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Practising hospitality in an era of new forms of migration

22 February 2005

Memorandum and recommendations adopted by the WCC Central Committee, Geneva,
15-22 February, 2005

Ten years ago, in September 1995, the WCC Central Committee adopted a statement
on uprooted people called "A Moment to Choose: Risking to be with
Uprooted People". The term "uprooted people" was used to refer to all those who
are compelled by severe political, economic, and social conditions to leave their
lands, including refugees, internally displaced people and forced migrants. In
fact, the reasons why people are compelled to leave their communities are often
mixed. People flee wars because their lives are threatened, but also often because
their livelihoods are destroyed. Those fleeing persecution may use the same migratory
routes as those who leave their communities in search of jobs.

While the difficulties encountered by those seeking security and survival in other
communities are not new and have been addressed in previous WCC statements,
there have been disturbing developments over the past decade. This statement
focuses on two of these developments: new patterns of migration as a result of
globalization and the effects of the events of 11 September, 2001, on the movement
of people.

In this context of new patterns of migration, it is important to state that migration
is normal and that it is a part of our history. But many people are forced to
migrate because of dramatic events. Christ calls us to offer hospitality towards
migrants and refugees. The theme of hospitality was highlighted at the 2004
Plenary Meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC around the text:
"Receive one another, therefore, as Christ has received you for the glory of God"
(Romans 15:7). The daily challenges faced by today's migrants and refugees demonstrate
that we have much to do to translate this call to hospitality into reality.

Globalization of economies

As the integration of national economies into the global economy has intensified
disparities between rich and poor, more people seek to leave their home countries
in search of better economic opportunities - or survival. According to the
International Organization for Migration, there are 175 million migrants in the
world today. The revolution in communication and transportation, also a consequence
of globalization, increases the possibilities for people both to know that
living standards are better elsewhere and to find means of moving towards other
countries. While economic migration was dominated by young single men in the
past, today more than 50 percent are women migrating to other countries for
employment.

While globalization has meant that the movement of some people has become
easier, governments of countries in both the North and South have generally pursued
policies to keep out those migrants who seek to enter their countries outside
of legal channels. As it becomes harder to reach the borders of some wealthy
countries, new destination countries for migrants are emerging. Thus Central and
Eastern European countries have received many more migrants as the routes to
Western European countries have become more difficult, or asylum seekers are
returned to these countries. Secondly, as entry into rich countries becomes more
difficult, migrants resort to increasingly dangerous routes, whether by boarding
rickety boats across the Mediterranean or crossing inhospitable land borders into
the US. The number of deaths of people seeking to enter rich countries is rising.
Thirdly, would-be migrants increasingly turn to smugglers and traffickers to cross
borders. Another consequence is that many refugees no longer seek asylum, but
rather stay in irregular situations for fear that their justified claim would lead to
deportation to a third country.

Emerging trends in migration

Trafficking involves recruiting and/or transporting people using violence, other
forms of coercion, or providing misleading information in order to exploit them
economically or sexually (through for example, forced prostitution and bonded
labour). Trafficked persons are often in conditions of slavery and are no longer
free to move or to decide on their destinies. Women and children are particularly
vulnerable to trafficking. UNICEF reports that child trafficking doubled in
the decade between 1989 and 1999. Trafficking has now become big business. It
is estimated that 600,000-800,000 human beings are trafficked every year with
annual profits of US$8-10 billion.

Given demographic trends of low fertility rates and ageing populations, developed
countries need migrants to maintain their standards of living and provide
tax revenues to pay pensions to their elderly populations. This widely shared analysis
stands in sharp contradiction to the actual design of migration policies - where
they exist at all.

Indeed, for the host countries, migration poses many challenges. In developed
countries, migrants, particularly undocumented migrants, are working at jobs
which are often disdained by the local population. In many countries, some politicians
have found it easier to blame immigrants than to admit their own inability
to develop and implement necessary social programmes. Migration also leads
to increasingly multi-cultural and multi-faith societies which raise questions
about national identity. Instead of tolerance and mutual respect, however, migrants
are often subjected to xenophobic and racist attitudes and behaviour. In fact,
racism is increasing dramatically in developing countries while employment and
social conditions are deteriorating, also due to the liberalization of economic markets.

