CSJ Office for Systemic Justice director Sr. Sue Wilson. Photo courtesy of Sisters of St. Joseph

St. Joe’s Sisters spearhead call to protect migrants

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  • January 25, 2015

TORONTO - Pope Francis called for “the globalization of charity and co-operation” on the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees, but the Sisters of St. Joseph may have beaten the Pope to it with their submission to a United Nations commission in early January.

The Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada is spearheading a worldwide effort by Sisters of St. Joseph (more than 10,000 of them) to bolster protections for refugees and migrants around the world.

“We are calling for the globalization of solidarity through governmental policies that create comprehensive protection of the rights of all migrants,” says a paper submitted to the United Nations Commission for Social Development.

The commission will meet in its 53rd session Feb. 4 to 13 to consider priorities in “strengthening social development in the contemporary world.”

The St. Joseph Sisters around the world maintain a non-governmental organization in New York with consultative status at the UN and therefore have standing to make submissions to its commissions.

“If people of faith can challenge those situations wherever it looks like migrants are becoming scapegoats for what are really bigger economic problems, then I think we can shift the focus to where our concern should be,” Sr. Sue Wilson, director of the CSJ Office for Systemic Justice in London, Ont., told The Catholic Register.

Wilson is the primary author of the Sisters’ submission to the UN. The Sisters are concerned most of all with minimalist and legalistic interpretations of refugee rights, she said.

“In terms of the (United Nations’) convention to protect the rights of refugees, most people would see that as including the right to basic goods and services such as health care,” Wilson said. “The latest policy from the federal government has been trying to really help provinces to pull away from providing health care if they wish to do so. I’m not saying that Canada is minimalist, or that all of our policies are, but there are minimalist interpretations within that.”

The issue is bigger than just refugees for Wilson. She also sees a need to deal fairly with an international, mobile labour market.

“This practice of accepting migrant workers for just a four-year period, then making sure they need to go after that — it’s creating a temporary, disposable work force for Canada,” she said.

Wilson’s worry about disposable workers also finds an echo in the Pope’s message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

“The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable,” wrote Pope Francis.

Wilson’s submission to the UN covers issues as diverse as refugee resettlement, human trafficking, climate change, refugees and the politics of xenophobia. Her hope is that these concerns will be incorporated into a UN report, which will then be referred back to the government of Canada, among others.

But Wilson doesn’t want the issue to remain at the level of government policy and international lobbying. She wants the campaign to reach ordinary Canadian Catholics.

“I hope what it does is affect more than just Catholics who are working on the issues,” she said. “I hope it affects the everyday Catholics who can look at the issues around migration and start to see it as an issue of faith. They can start to see that if I’m going to call myself a Christian, if I believe, then these are some of the issues I need to be concerned about and acting on.”

The St. Joseph Sisters’ statement can be found at crc-canada.org.

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