By Elise Harris
One of the Vatican’s top diplomatic voices has criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to end the Temporary Protected Status of thousands of Haitians taking refuge in the U.S., saying the country isn’t yet ready for the influx after a slew of natural disasters devastated the island nation.
“That’s a sad decision, because the Haitian population in the U.S. that arrived after the earthquake and after the storm that destroyed half of the island, cannot go back to a situation that still is very difficult,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told CNA Nov. 24.
Reconstruction in Haiti following the brutal 2010 earthquake that left hundreds of thousands dead before Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016, causing further devastation, “is not well-advanced,” Tomasi said, “because there are not enough resources for the people of Haiti.”
“We hope in the months ahead that there will still be some space to negotiate and delay, and continue the protection of status for Haitians in the United States.”
Archbishop Tomasi was formerly the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, and is now Counselor for the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
He spoke during the Nov. 24 presentation of Pope Francis’ message for the 2018 World Day of Peace, titled “Migrants and Refugees: men and women in search of peace,” and dedicated entirely to the issue of migration.
The message comes just four days after Trump administration announced it will be ending protected legal residency for an estimated 60,000 Haitians living in the U.S., giving them until July 2019 to return to their country.
Thousands of Haitians flocked to the United States in 2010 following a catastrophic earthquake that measured at 7.0 on the Richter scale and which killed more than 200,000, displaced more than 1 million, and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in and around the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that the “extraordinary conditions” necessitating TPS for Haitians in the United States “no longer exists.”
TPS, a policy begun in 1990, allows people who are unable safely to return to their home nations because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary circumstances to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves.
However, the Trump administration’s decision Monday has raised the question for many as to whether Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, will be able to support an influx of 60,000 people returning home after seven years.
As far as the Holy See is concerned, Tomasi said they are working with local bishops conferences and the apostolic nunciature in Washington D.C. “to sensitize…public opinion” on the issue, and to “deal with politically irresponsible people.”
They are also hoping to illustrate “the fact that we need not only to be compassionate, but to be attentive to the need of these populations, which is a fact that is of benefit also to the United States because it will create an area of peace and cooperation not only in the Caribbean, but in the region.”
When it comes to the migration issue, Tomasi said it’s important to go beyond polemics and heated rhetoric.
Looking to what the reaction of many European countries has been to the arrival of refugees or asylum seekers, he said “there has been a multiplication of political parties where xenophobia dominates the goal of these organizations.”
“The solution is not to emphasize only security and control,” he said, but also involves thinking about how to welcome incoming migrants and refugees while taking into account “that the common good demands that both the necessity of the people arriving be taken into account, but also the limits that local communities welcoming them, accepting them, objectively have.”
“The important consideration I think is not to be too selfish, but to be open, to have a heart that is understanding and compassionate,” he said, adding that “we need to be men and women of compassion and empathy with the needs of others.”