Vatican official at U.N. meeting urges family-unity priority for migrants

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GENEVA — Migrant families whose members are often separated pose unique challenges as globalization sweeps the world and deserve special consideration so that family unity remains a priority, a Vatican official told a United Nations meeting.

Children in families in which one or both parents migrate long distances for employment as well as the elderly and spouses left at home must become a “high priority in any migration policy debate,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said Oct. 8 during the 2014 International Dialogue on Migration of the International Organization for Migration.

“They are particularly vulnerable and hence should receive special protection,” he told the delegates.

He called for transnational efforts that cross international borders so that the needs of migrant workers are not forgotten in a world built around economic growth. Migrants deserve great respect because of the service and positive economic and social contribution they offer in their host countries, the archbishop added.

While migrant workers provide greater financial resources to their families, money alone will not compensate for the loss of human affection, the presence to influence values, integrity and personal behavior, Archbishop Tomasi explained.

He said policies and programs affecting migrating workers in all nations should maximize the remittances workers send home, limit the negative effects of migration and emphasis family ties as a primary concern.

Immigration reform measures being considered in countries must involve forming “the legal framework that helps keep families together,” Archbishop Tomasi said.

“By allowing children to emigrate unaccompanied, further problems arise as they are exposed to lawlessness and despair,” he said. “The family structure, however, should be the place where hope, compassion, justice and mercy are taught most effectively. Family is the basic unit of coexistence, its foundation, and the ultimate remedy against social fragmentation.”

The archbishop also outlined several measures that would help maintain family unit. They included allowing migrants who are restricted or prevented from traveling home to care for elderly parents or care for children should be allowed occasional leaves and benefit from special prices for travel; lower interest fees for transferring remittances home; speedier processes for obtaining visas for a spouse or close family member; and a greater availability of ad hoc family counselors in areas with a high amount of migrant workers.

“States and civil society are prompted by their own future to give priority to the family and thus make migrations a more positive experience for all,” he said.