by Sophie in ‘t Veld, Member of the European Parliament
Last weekend Italy and Malta refused to offer safe port to a ship with some 600 migrants on board, including pregnant women and children. The rescue ship is currently floating on the Mediterranean without clarity on its destination, a direct result of our lacking moral compass. The countries that consider themselves to be profoundly Catholic now betraying Christian values by turning away people looking for shelter.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric has been ramped up in recent years, to the point where it has become mainstream political discourse. Language matters. Anti-immigrant rhetoric leads to anti-immigrant attitudes, which in turn lead to anti-immigrant policies that are not complying with basic EU values. The Belgian Interior Minister Theo Francken stated last week that perhaps the European Convention on Human Rights and Court judgements should be “circumvented”.
Concerns and criticism voiced by civil society over the anti-immigration climate have been dismissed as “left wing”, and governments are increasingly aggressive in their attempts to shut up Human Rights NGOs. But now criticism is coming from corners that are more difficult to dismiss, ignore or shut up: churches, scientists and local authorities.
A 1000 university professors in Belgium have signed a petition calling for an “end to the de-humanisation” of migrants, pointing out how that removes all barriers on the path to atrocities. Countless local authorities are defying the harsh rules proclaimed by national governments, and they give shelter to asylum seekers, like the city of Palermo that offered to take in the 600 migrants.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for more humanity in immigration policies, and he has sharply condemned the policies that have turned the Mediterranean into a mass grave. A coalition of Christian organisations is set to start a campaign urging for more humane treatment of migrants. As a staunch atheist, I wholeheartedly welcome this campaign.
Remarkably, several member parties of the traditionally pro-European Christian Democrat family, are engaging increasingly in nationalist rhetoric, invoking “Christian values” as a national feature. They argue that people who do not embrace their interpretation of Christian values, do not belong here, that they are somehow inferior, less human, not deserving the same treatment as fellow-countrymen. Christian Democrats quite literally not practising what they preach.
Sure, immigration is a big challenge, and so is integration of those who will stay here. We urgently need to achieve efficient management of migration flows. The European Parliament has shown the way by proposing a strong reform leading to a harmonised Common European Asylum System. Unfortunately, the 28 government leaders on the wealthiest continent on earth have been disgracefully unable to agree on a common asylum and migration policy, leaving it to the front line member states to absorb a large share of the migrant flows. But none of this absolves us from the moral obligation to treat every person like a human being. In some places migrants receive a warm welcome and support. But in several places in Europe migrants live in conditions that make me feel ashamed to be European.
Migration policies are not just a mathematical exercise of numbers, nor can it just be Fortress Europe. We must be guided by our moral compass. That may be Christian values or humanist values or just common decency. Today those values are sorely lacking in the migration debate. It is time for some humanity, charity and dignity in immigration policies.