men, women and children must not become scapegoats in otherwise relevant debates over immigration policy, enforcement and reform.
While it is incumbent on responsible governments to establish the identities of newcomers so as not to open a door to potential security risks, the Catholic Church maintains that people who are victims of armed conflicts, misguided economic policies or natural disasters, as well as "internally displaced persons," must be recognized as refugees and offered international protection.
Canada has a well founded reputation as a nation of immigrants and refugees, and a long history of welcoming those seeking a haven from injustice.
It has been well documented in recent years that one of the global consequences of overly restrictive immigration and refugee policies by industrialized countries has been an increase in human trafficking, particularly of women and children.
The United Nations has called people-smuggling the fastest-growing form of transnational organized crime.
Pope John Paul II warned against the tendency of affluent countries to “tighten their borders under pressure from a public opinion disturbed by the inconveniences that accompany the phenomena of immigration. Society finds itself having to deal with the 'clandestine' men and women in illegal situations, without any rights in a country that refuses to welcome them, victims of organized crime or of unscrupulous entrepreneurs." (Pope John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day 2000, n 4.)
While the state must ensure immigration policy is subject to the requirements of the common good, such control must not inspired by selfish attitudes or "restrictive policies."
It is only just that as we discuss federal immigration policy, we keep in the forefront the men, women and children currently in detention – all of whom have risked their lives to escape persecution back home.
Before coming to Vancouver, Archbishop Miller served on the Vatican Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, established by Pope John Paul II in 1988 to minister to the spiritual welfare of those who no longer are or who never have been members of a parish.