A sound migration policy needs to be grounded on principles. I shall try to propose a foundation for migration policies on some commonly accepted principles of Western Civilization, derived from Judeo-Christian reve-lation and the juridical and philosophical tradition of the Greeks and the Romans.
I shall not discuss the relative merits of these traditions. As a matter of fact, they converge on the affirmation of the unique dignity of the human person. St. Ireneus of Lyon, for example, writes that Gloria Dei vivens homo (“The glory of God is the life of man,” Adversus Haereses IV, 20, 7), while Seneca has a similar principle: Homo homini res sacra (“Man is sacred to man,” Epistle to Lucilius XCV, 33). The German Constitution even begins with the words: Die menschliche Würde ist unantastbar (“Human dignity is inviolable”).
This is our starting point. Here is the first foundation of the whole tradition of human rights. Some inferences can be drawn. Men have the right to live. This right is not limited to the right to not be killed, but also the right to not starve and to make a living through one’s work. In other words, all men have a right to exploit the earth in order to produce what is needed for their lives. In the language of theology, we say that God has created the earth and gave it to all men so that they may live. Private property is legitimate because it is the best way to take care of the earth. Private property, however, stands under a social obligation. Some men will be diligent and make good use of their property and become wealthy; others will be lazy and make bad use of their property, lose it, and become poor.
There is, however, an absolute limit to this historical process of redistribution of wealth: man’s life. No man must remain absolutely without land, without the means of subsistence and without the possibility to work. In the language of the Old Testament (and, to a large extent, of St. Thomas as well) the right to live is linked to the right to the land. In a post-industrial society, the earth is no more the unique or even the principal source of wealth; today, knowledge is the most important factor of production. The general principle, however, remains valid: We shall maintain that every human being has the right to participate in the social production and to earn his bread through his own work.
We derive this principle from the dignity of the human person. The same consequence can be reached from a different starting point. If some people will not be able to make a living through their labour they are likely to struggle for their lives and to seize by force what they need in order not to perish. If the main purpose of politics is to preserve peace, it is then the task of politics to take care that nobody is driven into desperation. Thus full employment is a necessary end of economic policies.
The tension between the principle of the universal destination and the principle of the private property of the goods of the earth also applies to another domain. The earth has been appropriated not only by individuals, but by nations as well. Men possess the earth not just as individuals, but also as communities in which men are united with one another through the multifarious bonds of language, blood, history, and, above all, culture. The public equivalent of private property is sovereignty. The individual needs the support of a community to protect his or her rights and to guarantee the cooperation required to make his or her work fruitful.
The medieval philosophers had an aphorism that ap- propriately brings to evidence one essential feature of what we have been saying: a semetipso incipit bene ordinata caritas (“well-ordered charity begins from oneself ”). Something similar can be found in St. Augustine’s The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love. This implies that everyone has to take care of him or herself and to gain bread through the sweat of the brow, applying labour to a plot of the earth or to a social activity. Well-ordered charity begins with, but is not limited to oneself. It continues with one’s spouse and children, parents and siblings, neighbour, etc. Well-ordered charity extends to all of mankind in a certain order. What would one think of a woman who is so completely dedicated to the welfare of children of some distant country that she does not take care of her own children? Her charity would not be “well-ordered.” I am more responsible for my children than for the children of my sister, and for the children of my sisters than for the children of my cousins and so on …
The responsibility for the other is elastic and flexible. Those who are more distant can become more proximate and fall within the scope of our responsibility.
Jesus gives us the most fascinating formulation of this principle of responsibility through the story of a man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho who met a band of thugs who ambushed him, cudgelled him, robbed him of his money and of all his goods, and left him naked and dying in a ditch at a side of the road. None of the passers-by stopped to succour him. Nobody recognized him as his neighbour. Only a Samaritan did.
The parable of the Good Samaritan does not contradict St. Augustine’s principle according to which I have to first take care of my children and my sister of hers. He asks instead: What if I fall out of the chain of the well-ordered love of which St. Augustine speaks? Who is my neighbour if I have no neighbour? In the first stage, there is an order of parenthood that provides the child with alternative parents. But if that collapses, who has the duty to take care of a child without relatives? Jesus’ answer is clear: you. This is a necessary corollary of the ordo amoris: all men are responsible for each other. Under normal circumstances, we exercise this responsibility by first taking care of those who are near to us and later of those who are far away and fall within the responsibility of somebody else. If, however, one is left alone, then he or she is entrusted to my care.
