This week the PC in Rome program had its first academic colloquium of the semester. These colloquia are organized a few times a semester by CEA and the PC Center for Theology and Religious Studies. They are important events which enhance the academic conversation in our program and provide opportunities to focus on issues of contemporary culture and society. Typically, local experts are invited to speak about their field, their recent research, and implications for current events.
This semester it was decided to focus on the immigration crisis in the European Union. There is a course running at CEA this Spring called: “Immigration, Race, and Identity” and the professor, Dr. Volker Kaul, invited a colleague, Dr. Daniele Archibugi, to offer an academic colloquium on this challenging and controversial topic.
Dr. Archibugi is a research director at the Italian National Research Council in Rome and is affiliated with the Institute on Population and Social Policy. His work centers on the economics and policy of innovation and technological change and on the political theory of international relations.
Dr. Archibugi began his lecture tracing the history of the refugee crisis in Europe after the Second World War. The creation of the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention and its critera for seeking asylum and the principle of “non-refoulement” were the focus of his remarks. After this historical overview, he explained the current crisis in the E.U. and offered some observations on the obligations of the international community, the necessity of welfare and financial assistance, and the uneven burden of refugees across the various countries.
The lecture went on to unpack the challenges facing refugees including integration into the host society, problems of public order, unemployment, and aspirations of citizenship. He also explained the creation of new political parties in Europe specifically to close the borders to refugees and combat immigration.
His talk challenged the students with some thought provoking questions near the end: How do we distinguish economic migrants from refugees? How can benefits for immigrants be standardized across the E.U.? And, after one year, are these people still refugees?
The notion of “hospitality” was his final challenge. Yes, most E.U. citizens want to be hospitable to those seeking asylum for political, racial, and religious reasons. But, as a community of nations, the E. U. needs to decide how much of the burden is given to each country. A standardized system of “welcome and welfare” needs to be articulated for all countries.
After the lecture, I reminded some of the P.C. students that Pope Francis has spoken many times on the topic of refugees and immigration in his homilies, Angelus messages, and public speeches. In fact, just recently on Palm Sunday, during his homily, he departed from his prepared text to speak about this issue.
Diverting from his prepared remarks, the pope drew a parallel between Jesus being abandoned to his fate and European countries that are refusing to help the more than 1 million immigrants that have fled to Europe seeking refuge from persecution, war, and hunger in Iraq, Syria, and northern Africa.
Jesus was “denied every justice,” the pope said. “Jesus also suffered on his own skin indifference, because no one wanted to take on the responsibility for his destiny.” “I am thinking of so many other people, so many marginalized people, so many asylum seekers, so many refugees,” Francis said. “There are so many who don’t want to take responsibility for their destiny.”
“There they are, at the border, because so many doors and so many hearts are closed,” he said. “Today’s migrants suffer from the cold, without food, and with no way to enter. They don’t feel welcome.”
This week’s academic colloquium helped to raise the level of academic engagement among students and faculty. It’s experiences like this that help to ensure that our time here is not spent simply in “study tourism” but in “study abroad” – learning in the context of a culture and society that is different from our own.