Statement by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Croatian Conference of Bishops.
The Justice and Peace Commission of the Croatian Conference of Bishops has already spoken several times about the migrant crisis and its consequences, not only in our homeland and the surrounding countries but also throughout the European Union. For example, in 2015 we pointed out that the strategic thinking about the actual causes and possible resolution of this crisis on the national, European and international levels was largely obsolete, although receiving and caring for refugees are primarily the responsibilities of the states and governments, i.e., the competent state bodies. Although the war in Syria and the situation throughout the Near East have slightly calmed down since then, migrants continue to arrive at our borders, albeit in small numbers. Therefore, the commission wants to make another contribution to raising public awareness about this problem and, in the spirit of the gospel, which promotes justice and peace, provide some possible solutions that would, first of all, help people in need, while at the same time preserve national security and avoid possible incidents at our borders.
1. Migrations and Mobilities. It has been five years since the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union, a historically unique union of states, nations and citizens, and a community of peace and solidarity. As a full member of this international community, Croatia is called to share all the benefits but, also, the difficulties that strain this community of states. Namely, despite all the attempts by those responsible, the European Union has still not found the right response to the arriving migrants fleeing the horrors of war and persecution, as well as the poverty and misery in certain Asian and African countries. Therefore, we may speak of a type of mobility of peoples because the current wave of migration, largely made up of refugees from the Near and Middle East, but also persecuted Christians from the oil-rich regions of the Sub-Saharan African countries and economic migrants from various parts of the world, has swept over Europe.
This influx of people of various nationalities and worldviews has brought certain cultural challenges. In this sense, occupied primarily with protecting our own security or economic interests, we often fail to see human beings like ourselves in these unfortunates but instead see only foreigners with religions and cultures that are different from our own. We forget, however, that among them are many Near Eastern and other Christians, today the most persecuted religious communities in the world, some of whom still speak the language spoken by Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Similarly, we forget that today in the world, according to UN estimates, 68.5 million people have been driven fro their hearths and homes. Of this number, 40 million are still in their native countries, more than 25.4 million are living in exile, and 3.1 million are seeking refuge and asylum in the free countries of the world.
2. The Four Freedoms of the European Union and the “Rejection of Life.” The citizens of the Republic of Croatia and European Union know that the EU boasts of the “freedom of movement for capital, goods, services and people,” but that such freedom only pertains to the EU as a whole. Therefore, immigration policy does not come under EU authority. Moreover, it should be remembered that of these four freedoms, only two have been fully implemented, the freedom of the movement of capital and that of goods, while the latter two are still behind in certain areas. However, owing to the division of authority in the European Union, which is still predominantly economic integration, three years ago countries such as Germany were independently able to invite potential immigrants without any limitations whatsoever and, thus, create chaos in the “transit” region of Southeastern Europe.
This occurred because Europeans, in general, and we Croats, in particular, are increasingly less “open to life” and are gradually, volens-nolens, renouncing our future. Europe is rapidly aging and demographic estimates predict that there will soon be a shortage of people to provide economic growth, especially the sustainability of the health care and pension systems. This is not only a German problem but also Croatian, Baltic, Italian, Spanish etc. In the face of such difficulties, the European Union is currently seeking a way to determine common criteria for immigration policy but also protect its external borders. In confronting these needs, the EU is presently deeply divided. From one side there are voices of human and Christian concern and calls for human rights, from another side national priorities and interests, as well egoism, and from a third side come fears of threats to the identities and values of peoples and regions, all the way to “invasions of terrorists.” Amidst the current media clamor, populist alarms and political demagogy, this statement merely attempts to clarify Christian and civil terminology for rights and interests, as well as identity and European values.
3. Integration or Assimilation? Politicians have accustomed us to view all difficulties through “national interests,” rather than through the criteria of rights and justice. Nevertheless, human rights are an ethical and civilizational achievement, for which Christianity and enlightenment have provided the foundations, and our churches have long been refuges for the persecuted and disenfranchised. Two great world wars and their horrors were “needed” for Christians, together with other opponents of the three totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, to be among the founders of the right to asylum and the duty to protect refugees, first of all in principle, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations (1948), and then specifically through the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Geneva, 1951), the Dublin Regulation adopted by the European Union (2013) and individual EU directives. The UN Convention, which was also ratified by the Republic of Croatia, provides protection to persons persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
As for those who were driven from their homes by war, the international community must work to make it possible for them to return. Nevertheless, the question remains open concerning how to treat those people who, owing to natural disasters, and tomorrow there will also be irreversible climate changes, can no longer live in the lands of their ancestors. In other words, when it comes to those fleeing wars or natural disasters, especially those who seek work and bread, or a better life outside their homelands due to poverty and misery, the European Union needs to come to an agreement and receive them according to the abilities and needs of the individual member states. However, it is necessary here to respect certain civilizational and ethical principles, such as, for example, that the splitting up of families and civil discrimination must be prohibited, and a spirit of altruism and solidarity should be fostered.
On the other hand, however, of all the aforementioned categories, it is necessary to demand and expect respect for the customs and values of the host countries, while at the same time facilitating the integration of refugees into the society by organizing language courses and familiarizing them with the exercise of their civic duties. In other words, it is neither good nor fair to demand their “assimilation,” that is to say, the abandonment of their customs, religions and languages in the private sphere, but it is justified to expect and demand that they respect the law and civil order in the public sphere. In this regard, illegal border crossings are unacceptable, especially without any documents, because they endanger national sovereignty, public order, peace, and the safety of citizens, as are solutions that would lead to the creation of “reservations” or the ghettoization of migrants on the margins (external or internal) of the European Union.
4. “I was a stranger and you/did not/receive me” (Mt 25: 34‒43). We are being increasingly confronted with this choice by Pope Francis, who stresses the Christian imperative in these times of unrest and anxiety. In a particular way, Pope Francis warns us that we must not remain indifferent to the misery and misfortune of those in need. Therefore, what should we do, as people, Christians and citizens, and among all the alternatives, what is actually feasible? In the united territory of the EU and the divided world, we must discuss these matters as soon as possible because there will not be even one generation between the current migrant crisis and potential population mobilities due to climate changes. Are we aware that without our active assistance and involvement, there will remain only two tragic “solutions” on the clouded horizon: wars and/or pandemics?
Therefore, we should already start the next step after the aforementioned, simple differentiation of displaced persons from refugees and economic migrants, and as people, Christians, and Croatian and European citizens within the framework of the European Union, we need to discuss and propose how to help other people in the world so that they can remain or return to their homelands. In addition to economic development, integral development in the world is needed in order to prevent the factors that cause forced migrations. Pope Francis calls for precisely such integral development, for which he instituted the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (August 17, 2016), within which the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace operates. In this context, the European Union has a large role that must not stop with an occasional gift to developing countries but should provide actual economic assistance that will include the integral development of individual nations, all of which can be mutually beneficial.
In our reflections and statement, we have limited ourselves to the European dimension of this problem because we see that it divides us, since, on the one hand, the peace and coexistence in the countries to which people are immigrating is being jeopardized and, on the other, conflicts and friction are developing among EU member states. We have refrained from mentioning the Croatian experiences of persecution and exile, migration and unsuccessful returns, because we intend to meet with our sister Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina and issue a joint statement.
In Zagreb, July 17, 2018
+ Đuro Hranić, Archbishop of Đakovo-Osijek
President of the Justice and Peace Commission
Croatian Conference of Bishops