African Governments Urged to “ensure equality,
equity for all” to Stem Dangerous Migration
Corruption and inequalities in many African countries is leaving many people impoverished and forcing them outside their countries in search of better lives, the leadership of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) has said, warning that some of the means used by migrants leaving their countries are “perilous”.
In his message ahead of the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees celebrated on September 27, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, the ICMC Secretary General said all governments had the responsibility to provide dignified living conditions for everyone within their borders instead of amassing wealth for only a few and leaving masses to suffer in abject poverty.
“Governments, everywhere, not only in Africa, must promote integral human development and fight the corruption and complicity that makes some of their citizens richer and many more of their citizens barely able to ensure their survival from one day to the next. They must ensure equality and equity for all,” Msgr. Vitillo told Crux.
He referenced Pope Francis' message for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, “To preserve our common home and make it conform more and more to God’s original plan, we must commit ourselves to ensuring international cooperation, global solidarity and local commitment, leaving no one excluded.”
The ICMC official highlighted stories of despair among African immigrants who he said were risking their lives to stay away from their home countries.
“In late 2019 and early 2020, I visited Burkina Faso, Morocco and Côte d’Ivoire and saw and heard for myself the testimonies of young men and women who risked all to be able to support their families back home, who swore that they would not leave the Spanish border area until they found their opportunity to cross it, who thanked local parishes for the welcome and safety extended to them, young unaccompanied children who were keenly aware that their parents sent them on these journeys as the way to keep them alive,” he narrated.
The human rights official who has helped resettle Ethiopian, Eritrean refugees and those from other countries to the United States in his former position as Director of the multi-service Catholic Charities Agency further urged, “All governments, including those from Africa, have a responsibility to ensure dignified living conditions, freedom, and safety to their citizens or to any who live within their borders.”
Msgr. Vitillo said many African migrants always embarked on a perilous journey when they chose to traverse the Sahara and seas in desperate attempts to reach America or Europe.
He quoted a report, entitled, ‘On this journey, no one cares if you live or die,’ released in July 2020 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has estimated that some 1,750 refugees and migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Sahara Desert during 2018 and 2019 alone.
“Pope Francis consistently has called attention to such tragedies, especially since his visit to Lampedusa, shortly after his election as Pope, when he laid a wreath to honor the memories of those buried in this vast “cemetery,” and during his annual Masses to commemorate that historic visit,” the ICMC official said.
The widely published researcher on human rights, HIV/AIDS and global health, migration and refugee settlement said that of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, some 26 million are refugees, that is, they are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.
The rest, he said, are internally displaced people who have stayed within the borders of their respective countries of origin but often are deprived of the special protection available to refugees.
“In Africa, there are some 6 million refugees and 12.5 million internally displaced persons,” he said, affirming that much of the migration happens in Africa and from Africa, so much so that the continent has been described as “a continent on the move.”
He further said that forcibly displaced persons fear for the safety and future of themselves and of their children, adding, “They desperately want to enjoy their God-given dignity and to escape the horrors of persecution, conflict, and threats to personal safety.”
Msgr. Vitillo who has served as Head of the Caritas Internationalis Delegation to the UN Geneva urged Europe and America to open their doors to African migrants and not to look at immigrants as a “shared burden.”
“In my opinion, the migration policy decisions must focus on making migration voluntary, safe and regular and we should refrain from discussing ‘burden sharing’ to receive migrants and refugees but recognize the ‘resource sharing’ that is provided by the arrival of refugees and migrants into our many of our ageing and tired communities, especially those in rural and marginalized areas,” he said.
Msgr. Vitillo noted that many European and other high- and middle-income countries are experiencing a population gap that is expected to worsen over time and that will have a significant impact on the economy and overall well-being of future generations, underscoring the need to welcome as many people coming from other countries as possible.
He further said that this year’s theme, “Forced like Jesus Christ to Flee”, that was given by the Holy Father “vividly confronts us with the raw fear and anxiety of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus, as well as the panic of countless present-day migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.”
The Old Testament, he said, is replete with admonitions to welcome strangers and foreigners and reminds the people of Israel that they once were strangers in Egypt.
“In his Gospel account of Jesus’ life, St. Matthew reports that Mary and Joseph were forced to flee to Egypt in the dark of night,” the ICMC official narrated.
He added, “As I hear the stories of refugees whom we serve through local church efforts and through the global work of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), their journeys are motivated by the same search for welcome, protection, promotion, and integration seems motivated by the same forces that caused our Jewish and early Christian ancestors to leave home and familiar life circumstances in quest of freedom, peace, and the basic necessities of life.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa