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By Dr. Arthur McClanahan*
Day two of the Global Migration Consultation began with a reminder to care for the “immigrants [who] live in your land with you” (Leviticus 19.34, CEB) and concluded with the beginnings of several commitments to make that biblical imperative a current-day reality. Along the way migration trends were discussed, experiences were shared and sub-groups of the forty people present at the Freudenstadt , Germany gathering began working on three particular concerns.
Rev. David Markey, a United Methodist minister who has served with the General Board of Global Ministries in Lithuania and Italy and is currently pastor of the Sheffield British Methodist circuit, extended the worship invitation to “Come now Holy Spirit…renew us we pray.” Through four voices the community remembered, “Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants” (Leviticus 19.34-35, CEB). Hayford Boateng, a worker with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, stationed in Vienna and chairperson of the church council of the English Speaking United Methodist Church in Vienna offered the morning meditation.
Global Migration Trends
“Migration is a complex global phenomenon,” Tina Szabado revealed. Some 232 million persons are migrants, a number up from 191 million in 2005. Figures indicate that there are approximately 29 million internally displaced persons and more than 15 million refugees. Key factors for this staggering number, which would be the fifth most populous country, are changing demographics and labor market needs, wage differentials and crisis pressures, social networks within regions and across continents, the low cost of transportation and communication, and crisis and natural disasters. The United States has the largest number of international migrants, followed by Russia and Germany; Europe is the largest receiving region.
“Most of the world’s refugees stay in the same region,” Szabado said, “with eighty percent being women and children.” Unaccompanied and separated children in 72 countries filed 21,300 asylum applications. There are 6.6 million stateless persons in 60 countries, though the real number is likely double. A person can be stateless because of being in a minority group or because the country of origin is no longer recognized,” she added.
The morning session, moderated by Bishop Julius C. Trimble of the Iowa Conference, continued with three migration experiences being shared. The country of origin, of transit, and destination focused on Syria, Mexico, and Italy.
Professor Larry Hollingsworth of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, and co-facilitator of the Consultation, described how more than three million persons are refugees as a result of the Syrian conflict and more than 9 million persons in the region are food insecure. The “Arab Spring” of 2011, which began after the arrest and torture of teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall, ultimately saw some 90,000 persons killed by June 2013 in Syria, a conflict that has become an east/west proxy war.
Bishop Felipe de Jesus Ruiz Aguilar, of the Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Mexico, spoke about transmigration and the personal toll it takes, even to severe illness, injury, and death. He said that the United Methodist Church established the “Day of the Migrant” in 2000 to “build consciousness and prayers of compassion.” Bishop Ruiz described how the six United Methodist Bishops of Mexico met recently “to develop a new strategy to care for the people who are crossing through the corridor in Mexico” from Central America to the United States. Along with Rev. Francisco Canas, National Coordinator for the National Plan for Hispanic Latino Ministries, the Bishop indicated, “twenty congregations are willing to be open to migrants who are travelling through the area” and proposals to respond to the needs of the migrants will come by the end of February 2015.
In a conversation about “Country of Destination” Richard Ampofo noted that the number of immigrants in Italy has doubled in the past ten years, and with that has been an increase of tension and the rise or racism, in part because resources are not available to help with migration issues. There is “an integrated project of welcoming, information, and justice,” he said, that provides a network with local action and “because of the migration the church has grown.”
Human trafficking, refugee camp life, and right to stay in a country of origin were the focus of the afternoon for the Consultation, which is meeting at the Hotel Teuchelwald, a center of the United Methodist Church in Germany.
Marie Sol Sioco-Villalon indicated that nearly 1.5 million Filipinos were forced to go abroad for work in 2011. The unemployment rate was nearly 18 percent in 2010 and the rate for recent graduates and persons in the 25-34 age group being nearly 30 percent. Some 15 million Filipinos are scattered across 239 countries, with the largest concentration being in the United States. In her work as program coordinator, NIM for victims of Human Trafficking, Overseas Filipino Workers and their Families, she noted that 400,000 persons have been trafficked, of which some 100,000 are children. “An educational response is needed,” she said, “to offer legal assistance and lobby the Philippine congress.”
Miji Kapend shared his personal story of life in a refugee camp. “It was a place of despair and anguish,” he said, “and in the midst of that the church can provide hope.” Citing Exodus 3.7 – “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain” – he added, “the church needs an eye of need, an attentive ear, a compassionate heart, and a prompt and diligent hand.” Kapend, who is engaged in a master’s degree study of forced migration, said, “we need an unjudging spirit and unity.”
The “right to stay in your country of origin” was Francisco Pacheco’s focus. As a result of his work as lead field organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network Pacheco observe that poverty is a key cause of migration. Other reasons include family reunification, studies, work because of poverty, and abuse. He offered several proposals including the systematic protection of children, a war against drugs, intervention in civil wars, and “government funding to reintegrate deported people, especially to temporarily fund shelters for children.”
Working Groups on Regional Trends
Rev. T. K. Mapfeka was the afternoon moderator for the Consultation. He is a District Superintendent of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area assigned to work with the Zimbabwe United Methodist Church membership in diaspora, particularly in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
Three working groups formed to begin conversations about trafficking, refugee camps, and the right to stay in a country of origin. Initial conversations will be followed by in-depth discussions on Saturday afternoon, day three of the Consultation.
*Rev. Dr. Arthur McClanahan is Director of Communications for the Iowa Conference, The United Methodist Church.