On the positive side, a number of countries have long-standing policies and programmes
to promote "multiculturalism", which assist both migrant groups and
their host communities to build mutual respect. Churches have been transformed
by welcoming migrants and the establishment of growing numbers of migrant
churches is enriching the ecumenical landscape in many regions.

However, programmes to promote multi-cultural approaches are under enormous
pressure. While multi-cultural societies are a description of reality in most countries,
policies to restrict rights, particularly social but also fundamental rights of
migrants, are pursued more and more. Too often, the labour and service are welcome,
but the persons are not. Restrictionist policies leave more and more migrants
in insecurity, and they in turn often seek security in their own ethnic communities.
It seems like a vicious circle, a self-fulfilling prophecy of failed integration,
leading to ever-higher hurdles to integration and increasing fears in societies.

Migration also has an impact on the migrants' countries of origin, with the so-called
"brain drain" of migrants who leave their countries. According to the International
Organization for Migration, Africa has already lost one-third of its human capital.
The examples are many. One-third of Ethiopia's medical doctors have left the country.
In the 1980s, Ghana lost 60 percent of its graduating doctors.

Migrants send money home. The remittances from migrants have increased from
an estimated US$2 billion in 1970 to US$100 billion in 2003; some research
indicates that the amount flowing through informal channels is an additional
US$100 billion. This figure far surpasses the US$68.5 billion which rich countries
currently spend on official development assistance and represents a substantial
portion of national GDP in many Southern countries. As the amount of remittances
grows, governments are increasingly anxious to access these hard currency
funds through taxation on money transfers. While some of these funds are used
for development of infrastructure, there are few incentives for migrants to invest
and gain pension and social security through such transfers. Migrants complain
also about high bank charges - often reaching 20-30 percent of the total - which
they must pay to send money home.

Security approach to migration

Since 9/11, governments have sought to prevent the entry of "terrorists" into their
territories through a host of new restrictive measures. New laws, stricter passport
controls, heftier carrier sanctions, heightened visa restrictions, and increasingly
militarized borders are intended to control entry into national territory. These
policies have a particular impact on migrants coming from certain regions. In
fact, many tourists and ecumenical visitors have experienced the consequences of
tightened immigration policies and visa requirements.

Detention of asylum-seekers, already widely practised by Northern governments,
has increased since 11 September, 200l. In Australia every man, woman and child
who arrives without a visa to seek asylum is subject to mandatory, indefinite and
non-reviewable detention. Asylum-seekers intercepted en route to Australia by
the Navy are forcibly transferred to detention and processing centres in the Pacific
where the responsibility and enforceability of human rights is weak and unclear.

Some European governments now wish to emulate Australia's "Pacific Solution"
and are exploring new ways of shifting the responsibility for asylum-seekers to
third countries by setting up camps in other regions. While officially these proposals
were withdrawn from the political agenda of the European Union after a
study demonstrated that the concept is not feasible, the idea continues to come
up. There is a tendency to transfer the responsibility for examination of asylum
claims and for refugee protection to third countries with weaker judicial guarantees
for refugees and less economic potential to care for and integrate refugees.

Deportations of foreigners are becoming more common. Governments which in
the past tolerated the presence of asylum-seekers whose claims had been rejected
are now rounding people up and sending them back to the country of origin or
a third country. In the case of Central America and the Caribbean, these deportations
are having serious social consequences, particularly when those deported
have a record of criminal and/or gang activity.

Security concerns in some countries have led to violations of civil liberties and
reduced legal certainty of residence status or legal redress. In a context where
migrants, particularly of Arabic origin or Muslim faith, are suspected of being
potential criminals or "terrorists", racial/ethnic attacks are dramatically increasing.

Increased military involvement in humanitarian affairs

Even as people continue to be displaced by war and civil conflicts, humanitarian
assistance to refugees and the displaced is becoming more dangerous. Attacks
against humanitarian workers are increasing - in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya
and many other places. The increasing use of humanitarian assistance as a tool of
foreign policy and the growing involvement of military forces in providing humanitarian
aid have blurred the lines between humanitarian assistance and political
motivations. Humanitarian space is becoming more limited. Conflicts continue
to displace people, but solutions are becoming more elusive. Well over half of the
world's refugees have been displaced for more than 10 years, without basic prospects
for repatriation, local integration or resettlement.

