During the coronavirus pandemic, governments have significantly restricted the entrance of migrants and refugees into their countries. Some nations, including the United States, have allowed temporary visas to be given to those who do jobs classified as essential, such as farm and seasonal work or meatpacking.
Czerny underlined that “until now, we sort of took them for granted – and some political forces even tried to use them for political advantages – but the fact is, they are essential supports for our societies and for our communities and for our families.”
“And suddenly, the COVID-19 spotlight reveals that without the help of these people, we can’t go on.”
Czerny, 73, is a Canadian Jesuit who has led the Vatican’s migrants and refugees office since 2017. Pope Francis created the office, part of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, appointing Czerny as under-secretary and the pope himself its official head.
Czerny, who has spent around 20 years in Rome, was given the red hat by Pope Francis in October 2019.
Speaking with CNA about the effects of the coronavirus, the cardinal compared jobs often filled by immigrants to legs on a table.
“The underpinnings, the neglected and invisible underpinnings, are being pulled out and now we’re realizing how our societies actually work and our communities actually work,” he said.
On the other hand, Czerny explained, due to COVID-19, already-vulnerable people are even more vulnerable both to illness and to exploitation, “whether they are migrants… or asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking or internally displaced people.”
In Italy, for example, the coronavirus has closed borders, thus preventing the arrival of seasonal workers, usually mostly from Eastern Europe, into the country. Italian farmers depend on seasonal migrant workers for harvesting their spring crops.
In April, the government relaxed measures to allow undocumented immigrants already in Italy to work in agriculture to make up for the labor-shortage.
Now, the government has introduced an amnesty, a “regularization,” measure for certain migrants working in agriculture or domestic labor to receive temporary legal status in a bid to prevent criminal organizations from exploiting them for cheap labor.
This would also allow migrants to be eligible for healthcare, a prospect which Czerny praised.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
The cardinal said some countries have created pathways for immigrants to receive healthcare, realizing “the virus doesn’t distinguish between citizens and migrants. You’ve got to stop the virus wherever it’s spreading.”
Despite these measures, reports indicate that exploitation of undocumented migrants for slave labor is likely on the rise during lockdown.
Czerny said with countries enforcing quarantines, a lot of international movement has stopped, yet, people in desperate situations continue to try to find work or safety, so some “movement continues, and unfortunately criminal activity continues.”
“People who are vulnerable and in despair continue to be taken advantage of. Movement of that sort, that is very risky, continues.”
Reports say that during the pandemic migrant boats have continued to land on the island of Lampedusa, located between Sicily and Libya, and refugee reception and processing centers, sometimes called “hotspots,” are already at or above capacity.
Czerny said “our hope is that the crisis of coronavirus will encourage the authorities to regularize, to make more regular and easier, the passage of people who need to move, because, for example, they’re needed in various sectors, industries, and services.”