Vatican official calls on intl. community to meet needs of Iraqi refugees

.- A Vatican official has launched an urgent appeal to the international community for a coordinated response to the needs of the people who have been displaced by the ongoing war, violence, and civil unrest in Iraq.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations Office at Geneva, made the appeal this week, during a two-day international conference. The April 17-18 meeting was called to address the humanitarian needs of the refugees and internally displaced persons inside Iraq and in neighboring countries.

The archbishop noted that about two million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and two million others have already fled the country. More than 50,000 are fleeing their homes each month.

The archbishop commended Jordan and Syria for welcoming Iraqi refugees but noted that these countries are beginning to feel the strain on their resources and ability to welcome.

Furthermore, he said, victims escaping violence are generally more vulnerable to new forms exploitation and of being deprived of health and education services, housing and employment possibilities.

“Facing such vulnerability, some persons are tempted to place themselves in the hands of smugglers in order to escape but simply are confronted with additional difficulties,” he added.

The international community must “take up its responsibility and share in the task of protection and assistance. Non-discriminatory humanitarian engagement would be the first step to re-establish a pluralistic unity,” the archbishop emphasized.

Tomasi also recognized the need to make conditions in Iraq and in the whole region conducive to a decent and sustainable coexistence among all its citizens. However, he suggested the option of resettlement as an immediate response.

“The option of resettlement may need to be enhanced, and doors opened by more countries and for greater numbers, so that pressure within the region may be alleviated on a short-term basis,” he said.

Archbishop Tomasi said he was hopeful with the UNHCR initiative to bring together representatives of governments and of humanitarian organizations in Iraq to discuss means of addressing urgent human needs.

The archbishop recalled the appeals of Pope John Paul II in 2003 for negotiations and for resolute attempts to avoid “the tremendous consequences that an international military operation would have for the population of Iraq and for the balance of the Middle East region already sorely tried, and for the extremisms that could stem from it.”

Archbishop Tomasi expressed concern about the rising violence in Iraq, which has widened to the targeting of unarmed civilians and has a “widening deadly impact in the entire Middle East region.”  

He was also concerned that displaced women, elderly and children bear the brunt of the tragedy, and children are often traumatized by the death of their parents and remain without professional care.

Christian and other religious minorities continue to be the targets of forced eviction and ethnic cleansing by radical groups, he noted.

“A comprehensive reconciliation and peace are the obvious responses that address the root of all forced displacement,” the archbishop said. But until then, he said, the international community must answer to the needs of the millions of refugees in the area in order to protect life and prevent further regional destabilization.

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