From the borders of Europe to the USA

Principles of sanctuary in response to the global escalation of displacement

June 2016

 

We, religious leaders and humanitarian groups from the European Union and the United States, who have practiced migrant and refugee hospitality for decades, express our deep concern for the well-being of the refugee children, families and all migrants currently arriving at the borders of Europe and the United States, as well as those struggling to live within our borders. In response to the increased numbers of people around the world who are being forced to leave their home countries, and the simultaneous increase in punitive enforcement in many receiving countries, our communities are working hard to support those in need with basic survival aid. But what is needed goes far beyond aid. What we desire is justice based on a recognition of the fundamental unity and interdependence of the human family.

 

Both in Europe and in the southern United States, the root causes of these migration trends include the economic and political priorities of the Global North. The wars, economic upheaval, and climate disasters befalling peoples of the Global South are more often than not driven by decisions and policies set in motion by the wealthiest nations in the world. As residents of these wealthy nations, our efforts to aid these migrants are carried out in recognition of this reality — in recognition of our role in their suffering — and in service of the “web of interdependence” which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of. We know that our ability to live truly dignified lives is bound up in their ability to do the same.

 

In an ideal situation, it is the responsibility of our governments to respond to these needs — and some governmental response has indeed taken place. The recent attention on the plight of refugee children and families arriving at the borders of Europe and the Mediterranean has spurred interest and compassion across the world. This spotlight on the European refugee crisis is similar to that of the Central American refugee crisis that received attention in the summer of 2014. Unfortunately, when the immediate flurry of attention wanes, we have seen how policymakers use such crises to promote fear-based strategies to detain and deter migrants, and to further the militarization of our border regions. At the grassroots, this is a tragedy. At the grassroots, we need living compassion much longer than the press interest lasts. These transit and migration points into Europe and the US have been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, protracted humanitarian crises as long as the strategy of deterrence prevails with a border enforcement-only approach. We yearn for a new, restorative and compassionate response to these global humanitarian crises of mass displacement — and it is toward this vision that we continue to act on a day-to-day basis.

 

We are clergy, academics and leaders of faith-based organizations who have worked in Europe and the United States to protect refugee children, families and all migrants, and to defend their human rights. We have been in relationship with one another for three decades since declaring sanctuary for refugees threatened with deportation from the U.S. and Germany. We have exchanged delegations to witness the work being done by faith-based organizations on the Southwest border of the U.S. and in Malta, Germany and Italy. Now we join together because of the common crises of alarmingly increased numbers of people being forced by war and economic upheaval to flee the Middle East and Africa, and the equally alarming increased numbers of people fleeing drug wars, poverty, and gang violence in Central America and Mexico. We join in solidarity with these migrants and with one another in faith, to uphold the human rights of all and the mandates of our faiths.

 

The following principles (further elaborated below) unite and embolden us to work together toward these ends at the borders of the US and Europe:

  • Compassionate Response: We care deeply about these refugee children, families and all migrants, and we urge our countries to have open arms to protect them and preserve their human dignity. We reject detention of migrants as a violation of human rights and dignity.
  • Due Process: We advocate for fair and timely legal proceedings, competent legal representation, and due process for children, asylum seekers, and all migrants.
  • Family Unity: We uphold and respect the unity of families as a basic human right.
  • Restorative Justice: We desire revitalization and healing of our borderlands, not militarization. The only long-term solution is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for these migrants and addresses root causes.
  • Civil Initiative: As long as our governments are not adequately addressing these humanitarian crises, citizens have the right and responsibility to respond with an approach that follows the mandate to provide sanctuary when needed and, above all, to love our neighbours.

 

Based on these principles, we covenant with one another to work together for just and humane response to all migrants both at our borders and within our countries.

 

We ask our allies and supporters across Europe, the United States, and beyond to join us in this covenant, and in insisting that the above policies and principles serve as the basis for all countries receiving migrants in response to the current and ongoing international humanitarian and refugee crisis.

 

Church in Asylum, Germany

No More Deaths, Arizona

Presbyterian Church (USA), approved by the 222nd General Assembly, June 2016

 

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What these principles mean to us:

 

Compassionate Response: We care deeply about these refugee children, families and all migrants, and we urge our countries to have open arms to protect them and preserve their human dignity. We reject detention of migrants as a violation of human rights and dignity. Entering a country without documentation is not a crime if a refugee asks for asylum — the seeking of asylum should not be criminalized, and refugees should never be detained in prison-like conditions. In the US we oppose the proliferation of immigration detention centers maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison corporations to hold captive immigrant men, women, and children. These detention centers are filled through national legislation mandating that 34,000 detention beds be filled at all times. This legislation creates demand for the policing and criminalization of immigrants for corporate profit.  The results are devastating as detained individuals are often held far from family and face frequent transfers, impossibly high bonds, a lack of legal resources, and deportation. We are especially concerned by the re-opening of family detention centres, proven to be harmful to the well-being of children and families, and we urge collaboration with community-based centres for shelter. In Europe, some refugees have to stay in detention camps (for example Malta, Poland, Hungary), and others can live in refugee-houses or private homes. The rising numbers of refugees in more and more countries in Europe tend to move to a more restrictive policy against refugees, which leaves us very concerned. Flight is not a crime; refugees should not be detained. This principle stems from the belief that every person who arrives at the borders of Europe and the US has unique and sacred dignity, which is not bestowed by governments or by laws or based upon their wealth or where they or their parents happen to be born.

