2022 Assembly


COMECE Debate in Brussels: Integration of Migrants, a Catholic Perspective


Report from Sr. Andrea Tillmanns, who attended the COMECE evening debate in Brussels, 1st December, 2015
People migrate for a variety reasons. Today an increasing number of people are driven from their homeland by poverty or by despair concerning the economic or social prospects for themselves or their families. In 2015, welcoming migrants, asylum seekers and refugees became an urgent challenge, especially for Member States with external borders in the EU. The greater challenge however, is the long-term integration of migrants and refugees into their new home societies and respective labour markets.

Speakers at the COMECE Debate in Brussels
Speakers at the COMECE Debate in Brussels

On the 1st of December 2015, in an evening debate, COMECE brought together a variety of people from Catholic communities across Europe with a view to deepening the understanding of the complex challenges involved in integrating migrants into the host societies. The aim was to discuss models of integration, best practices, and the fundamental values that guide integration within the European Union. The participants were Mr. Martin Wilde, Association of Catholic Entrepreneurs (BKU) of Germany, Fr. Arun Alphonse, OFM, St. Anthony´s Parish of Kraainen-Brussels, Mr. Sergio Barciela, Migration and Inclusion Caritas Spain and Fr. Damian Cichy, SVD, Wyszynski-University, Fu Shenfu Migrant Center, Warsaw. The evening was moderated by Fr. Patrick H. Daly, General Secretary, COMECE.
Fr. Patrick H. Daly, General Secretary, COMECE
Fr. Patrick H. Daly, General Secretary, COMECE

Mentoring clusters
Mr. Martin Wilde as the first speaker, presented models of integration in the labour market of Germany. So far this year, Germany has welcomed 1 million people, 70-80 % without formation. The integration process is focusing on the following areas: language, assessing professional competences, pre-qualifying, formal professional competences and cultural-civic education. According to Mr. Wilde, it is crucial that every migrant has somebody to accompany him or her, as mentor and guide (voluntary social mentoring). Examples of such “mentoring clusters” are companies, chambers of commerce, social welfare institutions and educational institutions. To illustrate his idea, he shared his experiences of a local cooperation cluster project in Stuttgart, Germany, between Caritas, pre-qualification centres and companies.
Migration in Poland
Fr. Damian Cichy especially emphasized the pastoral dimension of the integration of migrants. Fr. Cichy stated that although Poland is new to welcoming migrants, he presented his work in the Fu Shenfu Migrant Centre in Warsaw, where he ministers specifically to Chinese and Vietnamese people.
“The other big part of our work is to change the mentality of the Polish people. We must give the message to the people that migrants have more positive than negative effects for the country.”
No ‘we’ and ‘they’
According to Fr. Arun Alphonse, “As Catholics, there is no ’we’ and ’they’. Our Christian identity does not know borders; we are all brothers and sisters. Our mission is kindness, mercy and compassion.” He told us to also be as migrants. “We all are pilgrims and strangers in this world.” For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (…)” Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25, 35-36; 40)
In the integration process, according to Fr. Alphonse, one of the main problems experienced by migrants is that of identity crisis. We must limit the impacts of the cultural shock; in this context, religion has an important role to play. Only after a cultural stabilization of the migrant in his origin culture, can we take the second step: integration in the new culture of the host country.
Identity crisis
The evening was closed by Mr. Sergio Barciela of Caritas Spain. In his view, the three main working fields in the integration of migrants are: the economic and social aspects (health, housing, work etc.), identity and civil society and finally political questions (human rights, participation in elections etc.). We need activities in all these three fields to realise a real and durable integration.
Mr. Barciela thinks that in Spain, both the migrants and the Spanish people face an identity crisis, especially because of the recent economic crisis which has so badly affected Spain. “Only personal relations protect the people from prejudices. They, migrants and host people, must meet a face.”
At the end, we can already state that close cooperation exists between public authorities at all levels in civil society. Churches and religious communities continue to strengthen responses to the crisis. Additionally, the Christian approach obliges us to see every migrant as a person, “a child of God”, with his or her inviolable human dignity. To welcome them in their need and suffering is a divine commandment.
Written by Sr. Andrea Tillmanns, RGS

Adapted and amended by Anne Kelleher, RENATE Communications Person