98,400: 1

In Open Heart, Open Arms, a booklet on welcoming migrants to Ireland, Alan Hilliard points out that acknowledging our common humanity is central to the gospel message. Nowhere is this more real than when it comes to vulnerable children. This story is continued from our January edition.

Comfort for the Afflicted: That all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalised, may find welcome and comfort in our communities.

To update from part one of this article, the number 98,400 represents the number of displaced children or unaccompanied minors who applied worldwide for asylum in 2015. The number ‘one’ represents the number of these children taken into Ireland as of early October 2016, in figures provided by the office of the Ombudsman.

The cold at night was as intense as the heat during the day. They travelled when they could, hoping they were headed in the right direction. Eventually another group of traffickers arrived and began to negotiate with them. Abraham was taken to one side and a gun was put to his head. The traffickers planned to use him as an example and were ready to kill him. If the other people in the group did not pay money to the traffickers, he would die. His friend volunteered to pay so they took his money and then shot him, but Abraham was allowed to live. His great friend who had taken him so far, feeding him and negotiating on his behalf, was now lying dead in front of him. The remainder of the group was taken to another location where they were locked in a shed. They were continuously beaten and guns were put to their heads in a threatening fashion. The traffickers used mobile phones to contact the family members of those who were locked up and attempted to extort money from them. If no money was forthcoming they were mercilessly shot.

When Abraham eventually made it to Europe, he was detained in a migrant centre for two weeks until he was moved to a juvenile centre. He received basic training and was given work in a hotel. At twenty-years-old he went back to secondary school, as his childhood schooling was non-existent. He now sits with teenagers who are five years younger than him; some are racist towards him and send him inappropriate texts. He works every morning from 5am before he goes to school. He works after school, he does his homework and he gets extra study support to help him understand some of the more complex subjects.

I asked him about his understanding of God. He said he could not have made the perilous journey without God. Every day when he wakes up the first thing that comes to his mind is God; every time there is a problem he knows God will sort it for him. He explained that whenever he thought the end was nigh, God always sent someone along to help him. He cannot understand how a world can live without God! ‘Where in the world would you most like to live?’ I asked him, ‘Wherever there is peace’ was his immediate reply. His prayer is always for peace in the world, he cannot understand how people who say they believe in God are at war, ‘Peace is God’s way’, he said. Spontaneously, he said that he thinks Papa Francesco is a man of peace and a man of God whose words will last for thousands of years. When he reads what his hero says he feels so blessed and is in awe of the man who speaks from God with such authority. Every day, and sometimes twice a day, he looks up Papa Francesco’s Facebook page to see what he is saying. Abraham considers Papa Francesco to be a man who is a leader for all faiths. Abraham should know, after all he is Muslim!

Abraham is an example of a real person behind these words of Pope Francis:

It is absolutely necessary, therefore, to deal with the causes which trigger migrations in the countries of origin. This requires, as a first step, the commitment of the whole international community to eliminate the conflicts and violence that force people to flee. Furthermore, far-sighted perspectives are called for, capable of offering adequate programmes for areas struck by the worst injustice and instability, in order that access to authentic development can be guaranteed for all. This development should promote the good of boys and girls, who are humanity’s hope.1

There are many unaccompanied minors like Abraham and we in Ireland have welcomed only one. This year, in his Message for the 103rd World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis calls our attention to the plight of ‘minor migrants, vulnerable and voiceless’. He is calling attention to the plight of children that we are choosing to ignore. The World Day of Migrants and Refugees falls on the 15 January but it will be largely ignored in most parishes throughout Ireland once again. Announcing this theme, Pope Francis said he ‘wants to focus attention on the smallest of the small’. People who ‘are unable to make their own voices heard’ and who ‘easily become victims of grave violations of human rights’.

Open heart, open arms

by Alan Hilliard