Migration in the Light of Catholic Social Teaching

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Archbishop Bernard Longley’s offers a moral perspective on resettlement at a Citizens UK Birmingham event held at Birmingham University.

Based on the life and teachings of Jesus, the Church’s teaching has provided the basis for the development of basic principles regarding the right to migrate and the attempt to exercise a God-given human right. At the same time the root causes of migration – poverty, injustice, religious intolerance armed conflicts – must be addressed so that migrants can remain in their homeland and support their families.

Five key principles have emerged which guide the Church’s view on migration issues:

Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.

Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. The Church recognises that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.

The Church recognises the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.

The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.

Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. They are sometimes subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries.

Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.

The Church recognises the right of a sovereign state to control its borders in furtherance of the common good. It also recognises the right of human persons to migrate so that they can realise their God-given rights. These teachings complement each other. While the sovereign state may impose reasonable limits on immigration, the common good is not served when the basic human rights of the individual are violated. In the current condition of the world, in which global poverty, persecution and armed conflict are rampant, the presumption is that persons must migrate in order to support and protect themselves and that nations who are able to receive them should do so whenever possible.