Open Borders or Fortress Europe. A Christian Reflection on Migration and the New EU Pact

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Open Borders or Fortress Europe. A Christian Reflection on Migration and the New EU Pact

In response to the recent finalization of the European Migration Pact, the European Christian Political Movement together with member party Valores, convened in Toledo, Spain, to critically assess the Pact's implications and advocate for a more humane approach to migration in Europe. The conference, titled "Open Border or Fortress Europe. A Christian Reflection on Migration and the New EU Pact" took place on 24 February 2024 at hotel Cigarral el Bosque in Toledo.

The European Pact on Migration and Asylum has sparked contentious debate since its proposal (September 2020), with some arguing that it fails to uphold fundamental principles of human dignity and rights, while others saying that it is giving migrants (and smugglers) carte blanche to enter Europe and imposing unfair burdens on the border countries. In December 2023 a political agreement was struck between legislators on the five most debated aspects of the matter, with other proposals having already been agreed upon: the Screening Regulation, the Eurodac Regulation, the Asylum Procedure Regulation, the Asylum & Migration Management Regulation, and the Crisis/ Force Majeure Regulation.

The speakers at the conference addressed some of these measures, spoke about the Pact’s shortcomings, and proposed alternative frameworks in line with Christian thought and tradition and our European values. Jose Carlos Abellan, professor of law and bioethics, made a brief introduction about the Pact’s five new agreements and asked some probing questions about our duty as hosts, as Christians and as Europeans.

Dr. Noemi Mena Montes, professor of International Affairs & Communication at Radboud University, investigative journalist in migration and asylum, and expert in intercultural communication and reconciliation, opened the conference with defining the terms (migrant, expat, asylum seeker) and busting some myths about migration. She expertly showed data which contradicted what we often hear in the media about the number of migrants, the frequency and their origin. The figures showed that, for example, the majority of refugees and displaced people in Africa move around inside the continent, almost 30 million. The data she presented also showed that irregular immigration into Europe is much, much lower than colloquially believed and much lower than regular immigration. The reason it feels like the problem is bigger than it is is because the media focuses on a few isolated cases or on only one type of phenomena and present it as representative of a larger picture.

Dr. Montes also spoke about the reasons for migration, poverty and lack of opportunities being the main ones. Foreign companies sweeping in and buying fishing and exploring rights in the coastal waters of some African countries was another factor mentioned. The speaker also addressed the myth that migrants are stealing the jobs which the locals could otherwise get, by showing how temporary workers are essential in agriculture for example, and that many times farmers struggle to find workers in season.

She criticized the Migration Pact’s externalisation of borders, via the agreements the EU made with Tunisia and Marocco where they receive aid on the condition they keep migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Dr. Montes ended her presentation by talking about another myth we oftentimes hear, namely that most migrants are men. She recounted the personal stories of a few women she met and talked about their struggles and how their challenges during displacement or migration can be very different and much more dangerous than we can know. Besides poverty or lack of employment, women also may be prevented from getting and education, may be facing horrific physical and sexual abuse, including genital mutilation, forced marriage etc.

The second speaker, Dr. Jean- Frédéric Poisson, president of VIA party in France, author, and board member of ECPM, invited the audience to reflect around the question: Do we have a duty to welcome foreigners? He began by dissecting some of reasons invoked which may underpin this duty: namely the need for cheap manual labour, the declining birth rate, charity, the colonial past, etc. He reminded the audience that as Christians, indeed, we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves, and our neighbour is every human being no matter how close or far.

While he concluded that the duty is valid, even if only because we share the same human nature, Dr. Poisson also invited us to use prudence and wisdom in fulfilling this duty. He spoke about two dangers connected to the process of migration: the overwhelm of the host country’s systems on one hand and the uprootedness, displacement and indignities which migrants suffer. He mentioned as possible solution the view which ECPM also holds, namely that the richer, host countries from the North and West should insist in their foreign policies towards ‘source’ countries on the respect for fundamental rights, rule of law, protection of women and other measures which would reduce or eliminate displacement and the need to migrate in the first place. Cooperation and economic agreements between countries should lead to development and people thriving in their country of origin, not merely enriching the West. Mr. Poisson ended his presentation with a call to resistance against fragmentation and an ‘us versus them’ mentality. He encouraged the audience to hold fast to inherited values and traditions, to the primacy of the family, to the love of neighbour, and to reject the idea that unfettered mass migration is a solution to all that ails Europe.

Dr. Alfonso Galdón, president of Valores party in Spain and professor of environmental science, spoke about his party’s approach to migration. He criticized the powers in Brussels who have abandoned the Christian values on which the European project was founded and denounced the failures of multiculturalism. Europe is having a crisis of identity, forgetting its roots, and therefore abandoning boundaries and limits. He recalled the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas regarding the reception and treatment of immigrants, who said that those who choose to live as guests in the host countries merely abiding by the responsibilities which correspond them but without fully integrating, that they should be shown mercy but not given citizenship. While those who wish to fully integrate and assimilate and seek the common good of the country which receives them should be considered citizens from the third generation. St. Thomas also advised receiving the foreigners with whom the host country might have an affinity, like common language or ancestry, common values and culture etc.

Dr. Galdon reminded the audience that every person has the right to shelter and a home and that corrupt governments are to blame for the instability and poverty people often experience which causes them to leave their home. And then, once they immigrate to a foreign country, many times they form separate communities and segregate themselves from the host people and culture. This is why his party, Valores, values greatly this principle of affinity guiding the process of immigration, saying that Spain should favour immigrants of Hispanic heritage, as they have the same culture and language as Spain and same values as Europe.

The conference ended with questions from the public, which was comprised of people from Latin America as well who shared their perspective on the challenges of migration in Europe.

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