Christmas Reflection on Migration

Migrants and Refugees: a problem to be solved?


People move because they either want to or they have to. Whether people are getting out of bed; going to the shops or traversing borders; they are doing so because they either want to and or they have to. In the world of migration, there are those who have to travel. At Christmas we reflect on the life of those who have go to another city to get their paper work in order. We see them set off on a donkey and they travel to a town called Bethlehem. On another occasion in their life they want to make a future for their young child so they set up home in a town called Nazareth and there they watch their child grow in wisdom, age, and stature.

To have to travel is poverty. To have to leave somewhere you love because staying means you cannot be who God intended you to be is a most abject poverty. Irish history resonates with stories of this form of poverty. John B. Keane describes boarding the boat in Dun Laoghaire with his follow country men and women;

All around us as we left Dun Laoghaire, there was drunkenness. The younger men were drunk – not violently so but tragically so, as I was, to forget the dreadful loneliness of having to leave home. Underneath it all was the heartbreaking frightful anguish of separation. It would be a waste of time for me to launch into a description of what went on. A person has to be part of it to feel it.

He, and others like him, were forced to travel because there was nothing for them in their home place; they could no longer be who God intended them to be; they had to go. The luxury we call choice was not theirs. John B. was in his early twenties. Today, many his age and younger, make hazardous journeys across the globe; not because they want to but because they have to. Some commentators dip into bitter taste of emigration into sugar. Their narrative is coated in the language of opportunity and adventure as they attempt to make their stories digestible; distracting from the many hearts that are broken.

Ireland is not alone in this. Across the world and across many borders there are stories of lives laden with tragedy and poverty. Ahmed Omar Isaak tells of one occasion when he journeyed from his home to his new destination;
We were 55 Somalis in an inflatable boat. They just gave us a compass and a GPS and told us which direction to go …around 160 km from Tripoli, the boat started taking on water…but no one came to rescue us…some women were pregnant and vomiting.

Ahmed had to leave the place he called home. Given the choice he would not have left, but conflict drove him away. As he said quite poignantly ‘I never dreamed I would end up in the sea’.

Let us be in no doubt that this is the world we have created. Some applaud the global economic advances of the last decades. However, there is a downside to our increasingly globalised world. The upside of this world benefits the few; the downside is experienced by the many. The desire for Empire and power by the Romans at the time of Jesus created a downside for a humble couple about to give birth to their first child; similarly our globalising world, which is crazy for power and control, is leaving many people struggling on the downside of life.

There are privileged people, who, from their desk in London, Dublin, Hong Kong or New York, can, at the click of a mouse, pursue streams of money. There are others who work in squalid conditions, often illegal or undocumented, who pay a commission when they send a few euros home at the end of their working week. If those who clicked the mouse on the vast amounts of money that traverse the world paid they same taxes and levies on their transactions as those who send their hard earned money home to their families; the revenue stream from these taxes would go a long way towards alleviating poverty and debt.

In summary, Pope Francis tells us in his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2014 ) that ‘the reality of migration…points to the tension between the beauty of creation…and the mystery of sin’. We must now follow the Holy Father’s invitation to see the migrant as a prophetic voice of our time. He continues; ‘they (the migrant) are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community’.

These are challenging words for us. These challenges may become more acute when Pope Francis tells us that ‘migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved’, However difficult these words appear, they take on a vastly different context and significance when we apply them to the young couple with child travelling to Bethlehem a little over two thousand years ago.

(Written for the Irish Catholic Bishops Council for Emigration and Immigration, Christmas 2013 and Migrant and Refugee Sunday 2014)

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