 

Due Process: We advocate for fair and timely legal proceedings, competent legal representation, and due process for children, asylum seekers, and all migrants.

Since the outpouring of support for the Central American and Mexican minors who arrived at the US–Mexico border in the summer of 2013, US Department of Homeland Security has introduced practices designed to expedite mass deportations that offend fundamental principles of due process and endanger mothers and children fleeing extreme violence, according to the CARA Project and Human Rights First.[1] Violations of due process and unreasonable delays in legal proceedings are also rampant in ICE and privately run detention centers throughout the United States.[2] In Europe more and more countries are defined as “sichere Herkunftsländer (ie. safe countries) — including Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Mazedonia — which means that refugees from there have the most restricted means to apply elsewhere for asylum and almost no chance for acceptance. In Germany there are discussions at the moment to declare Afghanistan a “safe country” — though currently 50% of all Afghani applicants to Germany are accepted for asylum under the Geneva Conventions — because the German government asserts that in some regions of Afghanistan, like Kundus, people are able to live peacefully. This is also happening with several countries in North Africa. In the US, we are also concerned with the due process of enforcement mechanisms such as the criminal prosecutions carried out by Operation Streamline. In Europe, more and more countries are implementing the policy of closing borders, even though it is arguably against EU policy. The EU Commission should challenge those countries, but because it is not seen as a “normal‘ situation, and because of the prevailing ‚culture of intolerance‘ such actions are condoned. With the trauma that many of the migrants carry and their confusion about the immigration system, they should not have to defend themselves against a system stacked against them. We insist that the principles of due process and legal representation be upheld for these refugee families. We believe the justice system and the immigration system should not be used to criminalize or punish people who have had to migrate to feed, protect or re-join their families, or be used to expedite their removal.

 

Family Unity: We uphold and respect the unity of families as a basic human right. Many of the children and other migrants arriving at our borders, whether or not they have asylum or protection claims, are trying to unite with their parents or family members. We support this process for traditional nuclear families as well as non-traditional family units. In the US, we oppose the record number of deportations under the Obama Administration, and in Europe we are concerned about the practice of granting humanitarian status, a lower status which does not come with the right to family reunification. We oppose excessive time restrictions on reunification, and practices that link this right to costly monetary fees. We call for immigration policies that promote family unity and prioritize reunification. When families are travelling together, everything must be done to keep them together. We believe people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families and that they should not have to choose between supporting their family and being with their family.

 

Restorative Justice: We desire revitalization and healing of our borderlands, not militarization. The residents, indigenous peoples, historical sites and wildlife of our borderlands feel the heavy impact of the migrations funnelled through them and the concentrated enforcement apparatus. We desire healing for all these communities and eco-systems. The plight of these vulnerable should not be used as an excuse to further promote fear of migrants and to militarize our borders. We believe that respect for basic human dignity, human and civil rights, as well as the restoration of environmental protections of public lands, must be prioritized. To achieve this, we must pursue more effective international cooperation. In Europe, the so-called “Dublin System” places the heaviest burden on the countries at the southern borders of Europe. In the southern US, it is the US-Mexico border that bears the burden of the migration from many Central American countries. We envision a system where every country is sharing equal responsibility, regardless of their proximity to the border. We suggest that refugees be registered near the countries from which they have to flee, and then be allowed to enter countries which will process their applications through safe corridors. Countries can decide about the number of refugees they will accept through this system. In Europe, those who are given a refugee status should be allowed to move freely within the EU and to choose the country in which they want to live. In the US, this vision implies cooperation between Canada, the US and Mexico. Refugees must take precedence — this will prevent family separation and deaths. The only long-term solution is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for these migrants and addresses root causes.

 

Civil Initiative: As long as our governments are not adequately addressing these humanitarian crises, citizens have the right and responsibility to respond with an approach that follows the mandate to provide sanctuary when needed and, above all, to love our neighbours. While the specific ways we extend support will vary, we are united in our commitment to respond. We seek to understand and educate others on the root causes of migration. We mourn with the families whose loved ones have perished in the Arizona desert and Mediterranean sea or other land borders. We recognize that a border-enforcement approach to the refugee children and families and the ongoing humanitarian crises will lead to more deaths, violence, human rights abuses and human trafficking already faced by vulnerable migrant populations. We urge the creation of transparent independent oversight groups to review customs and immigration officers’ practices and investigate allegations of abuse. We hold the belief that building just relationships with our neighbours should guide our efforts as a community to respond.

[1]                http://immigrationimpact.com/2016/01/11/asylum-seekers-due-process/

[2]                http://harvardcrcl.org/detained-without-due-process-is-indefinite-immigration-detention-unconstitutional/


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