(Photo: Jon Nazca)

Spanish Church groups have denounced the “systematic violation of human rights” of migrants on the country’s southern European border.

– “Borders, which could be privileged places for encounter, are often turned into places of division”: Vatican official

Last November 25 some 80 people involved in the Church’s frontline response to migratory movements in Spain and the north of Africa held a webinar to discuss the challenges they and people on the move are currently facing not least of all because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ‘Migrants with Rights’ network – made up of Church workers from Caritas, the Spanish Conference of Religious, the Spanish Justice and Peace Commission and the Spanish Bishops’ Conference committee for migration – was addressed first by Cardinal Cristóbal López, the Archbishop of Rabat in Morocco.

López echoed Pope Francis’ constant teaching on what the Church and society owe migrants, refugees and other displaced people. “Out of love we welcome, out of love we protect, out of love we promote, and out of love we integrate”, the cardinal emphasised.

The webinar also heard from Fabio Baggio, an undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Again picking up on Pope Francis’ magisterium, the Vatican official stressed that migrants are victims of the world’s “throwaway culture”, and as such frequently are deprived of their rights at borders.

“Borders, which could be privileged places for encounter, are often turned into places of division: walls, fences, razor wire, all this to make clear the distance between one group and another”, Baggio deplored.

In the face of our culture of putting up higher and higher walls to those seeking refuge, the Vatican official invited attendees in the webinar to be “neighbours without borders” and to embrace Pope Francis’ call to spread a “culture of encounter” and to make borders “privileged spaces of encounter with others”.

As part of the “systematic violation of human rights” that migrants and refugees are presently facing on Spain’s southern border, the Migrants with Rights network identified a series of particular concerns they urged authorities to rectify.

Those concrete abuses against migrants and refugees included the collapse of government services for foreigners and the consequent impossibility of applying for papers, the reopening of migrant detention centres after a temporary closure during the worst of the pandemic and push-backs at the border and deportations.

More broadly, the Migrants with Rights network denounced an “increase in mafias and human trafficking” along with an “increase in xenophobia and rejection” of migrants and refuges in Spain leading even to their “criminalisation”.

– Spanish Bishops plead on plight of refugees: “We cannot remain oblivious to their pain”

The powerful appeal of the Migrants with Rights network for people on the move in the south of Spain and the north of Africa came after a peak of new arrivals to the Canary Islands, with some 12,000 just in October and November alone.

On November 20, the Spanish Bishops responded in a statement to the migrant and refugee emergency on the Canary Islands in which they said that the migrant “problem” is “not just a Canarian one – it is a Spanish, European and global one, and those who suffer from forced migration possess an inalienable dignity that is shared by us all”.

“For a Christian, the migrant is a child of God, a brother or sister with a life marked by pain and suffering who seeks the hope of achieving a better life. We cannot remain oblivious to their pain or indifferent to the extraordinary contribution of those who come to our aging societies”, the Spanish Bishops insisted.

The prelates also deplored conditions exacerbating the plight of migrants and refugees, including “the injustice of international trade, hunger, wars provoked in countries with mineral wealth, dictatorial political regimes that plunder and repress their people, political and religious persecutions, organised mafias [and] the use of migratory flows as a form of political pressure”.

“The European Union and the Spanish State must acknowledge that island ghettos cannot be created to avoid the migration problem”, the Spanish Bishops pressed, calling on authorities to implement the solutions Pope Francis proposes in his encyclical Fratelli tutti, including “increasing and simplifying the granting of visas” and “opening humanitarian corridors” for the most vulnerable refugees.

More on Novena on migrant dramas in Europe:

Spanish bishop denounces drama of migrants on Canary Islands: “We must treat them as people, help them and take them in”

Vatican diplomat deplores “sad” governmental, societal rejection of in-demand migrant workers

Cardinal Czerny denounces migrants, refugees being “deliberately forgotten” by governments during COVID

Cardinal Hollerich warns: “The EU will lose its soul in the Mediterranean if it does not save refugees from drowning”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.