The Pontifical Academy for the Sciences hosted the discussion, which was also supported by the migrants and refugees section of the Vatican dicastery for Integral Human Development.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin opened the discussion with a keynote speech in the morning. Other speakers included Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states; Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luis Videgaray Caso; former Mexican ambassador to Italy and current Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Ruiz Cabañas Izquierdo; and current Mexican ambassador to the Holy See, Jaime del Arenal Fenochio.
Speakers highlighted the need to respect the right of people both to migrate and to stay in their own country, and to increase protection for immigrants at every stage of their journey. They also spoke of the need to identify and eliminate the root causes of forced migration, and urged nations to comply with the UN global compacts on migrants and refugees.
In his speech at the colloquium, Videgaray said both “dialogue and reflection” are needed in order to adequately respond to the migration issue, and he stressed the importance of keeping “the rights of migrants at the center of any political discussion.”
He noted a growth of nationalist sentiments in many countries, saying that a certain level of “anxiety and fear” is normal. However, “what is not advisable is that [there is] a new phenomenon which wants to label migrants as the origin of the problem,” he said, noting that many times there are social and cultural issues that prompt people to migrate in the first place.
“Migration is part of who we are,” Videgaray said, noting that Mexico itself receives many immigrants from Central America who either stay, or are in transit to the United States in order to avoid poverty and violence.
Videgaray urged greater protections for migrants at every stage of their journey. In this sense, Mexico's relationship with the United States “is increasingly more important,” he said, adding that Mexico is worried about increasing “anti-immigrant sentiments from Washington.”
“We are open to dialogue with North American authorities,” Videgaray said. Yet while Mexico respects the decision of each nation to determine their own policies, he said the government is concerned about the growing number of families who have been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, with children being taken from their parents.
In May the Trump administration rolled out a new “zero tolerance” policy on immigration which, among other things, has enforced the separation of migrant children from their parents who have been detained by border officials.
With the new crackdown, the number of unaccompanied minors at the border has jumped 20 percent, with an estimated 10,000 migrant children being held in more than 100 shelters, most of which are at near full capacity, according to a McClatchyDC report. The Trump administration is reportedly considering the construction of a “tent city” in Texas to hold immigrant children.
Late last year, the Trump administration announced that the U.S. was pulling out of the UN global compact on migration.
Pope Francis in his message stressed the importance of the compacts, which he said promote the fundamental values of “justice, solidarity and compassion.”
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“In order to acknowledge and respond to the current migration situation, the assistance of the entire international community is needed, since its transnational dimension exceeds the capacities and resources of many States,” he said.
However, “this demands a change in mindset: we must move from considering others as threats to our comfort to valuing them as persons whose life experience and values can contribute greatly to the enrichment of our society.”
In comments to journalists, Cardinal Parolin echoed the sentiment, saying the general mentality on migration is “pitifully not the most positive.” Because of this, he stressed the need to change “the image of migration.”
This is the ultimate goal of the UN compacts, he said, adding that Trump's decision to pull out of the migration compact is “not good, because we have constantly repeated that the whole world has to participate in this.”
“It's a global phenomenon which needs the contribution of everyone, no one can [hold] back.”
Parolin's comments come as Italy is currently under fire for refusing to allow a boat carrying more than 600 migrants to dock, drawing international outcry. The boat, called The Aquarius, had rescued migrants from the Mediterranean Sea and been on its way to Sicily when new Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blocked the ship's arrival.