While there is a substantial body of law upholding the rights of refugees to be
offered protection, these international instruments have been weakened over the
past decade. Governments are implementing the basic provisions of international
refugee and human rights laws in more restrictive ways. It has been 15 years
since the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and
Members of their Families was opened for signature, and two years since it came
into force, the Convention has still not yet been signed by any government of a
country hosting large numbers of migrants. Migration management - rather than
migrants' rights or justice - has become the watchword of international discussions
about migration, the focus still limited to controlling and preventing migration.

Analyzing global patterns of migration reveals an enormous gap between the
gospel imperative to practise hospitality towards strangers and the actual poli-
cies and practice of governments to close borders. We confess that there are
Christians who reject those who are different from them. At the same time, thousands
of individual Christians and congregations are working with refugees and
migrants in increasingly difficult contexts and need to be supported. Thoughtful,
researched alternative models do exist to counter harsher government policies;
these need to be shared and used as a basis for common action. Churches are deeply
involved in community education and advocacy at the local and national level
and the need for international cooperation in advocacy for the uprooted has never
been greater.

Recommendations

The Central Committee, meeting in Geneva, February 15-22, 2005, calls upon
the World Council of Churches, its member churches and all Christians:

• To encourage and support churches and Christians who are engaged in defence
of lives and protection of all uprooted people: refugees, internally displaced
persons and migrants;
• To affirm a culture of encounter, hospitality and cordial welcome for migrants,
and to identify positive examples where churches have worked together effectively
to offer alternatives to restrictionist policies;
• To raise awareness within church constituencies of the resources and assets
which migrants and refugees bring to their communities including arranging
encounters between host and uprooted people to break down prejudices, fears
and stereotypes;
• To organize prayer meetings and awareness raising campaigns around International
Migrants Day (18th December) or World Refugee Day (20th June) or other
special days on such themes in individual countries;
• To work with churches and related organizations in regional and global ecumenical
networks for uprooted people to respond to the needs of people forced
to cross national borders, to advocate for the respect of their fundamental human
rights, and to build capacity to implement programmes by churches in different
regions;
• To promote multicultural ministry, both in training for local church staff and
through exchange between churches in host countries and countries of origin
and to deepen theological reflection on the theme of hospitality and uprootedness;
• To include the concerns of uprooted people, particularly racist violence against
migrants, where appropriate, in events organized around the Decade to Overcome
Violence;
• To combat the trafficking of human beings, particularly women and children
for sexual exploitation; to work with governments, churches and concerned
non-governmental organizations to ensure that the victims of traffickers receive
the necessary treatment and respect; and to oppose efforts by governments to
use the existence of trafficking as an excuse to restrict further immigration;
• To ensure that both advocacy and assistance programmes are based on a recognition
of the particular ways that gender, race, ethnicity and class interact to
intensify the marginalization of uprooted people;
• To take a proactive role in inter-religious dialogue on issues of society and religious
communities to overcome conflicts within society;
• To analyse and study the political, economic, social and environmental reasons
for uprooting of people and in this context examine the role of governments
in creating conditions that uproot people or place migrants in difficult
situations, and develop educational material for the whole life of the church
on causes which uproot people;
• To challenge governments who seek to introduce ever more restrictionist entry
policies and to challenge the trend towards using security concerns to justify
detention of all undocumented migrants and/or asylum-seekers;
• To press governments not to pursue actions to criminalize migrants or those
who seek to protect them and to encourage governments to do more to create
and facilitate welcoming societies and to foster the integration of refugees and
migrants into their communities;
• To insist, as a matter of principle, that undocumented migrants and asylumseekers
are detained only in exceptional circumstances and that in those exceptional
circumstances, to ensure that people are detained for only a limited time
and can avail themselves of judicial review. Under no circumstances should
conditions of detention for migrants and asylum-seekers be lower than that for
convicted criminals.
• To seek ways of increasing collaboration between churches and related organizations
to uphold international law and international institutions established
to provide protection and assistance to those who are uprooted;
• To promote ratification and implementation of the International Convention
and Protocol relating to Refugees (1951/1967) and the International Convention
on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their
Families (1990); and
• To recognize that humanitarian laws relating to migrants, refugees and internally
displaced people are under constant review and revision, because of changing
international environment. Churches are called to monitor and undertake
research to equip themselves to participate in these intricate issues that are
likely to resolve in change of laws and legislation, on both international and
national levels.