We have tried to lay down some foundational principles for a judgment on migration phenomena. Now, we can turn to politics.
Is there a general right to migrate and settle in a country different from one’s country of origin? At first thought, the answer seems to be no. There is a peculiar right of a man to the country in which he was born. There is a bond between a land and a culture that has inhabited that country and given to it its own form. A nation grows if each generation leaves to the next a country better endowed with material and immaterial capital than the country they had received from their ancestors. Through human labour and history, a peculiar bond is forged between nation and land. Property implies a right of exclusion. If we use the word “sovereignty” to express this bond between the land and the nation, we can say that a nation has a right to exclude others from its own territory. There is no unconditional right to migrate to any land of our choice, and a nation has the right to forbid migration to its territory.
We have established that a nation has the right to forbid migrations and close its borders. Is this unconditional? There is one fundamental exception to this right to sovereignty: the right to asylum. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, nobody else could succour the man left to die on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and the Samaritan saw that he was in charge, that that man was entrusted to his responsibility. A refugee is a man who no longer has a fatherland because he has been deprived of his native country, like the Jews in Nazi Germany. If they were sent back to Germany, they’d be delivered into the hands of their executioners. Therefore the right of sanctuary limits the right of exclusion. It is the principle of the Good Samaritan: if they have no father, I am their father.
We must carefully distinguish between refugees and immigrants. Refugees have the right to be received. The first country that has the duty to receive refugees is the “St. Augustine” (c. 1650) by Philippe de Champaigne (1602–1674), measuring 78.7 cm x 62.2 cm and located in Los Angeles County Museum of Art. first country to which they submit their demand. Typically, this is a nearby country. Nowadays, refugees are often large masses of victims of ethnic or religious cleansing. Whole populations are displaced and compelled to flee. This could easily become an important burden for their country of first arrival. It seems reasonable to say that responsibility for them cannot fall only on the countries of first asylum.
They have of course the right to demand to be accepted by the country of their preference, but does this country have the right to refuse this demand? It seems that they do not have a right to decide where they want to settle. We have a duty to help, but we have a right to decide how and how we divide among ourselves this responsibility. How shall we then divide the responsibility for them within the international community? Here there are no clear rules; it seems to a large extent to be a matter of prudence. It may seem reasonable to keep the refugees in the first country of asylum in the immediate proximity of their country of origin. If there is a high level of probability that they will be able to come back to their country of origin soon, then it may be reasonable to keep them in the immediate proximity of this country. The international community should, in such cases, give financial support to the country of first asylum. So, for instance, it seems reasonable to keep Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, giving these countries adequate financial support and waiting for the end of war and dictatorship in Syria.
This is not always ideal. For example, Palestinian refugees were in refugee camps for years, ill fed and ill sheltered, and exposed to nationalist propaganda inciting them to guerrilla warfare and revenge. It would have been much better if they were divided among different countries, integrated in their societies, and helped build a new life in a new homeland. The choice between the two alternative models is a matter of prudence. In any case, if the refugees are kept in the country of first asylum for a long time, the support of the international community should not be limited just to a subsistence minimum; it should also include the financing of infrastructure and jobs. When refugees are redistributed, they should be redistributed according to the capacity of integration of the different countries.
Migrants who are not refugees do not have the right to settle in the country of their choice. They do, however, have the right to ask to be admitted. In evaluating their demands, several criteria should be considered. One is their state of need. An economic migrant is not a refugee. He has a homeland where he can live. Sometimes, however, he lives in abject poverty. His desire to move to another country thus should be seriously considered. There are also situations similar to that of a refugee, such as people deprived of their homeland because of a natural catastrophe, like desertification in some sub-Saharan regions. The state of need of these would-be migrants is surely a criterion that should be considered.
A second criterion is the labour market of the host country. Most Western countries have low birth rates and need workers. The consent given to immigration is not only an act of generosity, but also well-understood self-interest. Of course, the number of legal immigrants allowed must have limits to prevent labour market tensions. The poor in wealthy countries often resent immigration policies and protest against a violation of a semetipso incipit bene ordinata caritas. They say that immigrants receive better treatment than themselves or that they “rob their jobs”. Such protests are often unjustified, but sometimes they are not. A prudent immigration policy should not cater to xenophobia.
A third criterion is cultural compatibility. Not all nations and cultures are in an equal relation to one another. Geography, history, and, above all, culture create situations of greater similarity or difference among families of cultures or nations. Individuals from more similar cultures are integrated better. It is reasonable to facilitate the immigration of such people. It is difficult to deny that religion plays a major role in determining the similarity or difference of cultures.
