Reflections on the Global Compact on Migration

As mentioned in my previous post Sam Chaise is providing us a guest blog post addressing the Global Comapc

I was surprised.  For months I had heard about the Global Compact on Migration that had been negotiated painstakingly over months by member states of the United Nations, and so much of it made sense to me.  As a world we coordinate trade, transportation, investment flows, and military activity (through alliances), so it made sense to me that we would want to have some sort of coordination for flows of people.  After all, don’t people matter more than economies?

So I was surprised when this became a political ‘hot button’ issue in Canada for a few weeks.  I had to work hard to figure out what, really, people were responding to . . . because some of my friends who were opposed to it are, in person, compassionate and caring human beings.  As I talked with people I heard two main things that led to their opposition:

  1. A concern that Canada would lose sovereignty, i.e. that we would lose control over who could enter Canada.
  2. A mistrust of the United Nations as an organization.

I’d like to address those points, but first I want to start at a more fundamental level, because I’m assuming that many of the people who are reading this blog are followers of Jesus.  (If you’re not, this next bit won’t apply to you.)  As followers of Jesus, when we have these debates, are we doing so as Canadians or as Christians?  Those are two different identities.  One is primary and will last forever.  The other is secondary and temporary.  I’m a Canadian citizen so of course I want to contribute my voice to the Canadian conversation on various issues, but I am first and foremost a citizen of God’s Kingdom and a part of His Church, and so most of my energy needs to be occupied not by asking how Canada should respond to the Global Compact on Migration, but how the Church should respond to the Global Compact.  I don’t think God sees national borders as being as important a persons.  He’s seen borders come and go over thousands of years, and His purposes continue regardless of the borders that happen to exist in any period of time.

There’s plenty of evidence in the Old and New Testaments that God welcomes the outsider and asks His people to do the same.  Old Testament Israel’s mission was not to remain insular and pure, but to bless the nations and invite them into its midst.  The tables at which Jesus ate often had the oddest mix of people who would otherwise never be seen together . . . and let’s not even get started on His inner circle of disciples including a tax collector and a “zealot” who had vowed to assassinate tax collectors.

From my perspective, it is hard to make a biblical case for the Church excluding outsiders.

As we shift to thinking about our response as Canadians, even here we need to think as followers of Jesus, and how that affects our posture as Canadian citizens.  Let’s start by examining the emotion that drives our thinking – is that emotion a fruit of the Spirit?  Some of what I heard in opposition to the Compact was rooted in fear, and even anger – and neither of those are from God.  Even if we’re opposed to the Compact, let’s be sure to root our opposition in hope and joy and peace and all of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  At times I heard people question whether we could afford more migrants and/or refugees, and my response was, “who is the ‘we’?”  Is the “we” Canada, or the Church?  It could be argued that Canada can’t afford more migrant inflows (though I disagree with that), but wouldn’t it be great if the Church stepped up and said that “we” would take care of them until they could take care of themselves.  This kind of response reminds me of the early Church walking the back lanes of Rome in order to pick up infants that had been abandoned and raising them as their own.  Maybe it’s time for us to do what our country chooses not to do.

Okay, it’s time to discuss the Global Compact itself.  There was a lot of misinformation that was being articulated in the media and shared on Facebook, so below is a list of key responses to some of the misinformation that was being communicated:

  1. It does not affect Canada’s sovereignty. It is not a legally-binding agreement, but an aspirational statement of values. The recent free trade agreement we concluded with the US and Mexico affects Canada’s sovereignty more than this does.
  2. It is not primarily about resettling refugees. In fact, it is not primarily about refugees at all.  Refugees already have rights under international law (and, well, because they’re human), but migrants often don’t.  The key marker of a ‘migrant’ is that they don’t have the right to stay in the country, so, for example, temporary workers qualify, whether they are Indian waiters in Vancouver or Filipino nannies in Saudi Arabia.  Refugees are a sub-set of migrants.
  3. It assumes that all humans have human rights, regardless of what passport they carry or whether they have a passport at all. (I’m assuming that we all believe this, don’t we?)
  4. BIG IDEA #1: let’s cooperate internationally instead of everyone doing their own thing.  (This make sense to me – global problems require global solutions.)
  5. BIG IDEA #2: let’s change the conditions in the home country that produces migrants in the first place.  (I know that this is idealistic, but, conceptually, I think we’d all be in favour of this.  )
  6. BIG IDEA #3: migrants are people too . . . which means that they should have access to accurate information and basic human rights even in the host country where they’re living, or through which they are travelling.
  7. BIG IDEA #4: let’s resource countries that host the most refugees and migrants, instead of asking them to bear the load themselves.
  8. The language in the Compact is compromise language. Those who work with migrants wanted stronger language, and earlier drafts had it, but nation-states pushed back because they wanted to retain sovereignty.  This Compact has gone through several iterations and the resulting language is carefully nuanced to increase global cooperation while preserving sovereignty.  This is how international politics works.
  9. The United Nations didn’t create the Compact; its member states did. What we happen to think about the U.N. is not as important as what we think about vulnerable migrants.

 

As I end this post, I want to return to the more important question:  how do we as the Church respond to the record number of displaced people (1 out of 11 humans) and migrants?  What would Jesus want us to do?  In the end, God is not going to hold me responsible for what Canada does (I’m not in a place of influence with the Canadian government) but He will ask me about how I, in His Church, responded.  I wonder if the churches of the world could form their own cooperative global network so that no matter where a refugee or migrant was, the people of God were there as well, offering support, prayer, and care.   Can we envision a world where no matter where a migrant is on their journey, they are not alone?  Is that the kind of thing Jesus would want?  Would that bring a smile to Him?  Some steps have been taken in this area when it comes to refugees specifically, such as the Refugee Highway Partnership (http://www.rhpna.com/about/the-refugee-highway/ ) and the International Association for Refugees (https://iafr.org/ ).  United Nations Compacts will come and go, but the Church will remain, so maybe it is time to invest our best energies into being the Church that brings blessing to the nations in this era of record levels of displacement globally.

 

 

Sam Chaise is the Executive Director at the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre and strives to have a global perspectives of the issues facing the world today.  He has also been the Executive Director of Canadian Baptist Ministries.