ICMC Secretary General: migrants are no different than our family and friends


On 18 December, International Migrants Day, we are called to remember and celebrate the role of migrants and the contribution that they bring to development, both in their country of origin and in that of destination. The following reflection was written by ICMC's Secretary General, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo.


Mexican border crossing in the town of El Ceibo, Guatemala, a popular crossing spot into Mexico for refugees on their way to claim asylum in the United States.Mexican border crossing in the town of El Ceibo, Guatemala, a popular crossing spot into Mexico for refugees on their way to claim asylum in the United States. Photo: UNHCR / T. Herrera Geneva, 18 December 2016 - On this important day, we recall both the challenges faced my migrants as they move from their home territories to other places in their own countries or elsewhere in the world. We also should be mindful of the contributions which migrants bring to their places where they migrate – strengthening the labor force, mutually exchanging cultural traditions, cuisine, and values with their hosts, and contributing to the overall common good among the whole human family. Pope Francis often reminds us of the gift that migrants can be to welcoming communities and to society-at-large. Coming from immigrant roots and having been a migrant myself (first to Italy and now to Switzerland), I hope I have contributed – at least in a small way – to the communities that received me.

On 19 September 2016, at the United Nations Summit on Migrants and Refugees, more than 190 Member States of the United Nations called for migration to be safe, voluntary and regular. Today, my thoughts turn to the more some 65 million people in this world whose movement hardly meets even one of these conditions – they are the forced migrants – 25 million refugees (who fled their home countries out of fear of persecution and or to literally save their own lives and those of their family members) and more than 40 million who are forcibly displaced in their own “home” countries or who are considered “stateless” since they are not recognized as citizens by any country of the world.

Two days ago, I was on an airplane returning to Geneva after ten days of meeting in London and then in Rome. My fellow passengers and I were migrants between borders in a way that was safe (we hand been subjected to endless security checks at Rome’s Fiumicino airport!), orderly (although travel schedules on Alitalia Airlines can sometimes be quite “disorderly”, on this occasion, we left Rome on time and arrived in Geneva ten minutes early!), and regular (thanks to the Schengen agreement, we did not even have to pass through endless immigration cues!). I found myself sitting in back of a family with a small child - perhaps three or four years old - who announced quite loudly that this was his first flight. He was thrilled with this new experience! Other than squirming a bit when he had to remain seated with his seat belt fastened, he was literally thrilled with every part of the flight – telling all that the snacks were simply delicious, giggling with joy when both when the plane took off and when it landed, and expressing pure wonder when he could see the snow-covered mountains from the cabin of the plane.

I could not help but contrast that joy - filled child with the children who have been fleeing Aleppo and other places in Syria – their migration is certainly not safe, voluntary, or regular. They have been forced to seek shelter in one bombed out building after another; they have watched loved ones die in agony and without any medical treatment available; their possessions have been destroyed. They literally have become pawns of ideological and political forces across a wide spectrum of military actors, both from within Syria and from outside countries who prefer to fight their wars outside their own territories.

On this International Migrants Day, let us not forget the forced migrants from Syria and from countless other places in all regions of the world. The International Catholic Migration Commission serves them with life-saving humanitarian assistance, legal and social services, emotional support, and with finding long-term solutions, such as local integration in their present host countries, or in a third country.

Let us join ourselves to the call of Pope Francis who constantly declares that migrants “are no different than our own family members and friends… Each of them has a name, a face, and a story, as well as an inalienable right to live in peace and to aspire to a better future for their sons and daughters .” He also has asked us to “remember that authentic hospitality is a profound gospel value that nurtures love and is our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo,
Secretary General - International Catholic Migration Commission