2018-01-12 GENERAL HOUSE

Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees

On Jan. 14, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated. The General Chapter embraced this cause and said, in the IV call, in the spirit of prayer:

We search for you, Jesus, like Mary, in the caravans of life, in the tumult of our cities (Lk 2, 41-49), and in the masses of displaced people who are seeking a better future for their children.

We would like to offer, for this occasion, the reflection made by the Marist Community of Syracuse in Italy, fruit of the Lavalla200> Project, inserted in the context of the migrants who arrive in Europe in search of a better life.


On Jan. 14 the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated and in his message, the Pope expressed his special concern for the sad situation of many migrants and refugees fleeing from wars, persecutions, natural disasters and poverty. From our experience, we want to comment on the Pope's message that begins with these words: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). (…) 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 (Matthew 25:35-43).

In this regard – says the Pope – I wish to reaffirm that our shared response may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.


To welcome

“Considering the current situation, welcoming means, above all, offering broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally” (Pope Francis).

The Italian Ministry of the Interior revealed the following information: from Jan. 1 – Nov. 24, 2017, 15,200 refugees disembarked at the port of Augusta, almost all of them males and the majority were unaccompanied minors.

How can we make ourselves present in such a delicate moment? A 15-day course organised by the CRI in Catania, a week in Naples, a training period and the preparation has been completed. On August 4, the first Marist started operating in the port of Augusta. “After five months of torture and violence,” commented a young man, “I saw a smiling face that was offering me his hand and that did not hit me.” Visit: https://goo.gl/9BKyhX .

It is not solved either by the expulsion sheet that the police gives to entire groups, which are then transported to the Augusta railway station. People who have just landed in Italy, deprived of everything, without money… not only do not know where to go and what to eat, but often in the stations have to pay to use the bathrooms…


“The second verb may be understood as a series of steps intended to defend the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, independent of their legal status. Such protection begins in the country of origin, and consists in offering reliable and verified information before departure, and in providing safety from illegal recruitment practices” (Pope Francis).

The overwhelming majority of the children we know have embarked on the trip that brought them to Italy without their parents, often in a group with other friends.

Almost everyone has a cell phone, but Google Maps only provides "virtual" indications: it does not indicate where the male traffickers are waiting, behind which hill the scammers are, in which country they will be forced to work 15 hours a day in exchange for a vague promise of helping them continue their journey… For some children this itinerary lasts a year and none of them forgets it, not because of its length, but because of the tragedies that have accompanied it.

One for all: Saliou remembers how he managed to save himself in a prison in Libya. When a new group arrived at the camp that wanted to go to Italy, the “introduction ritual” that the guards used was to give orders and, when someone was unsuccessful or too slow in carrying out the orders, a machine gun would burst leaving tens on the ground dead. Saliou remembers hearing shots and saving himself by falling to the ground and staying up until the night under the bodies of his dead comrades. Reading these six lines is dramatic, but listening to him while he tells the story is an experience that you face only because you know it is good for him. We told them that the trip is tremendously long considering especially the final expectation. Do you know the Italian law that regulates the transport of animals? (Despite the indications, do not be afraid to open this file because it’s from the Ministry of Health). Take a look and you will find that pigs less than three weeks old cannot be transported because they are too young and calves over 10 days of age can be transported provided they are in individual positions with their mother. But the discoveries are not over: on p.25 you will read that the journey of poultry and rabbits cannot last more than 12 hours and that animals are entitled to one hour of rest to drink or eat.



“Promoting essentially means a determined effort to ensure that all migrants and refugees – as well as the communities which welcome them – are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator” (Pope Francis).

“My son, if you stay here you will surely die, if you leave, maybe you can survive.” This is the advice of Souleymane's mother who feels impotent and unable to secure the life of her son: it is the second cut of the umbilical cord. For us Westerners accustomed to abortion and euthanasia, this news could be called "normal", but for her it is not, not only because she is the mother, but because she is African.

After several adventures, we were able to contact Souleymane's mother, who lives in Côte d'Ivoire and who speaks French discreetly. We told her that her son had arrived in Italy, that he lived in a “casa-famiglia” with seven other children and when we asked her if she wanted to talk to her son, we heard shouts of joy and then, after a brief moment of a three-way conversation in French, the conversation switched to Diula. About 10 months have passed and while before we went to visit the child to speak with him in French, now it is not necessary: he speaks Italian correctly with the typical Syracusan accent, attends middle school and everyone in his class loves him. But it is not like this for everyone. For months, for example, Amadou told us: “Why do people cover their nose when I get on the bus?”


To integrate

“Integration is not an assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity. Rather, contact with others leads to being open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better” (Pope Francis)

For Europeans, this verb is the most difficult to reject. We have been (too) long the centre of the world, we have exported everything, including faith and we have imposed everything, the good and the bad. For many of us, the sun still revolves around the earth and, for this reason, it is difficult to understand that the other is not a threat, but a wealth, always!


Marist Community of Syracuse
Lavalla200> Project – International Communities for a New Beginning


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