Show compassion towards refugees

  • September 1, 2010
Refugee boatIt has been said that on the question of refugees and immigration there are no easy answers. That’s probably true in the sense that “easy” implies there can be a public consensus, intelligent policy and seamless implementation and oversight. But admitting there are no easy solutions to migration issues needn’t mean the way forward is unclear.

Responding recently to an ongoing expulsion of Roma immigrants from France, Pope Benedict XVI reminded Catholics that compassion and tolerance must always guide our thoughts and actions when confronted by people in need.

The pontiff was addressing a group of French pilgrims but his comments were clearly intended for a wider audience. He called on Catholics to “accept legitimate human diversity” and to practise “universal fraternity” and be more like “Jesus who came to gather together men of every nation and every tongue.” In particular, he urged parents to cultivate families as teaching grounds of tolerance.

Events in France, where more than 8,000 Romanian and Bulgarian Roma (Gypsies) have been deported this year, are being fuelled by currents of fear, anger and intolerance that resemble the waves that rocked the MV Sun Sea in mid-August as it carried 492 Tamil refugees into Canadian waters. Both cases ignited public outcries that muted calm discussion about the obligations of wealthy nations to respond to people in legitimate need.

As reported by Catholic News Service, the French government of President Nicolas Sarkozy is implementing a “voluntary” repatriation policy that pays about $400 per adult and $135 per child to Gypsies who are sent packing to their country of origin, usually Romania or Bulgaria. But the program is hardly voluntary. Those who decline the cash face mandatory expulsion. So the options are leave now with a token payment or leave later with nothing.

Even though the Gypsies settled in France legally, the expulsion policy is popular with French voters. Likewise, Canadians have shown little sympathy for a boatload of Tamils — including 99 women and children — who sailed for weeks in deplorable conditions to reach a safe haven. One poll showed 63 per cent of Canadians wanted the ship turned back.  

The Tamils are scorned because they are perceived as immigration queue jumpers or a potential burden on taxpayers or possible terrorists. There are concerns they may have been delivered by the hands of human smugglers. Canadians hold dear a respect for law, fairness and security and they find it hard to reconcile those values with the noisy rhetoric engulfing the Tamils’ odyssey.

But the Pope tells us to look beyond the rhetoric and, rather than turn our backs, embrace the unfortunate in a spirit of tolerance, compassion and fraternity. Yes, there will be people who abuse our goodwill. But the world is rife with people eager to judge. What it too often lacks is charity.

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