The accent is deceiving. Father Alfredo José Gonçalves is not Brazilian, but Portuguese. Born in Madeira, he has lived in Brazil for over 50 years. He belongs to the Missionary Order of St. Charles (Scalabrian missionaries), specializing in migration, and is currently an advisor for the 'Human Mobility' of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB).
Passing through Portugal, on the occasion of World Migrant and Refugee Day, which the Church marks on September 29, he spoke with the Renaissance about the evolution of the migratory phenomenon and the growth of the “stateless”. He praises the Pope for being "the great spokesman for the cause of migrants" who, he says, "is not a threat." And it regrets that there is no political will from the richest countries to help those where more and more people are coming, whether because of armed conflict, political persecution or even climate reasons.
Critic of leaders such as Donald Trump, Matteo Salvini or Viktor Orban, says the most serious is what these leaders represent. As you have said for these days at the conferences you gave in some Portuguese dioceses, the migrant is not “a threat”, but “prophet and protagonist”, because “he challenges us and puts the way to think of a more human future for all”.
What brought you to Portugal?
World Migrant and Refugee Day, we are working together with the Portuguese Catholic Work of Migration, from the Pope's message to this day…
A message entitled 'It's not just about migrants', which invites you to look at this reality from its various perspectives.
The phrase is suggestive as it warns that migrations hide – reveal, but hide – a much broader context. I would say that the phrase is the tip of the iceberg of the much broader phenomenon of migration today, where numbers and sensationalism sometimes obscure the personal and family dramas behind it.
The Pope reaffirms in this message the warnings against the 'culture of discard' and the 'globalization of indifference'.
Since his election the Pope has been a great spokesman for this cause of migrants, not only in his writings but also in his gestures. He first visited Lampedusa Island, which is a gateway to European migrations, then visited the island of Lesbos, Greece, another gateway to the Balkan route, and also visited the border between Mexico and the United States. States, where many migrants try to reach the American El Dorado. He was always a spokesman for this drama and this cause of migrants.
Spoken in the United States… we have seen how the Trump administration treats migrants. Here in Europe, in Italy, many of those rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean are detained and even brought to court. How do you see this growing criminalization of humanitarian aid? Has the sense of solidarity been lost?
I think there is a convergence of two very strong factors. On the one hand, the crisis of the capitalist system, which begins in the 1970s and continues to worsen to this day, the crisis of the globalized economy, which has accelerated the uprooting of many people, whether for work, conflict or climate reasons. On the other, a few decades ago the wave of, say, populist nationalism that has swept the world, Europe, the United States, has been systematically closing the borders on migrants. Thus, this causes legal migration to diminish and increase the pressure on migrants at territorial borders. Hence, today, the phenomenon of migrations in borders such as the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey and Greece, the United States and Mexico, these borders where people find themselves in an attempt to seek a better life, emerges very strongly. In North Africa is also very strong that…
In Africa there are countries that have faced this problem for decades, and have seen their population increase with the arrival of thousands, or millions of refugees from other neighboring countries.
Exactly. Another important thing to note is that migrations have greatly changed their way of being. They became. If we look at historical migrations, from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, more than 60 million migrants left Europe: Italians, Irish, Germans, English, Portuguese, bound for the United States, Canada, Australia, to South America, the so-called 'new lands'. These historical migrations had a more or less predetermined origin and destination, there was an exit pole and a arrival pole. Migrants were uprooting with the certainty that they would replant their roots in a new land, there was a certain guarantee in this regard.
Is everything more uncertain today?
Today things are much more uncertain. Migrants are ripped from their country, but there is no certainty where to go. Then a huge crowd goes from one corner of the planet to the other without knowing which country to find a place to root.
Can we say that the migratory phenomenon has globalized?
It has globalized and created many peoples that we now call 'stateless' people without a homeland, without a territory that can be called a homeland. This is the case of the Palestinians, it is the case of many ethnic groups being expelled from some countries in Africa, it is the case of the Rohingyas (from former Burma) who go to Bangladesh. These are peoples who today have no homeland, no territory that can be called their own.
Even in the Middle East, with Islamic terrorism, there have also been mutations.
The Syrians, the Kurds, do not have exactly territory. These are peoples who do not have a territorial, linguistic, historical reference and live today without homeland, from one corner to another.
Has the Catholic Church been at the forefront in assisting and helping these people?
It is true. Not only has the Church been prophetic, in the words of Pope Francis, but in many places it is involved in welcoming. These are the four verbs of the Pope: 'welcome, protect, promote and integrate'. In many places the Church has shelter systems, guidance homes, which we do all over the world. It is a way of welcoming, but that is not enough. The richer nations must invest heavily in their countries of origin in order to guarantee a dignified life, a human life to these peoples in their place of origin, so that they do not have to immigrate.
Is that all that is lacking, political will?
Political will is a matter of wealth distribution. Never has the concentration of wealth been so strong as it is today. One percent of the world's population has a very large percentage of wealth, and in some countries, such as Brazil, this is even stronger, Brazil is among the most unequal countries in the world. There is a very fashionable book by French economist Thomas Piketty, called 'The Economics of Inequalities', which talks about the economy that concentrates and excludes the same temple. As this economy begins to invest in migrants' countries of origin, the right to come and go corresponds to the right to stay, the right to stay in your country as a citizen, with life, employment, and home. Because all the migrant wants when migrating is work, home, bread, school, it is their human rights. You do not find it in your country and the act of emigrating does not always give you this guarantee, on the contrary, they are increasingly encountering difficulties.
Does the way the West generally looks at these people show that it is conditioned by fear?
IT'S. Then there is fear, there is indifference, there is threat. We often see migrants as a threat. There is xenophobia, fear of the other, a lot of discrimination, sometimes racism. I would say that the evil in the world today is not the voices of Trump, Salvini or Orban, and other international figures. The harm is that these voices represent very large sections of the population. They are spokesmen for retrograde populations, insensitive, indifferent to the drama of migrants.
We are talking about elected political leaders.
They were democratically elected. The American President, the Italian Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Hungary. Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan. And there are others, in Denmark, Brazil is also having difficulties in this regard.
And these are countries, many of them, that were made up of migrants, people who came from other places.
This is another phenomenon. Usually in migrant countries, those who are children, or are migrants, end up creating difficulties for new migrants, rather than favoring create difficulties.
Today an estimated 250 million people live outside the country of birth, of which 70 million are refugees. Refugee is a migrant who cannot return, is in danger of death, imprisonment, persecution for political, ideological, religious, tribal, ethnic reasons for a variety of reasons. Today it is estimated to be 70 million. The country with the largest number of refugees is Syria, second is Venezuela today, then we have some countries from Africa, we have Bangladesh, we have Yemen, a number of countries that are today marked by refuge.
Brazil, where Father Alfredo has lived for several years, has also been affected by the arrival of migrants from Venezuela. How is this phenomenon of migration living there?
I was still 15 days ago in Manaus, where most Venezuelans coming to Brazil arrive. It is estimated that between 15 and 20 thousand the number of Venezuelans who arrived in Brazil. The numbers are always estimative because many arrive clandestinely and are not counted. But Brazil is not even the most dramatic place. Venezuela's border with Colombia is much worse, over 2 million have passed through …
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