A last criterion is the load-bearing capacity of a nation. In deciding on immigration policies, an honest politician should consider the limit that must not be trespassed to prevent violent xenophobia.
If we apply a generous but prudent migration policy, we are likely to admit only a fraction of the vast masses of people willing to leave their country and work to improve their living conditions and create a better future for their children. Shall we decry all responsibility for the others? The principle a semetipso incipit bene ordinata caritas tells us that we have a responsibility for all men. It orders this responsibility, but does not deny it. If we are not morally obliged to receive within our borders all the poor of the earth, we still have a moral obligation to improve their lot in their native countries. To support their economic development is both a moral obligation and an act of enlightened self-interest. The growth of their economies also stimulates our growth. Free trade treaties have helped millions of people exit poverty. They should be enhanced, especially in the countries of origin of the migrants heading to Europe.
Having established a philosophical framework and elaborated resultant political criteria, we can now test these criteria in the concrete case of European migration policies.
Millions of people move to Europe, demanding admission into our borders. Some arrive by land, while others traverse the Mediterranean on old boats. Many arrive by airplane with a tourist visa and remain illegally after their visa has expired. What shall we do?
First, we have a moral duty not to let people drown in the sea. Next, we have the right and duty to identify them and to investigate who is a refugee and who is an illegal immigrant.
The country of asylum has a right to attempt to identify all migrants and to deny them free access to its territory until they have been identified. This identification is the starting point of all rational immigration policies. It is crucial for the protection of the immigrants themselves. Unidentified migrants can be more easily sold to criminal organizations that will exploit their labour, induce them to prostitution, or even kill them to sell their organs.
Identification is also crucial for the protection of our people because it allows us to prevent the immigration of criminals and the expansion of crime. We need to identify migrants also in order to prevent the formation of large masses of illegal immigrants. An illegal immigrant is a human being who cannot rely on the protection of the law. He does not see in the policeman an ally and a protector of his rights but an enemy and a threat. What can an illegal do if he or she becomes the victim of violence or is robbed? He or she can only seek revenge through his own private exercise of violence or seek the protection of the local mafia boss. The result is a spreading culture of illegality and violence. Instead of opening channels of legal migration, we tolerate illegal immigration, thus expanding the underworld of organized crime.
Identification is also the precondition for the processing of asylum demands and to distinguish between refugees and illegal immigrants. Refugees should be integrated in our societies; illegal immigrants should be sent back to the countries of origin.
The identification and expulsion of illegal immigrants is challenging, especially if the subjects do not want to be identified. It requires cooperation with the countries of origin of immigrants. This cooperation needs to be encouraged and becomes more effective if we offer two counterparts. The first is channels of legal immigration. The other is economic cooperation for development. It is unrealistic to expect poor countries to cooperate cordially for the repatriation of illegal migrants if they have no perspectives of economic development and job creation for their people. We need a ‘Neighbourhood Policy’ that supports the creation of an area of shared prosperity. This involves free trade agreements, the creation of a free exchange area in the Maghreb, and the building of adequate infrastructure on the southern Mediterranean coast together with interior reforms based on the rule of law. The main obstacle is the ISIS caliphate in Libya and in Syria. The very existence of the caliphate is a consequence of the lack of a European policy in the Middle East. The Arab Spring was at the same time a demand of freedom and a revolt for bread. If the pro-Western elites that led the up- risings could have offered immediate humanitarian relief and a perspective of economic development they would likely have consolidated their leadership. We did not provide them with any adequate support, and, consequently, fanatical anti-Western forces defeated them. Now, everything is more difficult. It is, however, apparent that no reasonable immigration policy is possible if they are without a government that has control of territory both in Libya and in Syria.
The crucial distinction between refugees and illegal immigrants must remain theoretical if there is not a minimal respect of human rights in the migrants’ countries of origin. We cannot allow all of them to settle among us, but to send them back home we must help them to build a home in which they can live. The material and cultural costs of such a Neighbourhood Policy would, however, be much more bearable than those of unrestricted immigration.
In conclusion, from the principle of well-ordered charity we derive three consequences: We have a moral and juridical (according to the international law) obligation to accept and integrate refugees; we have the right to determine the number of economic immigrants on the basis of a reciprocal convenience; and we have a moral obligation to support the economic development of the countries of origin.