What are the positive aspects of refugees

"Migration is something positive"

Migrants Day and the vote on the limitation initiative both fall on September 27th. Reason enough to talk to Robert Vitillo. He is a migration expert and one of the best connected Catholics in Geneva.

Raphael Rauch

If you want to know how Catholic world politics works, the best thing to do is meet Robert Vitillo for a pizza in Geneva. He is well networked at the UN location. Regardless of whether it is refugee issues or health policy: Robert Vitillo knows how the Holy See can best represent its interests at the United Nations.

Italy, USA, Geneva

The Monsignor is American and has worked in many places in many organizations. During the AIDS crisis he got involved with Caritas Internationalis as well as later. He has been in Geneva since 2005. Initially as head of the Caritas Internationalis delegation. Since 2016 he has been Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC).

The pizzas in Geneva are not quite as good as in the country of his grandparents, Italy. And the ristretto isn't that strong either. Vitillo's family history is one of the many reasons he is positive about migration. «My grandparents emigrated from Italy to the USA and worked hard with their 14 children to ensure that they arrive in the land of opportunity and that their children and grandchildren have a better future. In the USA, refugees and migrants made the country great, ”Vitillo says in an interview with kath.ch.

Robert Vitillo, General Secretary of the International Catholic Migration Commission

A vote to limit immigration will take place in Switzerland on September 27th. Is the Catholic answer to this: No?

Robert Vitillo: I know how sacred the right to vote is in Switzerland. Catholics should vote on the basis of an informed conscience. So I will not presume to answer this question directly.

And indirectly?

Vitillo: I am grateful that, as an American, I can work in Switzerland. The Swiss know how much they have benefited from migration and how many foreigners contribute to the country's prosperity by working and paying taxes here.

Five years ago the word “refugee crisis” boiled up in Europe. Now Corona dominates everything. What happened to the topics of flight and migration?

Vitillo: There are over 80 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world. We cannot ignore their fate and we must not see them as a problem or a question. We have to see them as human beings - as Pope Francis often reminds us. Refugees in particular are suffering from the Corona crisis: They do not have the option of keeping a distance or working from home. They are fighting for bare survival.

Your organization works on many levels. You negotiate with UN organizations - and are committed to helping refugees on the ground. How did you deal with the lockdown?

Vitillo: We did everything to be there for the refugees even during the lockdown. Many hospitals, for example along the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, were closed - our employees in Pakistan managed to keep the clinics open for refugees and the local population.

Mastering the corona crisis: an ICMC employee in Pakistan in May 2020.

What are the biggest challenges with regard to migration?

Vitillo: Fear, rejection, discrimination and marginalization create enormous problems. And the increasing nationalism in Europe and in other parts of the world.

How does this specifically affect refugees?

Vitillo: Individual families are often forcibly separated or even imprisoned. You are prevented from applying for asylum. For my Italian grandparents, hard work was enough to make it to the United States. In this day and age, hard work is not always enough. Many are doomed to their fate as refugees. They have no right to work in regular jobs; many children cannot go to school.

How do you deal with this injustice?

Vitillo: When I visit our organization's programs, my heart is literally broken. People beg me to do more for their situation. And yet I know that sometimes we can only improve the situation immediately - without really being able to ensure a positive long-term future for them. But there are other examples as well. Through the resettlement program, we have succeeded in flying refugees from Syria. Some of them now have jobs and normal lives.

How do you interpret the message of Pope Francis on World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2020: «How Jesus Christ forced to flee»?

Vitillo: The Holy Father encourages us to see Jesus Christ in the faces and hearts of migrants and refugees in the world today. We should take the effort to get to know migrants and refugees as human beings, as families like our own, as brothers and sisters created in the image of God.

Pope Francis is devoting himself this year to the fate of internally displaced people.

Vitillo: These are people who have to leave their homeland but stay in their own country. Since they have not crossed a border, they are not given the same protection as refugees who have to leave a country. They can be recognized according to the Geneva Refugee Convention - internally displaced persons, however, not.

© Catholic Media Center, 08/30/2020
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