Portrait of the month: Patrick president of Emmaus International (Oct. 2022)

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Forbach community, a round table was organised with local elected representatives and the presidents of Emmaus France, Emmaus Europe, Emmaus Africa and Emmaus International. We met with one of them.

My name is Patrick Atohoun, I am in charge of an Emmaus group in Benin: Emmaus Pahou and I am president of Emmaus International. I am here as part of the 40th anniversary of the Forbach community, which wanted us to come and take part and celebrate this happy event of “living together” with them.

Can you tell us more about the topics discussed at the round table?

Yesterday, at the round table, we talked about borders and migration, and what I remember is that it is really absurd to talk about borders. The populations are the same and we don’t need these borders to live. Immigrants are people who bring their skills, their civilisation and their experience and it’s a shame that our policies don’t encourage these exchanges between populations because you know that at Emmaus, it’s the meeting that is fundamental. We have done this in our movement and in the international movement: we welcome people unconditionally. This means that men and women, whatever their country, whatever their religion, whatever their nationality, can live together and build a project, a project that is the improvement of each other’s living conditions.

Why is it important to talk about this?

I think that what was important but that we did not have time to develop was that, in the Emmaus International movement, we have been talking about the issue of borders and immigration for over 50 years. At the movement level, in terms of communication, documents and certain media, we have shown that we can do things together. We built the universal passport, to say that through this passport we can be citizens of the world. In terms of the movement’s actions, we spoke about Article 13, which is the article that says that according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every citizen has the right to move and reside together. And the question we are asking ourselves now is “why can’t our politicians accept that this article is applied in all countries? I think it’s this fear that people distil in the population to say “it’s the immigrants who do this, who do that”. No, immigrants have skills, they are aware, they have left their country because there are situations of injustice, situations of poverty and we, at Emmaus, enable all these people to be integrated, to be able to build with the people living in these countries and to build something quite coherent.

So for us, we need to increasingly, through the situations that we experience (we were in Calais and Brussels a few days ago), make it our leitmotiv that people should be regularised. All these people must be allowed to integrate, to take over their rights, to create something in their environment. This is what we think. And if we give it a try, and we have been doing this for 70 years at Emmaus International, we can live together. And “living together” is something that is fundamental, living together is something that allows everyone to express themselves and to live with dignity, which reduces the suffering of the most deprived and disadvantaged. 

Should we still hope that one day everyone will be able to move around freely?

At Emmaus and civil society level, it is this hope that we are trying to reactivate, because we should not expect anything from our politicians. Our policies set up border policies. In our various southern states, money is given to the political authorities to say “we must block this traffic”. Whereas in our African countries, for the last 20-30 years, there has been this movement of people, no one is harmed, people integrate, they have jobs, so I think we must always hope. And this hope is the mobilisation that we have at the level of organisations and at the level of our friends who are immigrants, to speak out, to tell our politicians “we are not criminals”, to tell our MPs that we can do something. So, if we did not have hope, I think we would have failed: for us at Emmaus, it is hope, it is to have alternatives. And we call on all our MPs, all those people who don’t believe in it, to come to our communities. In our communities, we have 10, 15 nationalities, and these people make their lives, create projects and create solidarity, because you cannot remain in a situation of instability. In Emmaus, you work, you do solidarity, you help the most suffering, so I think we have to hope, and this is the meaning of the movement for 70 years with Abbé Pierre who started this movement. We hope that we will have a better world, a world with less violence, a world where one can live next to the other so that everyone can really flourish for the good of each other.

Thank you Patrick!

Article 13 is a collective of actors from the Emmaus Movement who defend the dignity of migrants: https://www.facebook.com/article13emmaus

Universal Passport (french article): https://www.oeil-maisondesjournalistes.fr/2014/05/27/passeport-universelle-une-idee-revolutionnaire/