Refugee Plight

Vatican representative to UN pleas: make refugees a priority!


“Millions of normal, ordinary human beings are thrust into situations of incredible humiliation and suffering,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi in a statement to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Archbishop Tomasi, the head of the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, surveyed the plight of peoples forcibly displaced from their homes by violent conflicts, extreme misery, environmental degradation, religious persecution, and other injustices. Globally some ten million people are estimated to be refugees from their home country, while about twenty-four million are internally displaced within their country of origin.

The archbishop warned against indifference to these numbers: “Public opinion tends to accept almost as normal the fact that millions of fellow human beings are so uprooted and relegated to miserable and painful conditions. But welcoming refugees and giving them hospitality is, for every one, a vital gesture of human solidarity in order to help them feel less isolated by intolerance and disinterest.”

He urged that uprooted persons take first priority in the international community and that gaps in refugee aid be remedied.  Truly respecting the rights of displaced persons, he claimed, would lead to a comprehensive response for their safety.  “A globalization of protection results from a globalization of rights.”

Refugee issues should be viewed from the perspective of human rights, he argued.  This approach means that the duty to protect displaced persons is international and reaches “beyond the narrow national interest of single states and beyond the fear that it may be a disguised form of domination.” This duty also means that governments and other social groups have a responsibility to protect human rights and may not drive people from their homes.

Archbishop Tomasi also condemned strict asylum regulations which excessively confine refugees to detainment camps: “The policy of detention is enforced beyond strictly necessary measures, while people are forced, more or less permanently, to stay in camps, without having their right to freedom of movement and access to work guaranteed, a situation that too often results in chronic malnutrition [develops].”

The archbishop recommended preventative measures in areas of conflict to avoid situations that create refugees.  He emphasized peacemaking, dialogue, and reconciliation. “The prevention of conflicts, which always are a source of human rights violations and of massive forced displacement, must become the main road in the efforts of the international community to eradicate the tragedy of forced displacement.”

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