MILAN – Pope Francis has called the separation of migrant children from their parents “contrary to our Catholic values and immoral.”
He was referring to the situation in the United States, where 2,342 children who crossed the border illegally between May and June were taken from parents who were detained. Those children have been placed in care centers, for now. Images of them reduced to tears have gone viral.
Shortly before World Refugee Day, the Pope spoke quite a lot about immigration and not only in the context of America.
“Populism is not the solution,” he said referring to the anti-establishment governments and sentiment cropping up in Europe.
“Populists,” the pontiff said, “are creating psychosis on the issue of immigration.”
This comes right after Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blocked a ship carrying 630 migrants in Italian waters from docking here last week. He has said that many of the foreigners arriving in Italy are not true refugees but economic migrants.
A standoff ensued over the ship and, a week later, Spain took the boat full of fragile people.
Italy, protruding like a finger into the Mediterranean Sea, is where the majority of sea arrivals from Africa land. Salvini gained his popularity at the polls this spring in large part due to his hard line on immigration. And in the past his response to the pope’s pleas to accommodate migrants has been to ask how many refugees the Vatican has taken in.
Despite the concerns about migration in Europe, the numbers of arrivals here are drastically down from 2015, but the images of people lined up at borders and flooding train stations remains etched in people’s minds. Furthermore, the problem remains because many of the arrivals of the past few years have yet to be integrated and in some cases processed.
“We are living like insects, we are living like animals,” said one Pakistani asylum seeker who claims he has been waiting for days to just get into the immigration office in Rome.
Even though the number of new people reaching Europe and the developed world has declined, the United Nations said in its latest report that the number of refugees was at a new high in 2017, for the fifth year in a row. The worldwide refugee count stands at 68.5 million people, more than half of them under the age of 18. The UN said a person is displaced every two seconds. One in 100 people globally are being pushed out of their countries due to war and political instability.
The greatest number of refugees come from Syria. Somalia, South Sudan, Burma and Afghanistan are also hot spots that large numbers are fleeing. Turkey has taken the greatest number of refugees, followed by Lebanon.
European Union leaders will meet this weekend to come up with a unified position on refugees and migration.
“The EU must know how to intervene without delegating to the countries of first arrival the responsibility to confront the emergency,” said Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella.
There is talk about setting up processing centers in Africa so that asylum seekers do not pay smugglers to make the often fatal trip across the sea on largely unseaworthy craft.
The crisis continues to threaten to bring down German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She opened up Germany’s borders in 2015, letting over a million people in. Having said, “No one makes the decision to leave their home lightly,” she has suggested nations ask themselves questions about the root cause of this crisis.
“Are we powerful enough to create development in the places people are coming from on the African continent?” Merkel asked. “Are we better able now than we have been to end the civil war in Syria?”
Meanwhile, Pope Francis points to what he considers a more immediate solution, or step in the right direction.
“Each of us is required to be close to the refugees, to find opportunities to meet with them, to value their contribution so that they can better fit into the communities that receive them,” the pope said. “In such encounter and mutual respect lies the solution to many issues.”