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Migration and the role of the Red Cross Red Crescent movement

By Delia Chatoor

In his message to diplomats in Rome on January 7, 2019, Pope Francis remarked that, “among the vulnerable of our time that the international community is called to defend are not only refugees but also migrants.”

He appealed “to governments to provide assistance” to persons forced to emigrate because of various reasons. Acknowledging that the increase of migrants and refugees has caused deep concern, Pope Francis advocated for “a common, concerted response by all countries”.

Historically, humans have been on the move. They have done so in search of work, to study and to restore family links. Other reasons have emerged through increased armed conflicts, human rights violations and acts of terrorism. Massive movements are now occurring because of the impact of natural disasters and climate change.

Generally, the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ are used interchangeably but there are distinctions with the legal definition of a ‘refugee’ being found in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Statute of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and regional refugee treaties.

An international migrant, on the other hand, is one who decides to change his country of habitual residence freely and generally without any intervening “external compelling factor”.

In 2002, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission of Human Rights proposed a very broad list of persons who should be considered as migrants and  include “persons who do not enjoy the general legal recognition of rights which is inherent in the granting by the host state of the status of refugee, naturalised person or of similar status”.

With a very broad spectrum of motives which may lead to migration, it is necessary to ensure that the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons are respected. Unfortunately, migrants have become vulnerable with many experiencing hardships which pose serious threats to their life with the resultant uncertainties.

To assist migrants, the three components of the International Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement—International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and National Societies—have been collaborating “to better understand and address the needs of vulnerable migrants and help bridge the existing protection and assistance gaps”.

The components have, therefore, prepared for submission to the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to be held in Geneva (December 9–12) a Movement Message to States on Migrants and our Common Humanity. The statement seeks to reaffirm all previous international approaches and pay attention to the values of International Law which require “special protection for certain categories of persons, such as refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons”.

This will also support the December 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees which were adopted in Morocco.

Most of the elements in the Compacts reflect the Church’s teachings on migrants and refugees and in particular the recognition that all of mankind belong to one family and all are united through shared principles.

At the Moroccan Conference, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, noted that “the Holy See is convinced that the enormous challenges that migration poses are best faced through multilateral processes rather than isolationist policies”.

The proposed RCRC Movement Message to States is, therefore, timely in that the components will continue to support the public authorities through programmes, which include “providing emergency relief and basic health services” in order to  facilitate “longer-term social inclusion and fulfilling obligations under International Law”.

A key unifying factor in the approach of the Church and the RCRC stems from the desire to care for the most vulnerable and open doors to those in need. The Infant Narrative, as described in Matthew 2: 13–14 should serve to remind that the Holy Family was forced from their home because of the threat to their lives.

As refugees, they would have been in an unfamiliar environment and Joseph, as breadwinner, would have had to rely on his skills as a carpenter to support the Child Jesus and Mary.

As Church, and as we seek to develop on the three Hs and in particular ‘Hospitality’, we should embrace as well one of the seven Fundamental Principles of the RCRC, namely, ‘Humanity’.


Delia Chatoor is a retired foreign service officer, Vice President of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society, and a Lay Minister of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help, San Fernando Parish.