SCALABRINIAN Father Fabio Baggio urged people to discover the human face of migrants and refugees.
“We are not talking about numbers, we are talking about people,” Fr Baggio said.
“The faces of people and stories of people are much more important than the numbers.”
Fr Baggio, who leads the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development Migrants and Refugees Section, addressed the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office national conference on Wednesday, August 7.
In his role, Fr Baggio worked directly under Pope Francis and said the Pope was “a very good boss”.
His office supports the Church – locally, regionally, internationally – in accompanying people at all stages of migration, especially those fleeing or displaced as well as survivors and victims of human trafficking.
His keynote address at the conference focused on the challenges and realities of migration.
Why do migrants migrate?
Central to the issue of migration was the big question – why do people move?
Fr Baggio said with millions of people migrating across the world each year, uncovering the “root cause” was invaluable.
During his presentation, he showed a map of Africa and the Middle East with data collected over 2010-15 about the high levels of people fleeing or displaced by ongoing large-scale conflict.
“These (conflicts) are producing millions, millions, millions of displaced people,” he said.
Simply looking at the numbers might lead some to think war was the root cause.
But Fr Baggio said people needed to look deeper to the human face of migration.
“Even a single life, a single family, is very relevant,” he said.
He said the underlying motivation of all migration was the idea that “where I’m going, I will be happier”.
“I will find life, I will survive, and I will be happier – me and my family,” Fr Baggio said.
He said the pursuit of happiness was the main reason for migration.
“And this (pursuit of happiness) cannot be stopped because it’s part of something which was put in our heart since our creation,” he said.
And knowing migration can’t be stopped was essential to addressing the challenges and realities of migration.
Welcome, protect, promote and integrate
Four verbs guided his office’s approach to migration – welcome, protect, promote and integrate – and guided the rest of his address.
Addressing the first verb, “welcome”, Fr Baggio said people had to face up to challenges like the throwaway culture.
He explained throwaway culture as the “idea where we are as useful as we can serve to the interests of others, and as soon as we are not useful anymore, we can be thrown away”.
“The culture of waste is a culture that says I am the centre of the world and everything is of interest as far as it serves me.”
Fr Baggio said because migrants and refugees weren’t part of the local community, they could be blamed for problems and ultimately “thrown away”.
But he said on the other side of the throwaway culture was an opportunity to create a new culture.
He said his office would urge people to use the mechanics of globalisation to build a culture of solidarity.
Fr Baggio discussed other issues like a lack of preparation from local communities, unbalanced sharing of responsibilities among countries, negative narratives bound to crime and terrorism, and political usage of fear.
The other verbs – “protect”, “promote” and “integrate” – came with their challenges too.
Protection, particularly, was essential.
Fr Baggio’s office worked to protect people against issues like human trafficking, human rights violations and people smuggling.
He said illegal migrant smugglers were managing most of the migration in the world today.
“(People smugglers) enter because there’s a huge gain, and they say these days it’s more profitable … to smuggle migrants instead of smuggle drugs,” he said.
“Again all of this is a challenge for all of us,” he said, “it is calling us to fight … against the commodification of people.”