Cardinal Robert Sarah, a right-wing and traditionalist prelate of the Guinean Roman Catholic Church, claims that ‘every nation has the right to distinguish between a political or religious refugee who is forced to flee their own land, and the economic migrant who wants to change his place of residence.’
Sarah is an outspoken opponent of Pope Francis, whom he believes to be damaging the Roman Catholic Church by ‘learning from, and not teaching to’ the outside world, and it is difficult not to see this statement as part of his ongoing challenge to the Pope.
We should note, first, that Sarah must know that states certainly do have ‘the right’ to differentiate in the way he says, and that most exercise that ‘right’ on a near-daily basis. By implying that they do not, he is taking a remarkably provocative and hard-line position.
Simultaneously, Sarah should know that all over the world, the ‘differentiation’ between ‘deserving refugees’ and ‘suspicious freeloading migrants’ is the exact argument the far-Right uses not only to promote the prevention of migration of any and all kinds, but also to attempting to cast doubt and suspicion over the entire concept of refugees.
This ‘differentiation’ is in fact one of the reason that humanitarians are losing the ‘debate’ over the movement of people. Because we have been too quick to accept the differentiation, and in so doing taking part in a debate designed to muddy the waters and sow suspicion of people and their reasons for moving.
Either Sarah knows this (I believe he does) and is using this ‘debate’ as a means to attack Pope Francis, who is openly pro- freedom of movement, and indeed cites as an example of the duty of Catholics around the world to assist those who find themselves in new and unfamiliar settings – effectively, Sarah would therefore be wilfully sacrificing millions of men, women and children to attack the Pope – or he does not know it, in which case one must ask why he feels he is qualified to make public statements on the topic, if not why he feels he is capable of representing his church in his region of the world.