Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations at Geneva, in a Tuesday speech to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, urged further action to protect refugees. The archbishop said close to 40 million people have presently been uprooted by violence and persecution.
The treatment of refugees displaced by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Archbishop Tomasi said, has brought attention to the “inadequate action” taken to protect refugees and has revealed a “growing insensitivity to asylum seekers.”
Many countries’ responses to refugees, he said, are often paradoxical. As more people seek protection in other countries, political action presses for greater restrictions on their entry. “In the process, genuine victims from abuses of basic human rights and of specific hostility are confusedly catalogued with other people on the move,” the archbishop observed.
Archbishop Tomasi said international agreements such as the 1951 Convention on Refugees and regional agreements such as the 1969 Convention of the Organization of African Unity and the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, have variously protected people fleeing from external aggression, occupation, foreign domination, serious disturbances in public order or massive violations of human rights. These protections, he said, have been extended to stateless peoples, returnees, and certain peoples who have been internally displaced.
However, the situation of displaced persons is still precarious, as most refugees are found in unstable regions. Only five percent of refugees are accepted into wealthy countries, but some six million people are trapped in such situations, he asserted.
The archbishop endorsed several proposals to help refugees. He said refugees should have the right to food within refugee camps so they are not forced to seek external employment in which they risk arrest and deportation. He said more countries should be made accessible to asylum seekers, fulfilling a responsibility that “should be shared according to the possibilities of each country or region for the sake of the common good.”
However, countries also should have adequate channels for the legal entry of refugees so that asylum seekers are not forced to take the same routes as irregular migrants, risking the “extortions and abuses” within such groups.
Finally, Archbishop Tomasi said detention of refugees should only be considered as a last resort and avoided in the case of minors, who are particularly traumatized by forced detention.