Michael Czerny, under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in the Vatican, has insisted that there are “humanitarian, economic, social, cultural [and] spiritual reasons” for Western countries to take in migrants and refugees.

Driving the news

Czerny, himself a migrant the then-Czechoslovkia to Canada at just two years of age, was in Spain recently for events on human mobility and its religious dimension.

At a forum in Madrid the Jesuit affirmed that the Church’s continued defence of migrants and refugees is “evangelical”, not political.

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The big picture

“History teaches us that migrants – as well as refugees – have contributed proactively to the economic development of the countries that have received them. I don’t see why it should be different today”, Czerny told Ecclesia, a publication of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference.

The Vatican official described as “uninformed” those critics of Pope Francis who, uncomfortable with the Bishop of Rome’s unwavering defence of migrants and refugees, challenge him to take in displaced people in the Vatican.

“Proportionally, the Vatican has welcomed a very large number of refugees, given its size and population”, Czerny said.

“The most important thing is that the Pope has asked each parish and each religious house to host refugees, and that they are doing that. And what’s more, with great joy”, the Jesuit explained.

“It’s a pity that often fear and its ideological instrumentalization block this possibility of action and giving joy to people who feel abandoned”.

Pope Francis’ critics on this point and other opponents of migration “are experiencing the crisis badly because their leaders are managing the crisis badly. It’s easier for them to blame immigrants than to solve European problems”, Czerny denounced.

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Go deeper

Czerny described as “very sad” the fact that governments in the Mediterranean such as Italy and Spain have threatened to penalise migrant rescue ships with fines of up to one million euros.

“What we all, as citizens, must say to our governments is that their responsibility is to save people’s lives, and that this cannot be an option”, insisted the priest.

“Their [governments’] reason for being is to make life possible and safe. If they don’t they are failing in their first responsibility; the rest is secondary.

“It’s a pity that some populist ideologies don’t help people to know that the first big problem is the lack of response from governments, not the small response of a few good people who put themselves in danger to rescue [migrants]. And they risk everything!”

Why it matters

Czerny pointed out that most migration happens not in response to a crisis, but as a normal part of life.

“Millions of people migrate all the time. In our globalized world, everything flows: money, information, transport, and also people”, the Jesuit observed.

“The proportion of people who are forced into fleeing is small. Human mobility is very normal; what’s abnormal is the hysteria of trying to stop something that is part of human life”.


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