Pope Francis has issued an action plan to help migrants assimilate into new cultures while criticising moves to expel those arriving in a country after fleeing persecution.
Throughout his papacy the Argentine Pope, a child of immigrants, has made the refugee crisis a top priority taking practical steps to help migrants such as opening up Vatican properties to those fleeing war zones and bringing twelve Muslim Syrians back from the Greek island of Lesbos on the papal plane.
In a message to mark next January’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Francis once again calls for a determined global effort to welcome and integrate migrants in a four point strategy: “To welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”.
His words are in stark contrast to the anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Donald Trump’s administration which is currently considering an expansion of powers to allow officials to expel undocumented migrants.
But the Pope is opposed to such moves as it could mean returning people back to a dangerous situation in their homeland.
“Collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions,” the Pope explains. “Particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights.
Those migrating to a new country, the Pope explains, should not have to “suppress or forget” their own identity but instead be part of an “intercultural enrichment” where they are open to aspects of the new culture they find themselves in.
“This process can be accelerated by granting citizenship free of financial or linguistic requirements, and by offering the possibility of special legalisation to migrants who can claim a long period of residence in the country of arrival,” the Pope writes.
Francis also calls for a simplified process for granting special visas to those fleeing war zones, particularly where it helps to reunite families, and he urges more countries to adopt the use of “humanitarian corridors.” This initiative, has been adopted by the Italian government offering safe passage for refugees who are fleeing their country in desperate circumstances.
It was promoted by the Catholic peace and humanitarian group, Sant’Egidio, who played a crucial role in Francis rescuing the Lesbos refugees in April 2016.
While the Pope repeatedly emphasises the need to welcome refugees, he does call for a “reintegration” of those who wish to return to their home country and to develop professional programmes to ensure this can happen.
But his overriding concern is that states offer practical assistance to migrants, including temporary accommodation, access to personal bank accounts, employment opportunities and basic financial assistance. The Pope adds that migrants must be offered the possibility of “active citizenship” including language training, access to justice and medical assistance.
Francis has ensured that the twelve refugees he brought back with him from Lesbos have been given language classes - offered by Sant’ Egidio - as well as the chances for education and work. One of the twelve, Nour Essa, 31, addressed the Pope in Italian during his recent visit to Roma Tre University where she is studying biology.
The World Day of Migrants and Refugees was established by Pope Pius X in 1914, showing that Francis is not the first Pope to show concern for those seeking to make a new life in a different country.
“Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age”, Francis stressed. “The Lord entrusts to the Church’s motherly love every person forced to leave their homeland in search of a better future.
PICTURE: Pope Francis greets Syrian refugees Osama his wife Wafaa and their children Masaa and Omar during the flight from Lesbos to Rome Ciampino airport , Italy on April 16, 2016. Pope Francis brought 12 Syrian refugees back to Rome after a quick visit to the Greek island of Lesbos