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Never Again in an Era of Mixed Migration

Never again. These are words that I have heard echoed many, many times in my life in reference specifically to the Holocaust and the driving force behind the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. Never again will honorable countries and state entities turn away people who have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group. Never again will the signatories to these documents send refugees back to countries where they face serious threats “to their life or freedom” (a concept known as refoulement). Yes, I believe those who participated in the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol were trying to right some of the wrongs that occurred before, during and after World War II, and at the time, the atrocities of World War II were all they were thinking about in terms of reasons why people are forcibly or involuntarily displaced from their homes.

Protocols were trying to right some of the wrongs that occurred.

As many around the world observed the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, I was confronted with something that I have wrestled with time and time again in the midst of working with displaced people: 

  • Who gets to decide who is a refugee?

  • Is it just to continue using a definition of refugee that was created in 1951 almost 70 years ago? Is it merciful?

  • Is it OK to turn our backs on those who are displaced from their homes due to well-founded fears of threats to their life or freedom but don’t meet the qualifications of refugee?

During my time in Italy, I worked with people who arrived in Italy from various countries in Africa and the Middle East. Most of them were traumatized, not only by the reasons why they left their homeland, but also by the dangerous migration journeys they endured. Many of them were denied refugee status because they did not prove to the government officials who reviewed their asylum requests that they met the 1951 definition of refugee. Some of them were granted a lower level humanitarian status, but in 2017 the Italian government decided not to renew those protections. In 2017, Italy also signed a Memorandum of Understanding of Migration with Libya, a deal that has led to further torture, exploitation, trauma and death of tens of thousands of displaced people. Despite the well documented atrocities that are happening in Libya, on February 2 the Italian government officially extended this deal with Libya for another three years. 

The loud, unified call for “never again” has been demoted to scattered whispers

Of course, Italy is not the only country grappling with the current phenomenon of mixed migration.

January 25 was the one year anniversary of the implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocol (otherwise known as the Remain in Mexico program). Over 57,000 asylum seekers who have asked the United States to hear their cases of well-founded threats to their life or freedom have been sent to Mexico, and less than 1% have been granted protection by the United States government. 

On January 31, President Trump also announced that he was adding six countries to the existing travel ban: Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgystan, Sudan and Tanzania. I encourage you to do some research on what is going on in these six countries; Human Rights Watch is a good place to start. 

These are just a few of the decisions that have been made worldwide since the beginning of the year regarding migration issues.

We also assign value and worth to these labels. 

Mixed migration, especially at the numbers we are seeing in our world today, is difficult, and it feels as though the loud, unified call for “never again” has been demoted to scattered whispers of “well, in this case (or that case) it’s allowed.”  This op-ed piece published by the Washington Post does a good job of exploring the complexities of mixed migration. 

We are human and use categories and labels to help our brains process the world around us. I get that. Unfortunately, in the midst of deciding if someone should fall into the category of refugee, asylum seeker, migrant, internally displaced person, survivor of human trafficking, etc. we also assign value and worth to these labels. 

And people are suffering and dying as we decide who is worthy of the refrain, “never again.”

Are we, as Christians, ready to live into the biblical mandate to care for the foreigner, the stranger, the sojourner and any who are seeking refuge? 

If the answer is yes, reach out to the CRC Office of Social Justice, the Centre for Public Dialogue, or check out this page

Photo by Mika on Unsplash

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