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When Migrating Turns to Tragedy

We spoke briefly with the Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, Michel Roy, who was in Montreal in February 2012. Caritas is a global confederation of numerous Catholic charitable organizations in 165 countries, including in Canada Development and Peace.

Caritas Internationalis notices a growing number of migrants in the world. "The phenomenon has been growing steadily since the late '80s," says Roy. "When we speak of ‘migrants’, ‘refugees’, and ‘displaced persons’, we mean both the people inside the country and those outside. The phenomenon of economic migrants has grown, as well as migrants caused by the civil wars of the ‘90s in some countries."

For example, economic migrants must leave their land because it is more and more coveted by international commercial investors. This situation occurs, among other areas, in Macha, Zambia. Land is now used to produce biofuels. Local people claim having been forcibly displaced, so that this form of agriculture could be produced. Thus in September 2010, 3,000 people saw their food supply and their homes burned.

For many, the only solution is to migrate to towns. "They cluster around large cities," says Mr. Roy. Since work is not always available, the next step is to leave the country. This is an important phenomenon in Africa and South America. In addition to natural obstacles, such as deserts, mountains and rivers, migrants also face human obstacles. First of all, the smugglers, who act as if they were trading goods; then, the politicians from Northern countries, who strengthen their national immigration policies.

"Faced with a mass phenomenon, people [in the West] are afraid. Also, national policies can create fear," says Mr. Roy. For example, in France, his home country, he noticed a fundamental difference between those who interact with immigrants and those who vote Front National (FN). "It makes a difference when you meet face-to-face a migrant family: the human relationship is fundamental. People who vote FN are people who live where there are no migrants. It’s a rejection for ideological reasons," he specifies.

Tragedies looming

The rejection of these migrants sometimes leads to tragic consequences.

African migrants are sent back and left to themselves in the desert. In Mexico, very aggressive street gangs attack the trains heading North on which migrants travel illegally. These gangsters steal the little they possess.

"This phenomenon of economic migrants has grown and continues to grow," says Roy. One of the main causes is the globalization of markets. Indeed, the Northern countries invest in the Southern countries, but "what interests the multinational companies, are the raw materials." The Secretary-General continues: "Many developing countries have strong economic growth. They export raw materials, but these materials do not contribute to the country's development." The African continent is a good example: "Africa has an average economic growth of 5%, but where are these 5%?,” he asks.

Furthermore, when it comes to tragic migrations, we can think of the case of those—mainly women—who arrive in Northern countries, including Canada, and become domestic workers. "It is an insidious form of human trafficking," says Michel Roy. "The bosses take away the worker’s passport. The people work around the clock." Then there are all those who do not find takers... These people may end up ‘sold’ for their organs, which sadly has become a booming 'market'.

These are very serious problems, and Caritas Internationalis treats them with great importance.

A Ray of Hope

Mr. Roy believes that "the Church is faithful and courageous" because of the work its members perform on the field, and of the powerful papal messages addressed every January 15 for the World Day of Migrants 


Interesting Links

A study of paramount importance: Women, Children and Migration

A case study: the ‘Arizona-Law’ (click on ‘English’ tab)

When crossing the ocean ends badly (in French)

Story of clandestine immigrants, by Radio-Canada’s program Enjeux (from the early 2000s, but still quite relevant) (in French)

Story on “train jumpers”, by Radio-Canada’s program Enquête (in French)


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