Moral Responsibility Towards Refugees



Lecturer argues protecting security does not contradict helping refugees

The Nanovic Institute welcomed Tomasz Sieniow, an expert on migration law in Europe, to give a lecture on November 2nd entitled “Refugees in Europe: How Can We Reconcile the Protection of Human Rights with Security?” Sieniow is the Chair of European Union Law at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in Poland. In his lecture, Sieniow stressed the moral responsibility of Catholics to protect the vulnerable by accepting refugees. 

There has been a 300% rise in refugees to Europe since 2013, most of whom are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Eritrea. Sieniow was unconcerned that the exploding numbers of refugees would bring a terrorism threat to Europe, saying, “Most of the terrorists who carried out attacks were EU citizens by birth. This is forgotten about when we make refugees and terrorists one group.”

When pressed by one of lecture attendees about the increased danger of Islamic Terrorism by accepting refugees, Sieniow responded, “I would rather be naive and go to heaven than prudent and go to hell.” 

Sieniow explained that security is not the most pertinent problem in accepting refugees. He called Europe an “Old Lady” with established values and a high median population age of 42.6 years as compared to Africa’s median age of 19.5 years. Sieniow asserted that this creates problems with integrating refugees, saying, “The integration policies of Western European countries have brought very little effect to create one society.” 

He argued there is a moral responsibility to accept refugees into Europe because Europe possesses the resources and the vulnerable need protection. He cited Pope Saint John Paul II’s talk at the 1999 World Day of Migrants as reasoning for Catholic responsibility to refugees. Pope Saint John Paul II said, “Catholicity is not only expressed in the fraternal communion of the baptized, but also in the hospitality extended to the stranger, whatever his religious belief, in the rejection of all racial exclusion or discrimination, in the recognition of the personal dignity of every man and woman and, consequently, in the commitment to furthering their inalienable rights.”

As an expert on European Union law, Sieniow described the current laws on migration in Europe. He said that the Geneva Convention established that nations are not required to accept refugees, but that once refugees have crossed the border into a nation, that nation is required to adapt them into the nation and provide for them. For this reason, Sieniow explained, “states are trying to use every possible way to make access to their territory more difficult.” 

Sieniow believes that states should not utilize tactics to prevent refugees from entering their nations, stating that, “EU member states should offer asylum even if the vulnerable people are not yet on their territories.” He stressed that the majority of refugees are families with children, and that only 2% of refugees are single males. He expressed that there is a moral responsibility to protect families and children ravaged by war in their home countries.

Sieniow also discussed refugees in the United States. He criticized President Trump’s travel bans by saying, “the Catholic Church has said it’s not in line with Catholic teaching to point out all the people to be rejected from the country.” He further criticized Trump’s plans for a southern border wall, saying, “It looks like none of the terrorists that were active in America came through the Mexican border and to spend billions of dollars on the wall does not make sense.”

In light of the controversy surrounding the refugee crisis today, Sieniow’s focus on the moral responsibility behind the issue allowed for an engaging discussion.

Ellie Gardey is a freshman political science major living in Lewis Hall. She is a lover of sushi and country music. Contact Ellie at egardey@nd.edu.

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