Church’s Concern for Migrant Workers

Church’s Concern for Migrant Workers

By Sinapan Samydorai

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.” Leviticus 19:33-34 [Old Testament]. The New Testament, tell us that [Matthew 8:20] Jesus was born in a manger, Mary and Joseph took refugee in Egypt to escape prosecution from Herod, and later became a preacher. Parable of the Good Samaritan [John 4:1-30] teaches how to show concern towards a stranger in need. The Catholic Church’s concern for migrants is revealed in Catholic social teachings, in encyclical letters, and in ecumenical council documents.

The issue of migration is link to social development. There is urgent need to advocate for the rights of migrants and their families to ensure a dignified and decent working and living condition. The Encyclical Gaudium.et Spes, no.66 express that there should be no discrimination in wages and working conditions of migrant workers. They contribute to economic development. Migrant workers should not be treated as mere tools of production but as persons with families. The Church respects the person’s dignity, rights, and responsibility to participate in civil society. Pope John Paul II has dealt with the working condition of migrant workers in his encyclical on human work or “Laborem Exercens”. The Pope recognize that people have a right to immigrant. The pope also highlighted the need for legislation to secure the emigrants’ rights, to bring benefit to the emigrant’s personal, family and social life. The Pope express that “emigration in search of work must in no way become an opportunity for financial or social exploitation.” Thus, the Pope advocates for workers rights and decent working conditions.

The core principle expressed in the encyclical Laborem Exercens:

“values and the profound meaning of work itself require that capital should be at the service of labour and not labour at the service of capital.”

“The closing of borders is often caused not merely by a reduced or no longer existing need for immigrant work-force, but by a production system based on the logic of labor exploitation. Until recently, the wealth of the industrialized countries was locally produced, with the contribution of numerous immigrants. With the displacement of capital and business activities, a major part of that wealth is now produced in developing countries, where cheap labor is available. In this way, the industrialized societies have discovered how to benefit from a cheap labor supply without having to bear the burden of immigrants. Thus, these workers run the risk of being reduced to new “serfs” bound to movable capital which, among the many situations of poverty, chooses from one time to the next those circumstances where manpower is cheapest. It is clear that such a system is unacceptable; in fact, it practically ignores the human dimension of work.” Pope John Paul said at the Fourth World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (Vatican City, 5-10 October 1998)

Pastoral Care of Migrants

In 1992, the First Consultation for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees in Asia was held in Manila, Philippines organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, jointly with the FABC Office of Human Development and the Episcopal Commission for Migration and Tourism of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

In 1996, the Second Consultation for the pastoral care of migrants in Asia, noted the following development in Church action based on the first consultation’s recommendations:

  1. Anti-illegal recruitment campaign initiated in the Philippines;
  2. The start of “the formation of active and creative migrant communities through occasional missions,” lay leadership development and renewal of groups;
  3. The issuance of three or more collective pastoral statements of Bishops’ Conferences regarding state policy shifts on the refugee problem;
  4. The introduction of mini-courses on migration in some seminaries; 5.The organization of the Ecumenical Watch Committee to pursue the campaign for the ratification of the UN International Convention on Migrants and Their Families; and 6.The undertaking of steps towards the orderly exchange of clergy and pastoral workers between sending and receiving countries.

The Second Consultation observed changes in trends: Asian migrant workers’ were moving to East Asia; undocumented workers increasing; human trafficking worsen; more women migrate for jobs. From 1996 to 2000, the Second Consultation prioritised five areas of pastoral commitments: labor migration, migrant women, refugees and internally displaced persons, the family, and human rights.

Challenges For Migrant Workers’ Advocacy

The Church needs to address the issues faced by the migrant workers, through the social and pastoral plans, to be relevant and responsive to the needs of the migrant workers. Migration is a human right.

We need to better understand the causes of migration to overcome the root cause and not only with the consequences of migration. While Churches of origin work to ensure justice in sending countries, they must join the receiving Churches in moving sociopolitical and economic structures that marginalize the majority who are poor in Asia.

Social advocacy is understood as an ongoing process of influencing decision makers with a commitment in the pursuit of truth and thus bring changes to social policy or to enforce laws or to repeal them if they violate norms of human rights. It is also a process of offering alternatives by enacting new laws and influencing behaviour and changes in lifestyle. The process of social advocacy thus begins with identifying the needs and rights of the disadvantaged in society, involving a comprehensive, in-depth social analysis and reflection, including faith analysis. It calls for justice and solidarity with the suffering, and working towards the creation of equitable power structures. The dimensions of social advocacy includes awareness education and communication about issues and strategies for appropriate actions, such as, creating networks and alliances, techniques for monitoring and lobbying of decisions-makers, to organise public campaigns and actions. The creation of alternatives is indeed the greatest challenge for promoters of social advocacy.