African nations are characterised by persistent ‘injustice’ so European countries must open their borders to Africans, whose circumstances often ‘force’ them to migrate, Pope Francis has said in his Christmas message.
At no point does Francis acknowledge the complexity of questions around immigration and the issues the recent mass migratory movements from Africa and elsewhere cause for countries. He doesn’t acknowledge the challenges nations face of housing so many newcomers, and the pressure on public services, infrastructure and jobs. He doesn’t mention the huge impact an influx of largely poorer newcomers has on the poor of a country in particular and their communities and neighbourhoods. He doesn’t make any allowance for the challenges for the culture, traditions and identity of a nation when its ethnic minority populations grow quickly and integration is weak. Neither does he show awareness of the impact on migrants’ countries of origin when their young and most energetic citizens emigrate in large numbers to richer countries, rather than stay and be part of the solution to their countries’ problems. He rightly shows great concern for those who perish on the journey, but gives no recognition that it is partly the lack of adequate border security that drives the deadly market in illegal transportation of people.
The Pope’s understanding of immigration appears to be very one dimensional, evincing no grasp of the many and complex issues that affect a responsible country’s approach to the issue. It is overly moralistic in its approach to what is a very political issue, focusing exclusively on individuals and their plight, apparently assuming all who emigrate have no real choice in the matter, and failing to locate issues of immigration in their wider context of the history and destiny of nations.
At this point in time we need nuanced interventions from church leaders on an issue of great concern for the public. We don’t need simplistic moralising that shows no understanding of why nations and peoples might want to control and limit immigration, and why it might be reasonable and fair for them to do so.