To render better pastoral care to migrants, the south zone members of the Commission for Migrants from Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra–Telangana, and Tamil Nadu held a meeting on May 2.
The seminar on "Care and Protection of Migrants in the Destination States" took place at the Pastoral Center of the Madras–Mylapore Archdiocese, Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
As many as 35 people attended the event, including priests, nuns, and laity.
Participants discussed ways to collaborate with organizations within the church and other civil society groups for the welfare of migrants.
Archbishop George Anthonysamy of Madras–Mylapur urged participants that migration should not be underestimated.
He stressed the principles of UNHCR for the migrants: the dignity of labor, decent work, a just wage, and pastoral care for the migrants.
Strengthening the pastoral care of migrants and unorganized workers is the need of the hour. A policy for the migrants must be made to accompany them strategically in dioceses, the prelate said.
He said that every citizen of India has the right to a decent life and livelihood in the place where they are born. When the state fails to provide work for its citizens, people migrate against their will. All forced migrations are distressing and result in bonded labor or a web of many other factors.
Dr. Bernard D’Sami, director of Loyola Institute of Social Science Training and Research, Chennai, said the 2011 census reveals 438 million interstate migrants in India.
The church has a great role in advocating for the migrants' welfare. It is estimated that there are about 12 million migrant workers from India working in nearly 163 countries in the world, and among them, half of them are in the Gulf region alone.
D’Sami further said the need to promote models from other states to take care of the migrants. One such model is that of the MOU between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to enhance migration governance and government accountability on the rights of poor migrants so that the people are treated with dignity and provided all support both at source and destination states.
He observed that the new Labour Codes are a disaster for migrant workers, and there are proposals for a separate law for them.
Father Bosco from the Bosco Migrants Service in Tamil Nadu spoke on the issues of unorganized workers and how to reduce migration problems. It is a network that will help those involved in the ministry assist the migrants better.
From Jesuit Migrant Service Tamil Nadu, Father Arul Henry William SJ spoke about the need for an inclusive church for migrants.
The distressed migrants are assisted to a certain extent, but it must be strengthened, and a diocesan person for migrants must be in place.
Father Paul Raj, director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Tamil Nadu, shared the plight of refugees in Tamil Nadu.
As many as 58,425 Sri Lankan Tamils live in 104 rehabilitation camps across 29 districts of Tamil Nadu as of August 2022. They live in a rehabilitation camp with basic housing facilities and poor infrastructure, sanitation, and medical care facilities.
They have three options: repatriation, local integration, or resettlement. Due to the ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka, 232 people were reported to have arrived at the Mandapam camp in Tamil Nadu in April 2022.
JRS collaborates with the Rehabilitation Department and UNHCR for the cause of refugees.
The Secretaries of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, the receiving states of migrants, have various programs for migrants. They have intervened in their multiple problems, and timely assistance is given.
Father Joseph Beck, secretary of Karnataka’s Migrants Commission, said the church takes care of the spiritual needs of migrants.
As many as 24 centers are established based on their language to exercise their faith and spirituality.
Volunteers are the backbone of reaching out to migrants. They assist migrants in registering with a parish for their spiritual needs and sense of belonging.
Pastoral care for African nationals and Nepali-speaking communities is being taken care of.
Integrating migrants with local parish communities and organizing occasional gatherings of migrants are in place.
Facilitating the registration of workers for welfare schemes is a crucial step to availing government benefits to internal migrants.
As per a Press Information Bureau (PIB) report published in April 2022, based on the 2011 census, there are over 34.87 lakh migrant laborers in Tamil Nadu; of this, over 700 thousand are women.
The Tamil Nadu Commission for Migrants has various programs organized for migrants, said Father Albert Thampi Durai, secretary of the Commission.
The programs include forming common interest groups; linking state and federal government schemes; credit support for small businesses, linking services/schemes, mainstreaming Christian and Muslim (religious minorities) migrants; and giving migrants in various centers skill training to start their livelihood.
The National Commission for Migrants and Conference of Catholic Bishops of India have been organizing seminars and workshops to strengthen their region's care for migrants, said the Executive Secretary, Father Jaison Vadassery.
He said the south zone seminar's purpose was to improve further the network of religious congregations and the dioceses caring for the migrants.
Reiterating the words of Pope Francis, he said, "Welcome, protect, promote, and integrate’ the migrants into the local churches, and identifying them as brothers and sisters is the key.
Participants observed that research is to be done as soon as possible to generate adequate data to assist them further.
They stressed networking with other organizations to strengthen pastoral care migrants by providing quality service.
All the dioceses are urged to assist the migrants so they can benefit from government schemes and projects.
A policy for the migrants will be developed in the dioceses to emphasize service to the migrants.
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