06/06/2013, 00.00
VATICAN
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Vatican paper calls for open arms, not rejection for those fleeing war and hunger

At least 100 million people have been forced to leave their homelands, including 16 million refugees, 28.8 million internally displaced people, 15 million environmental refugees, and 15 million people made homeless by development. An additional 12 million are stateless. Governments are adopting "more restrictive" policies when they should instead grant refugees "subsidiary protection". The Church "feels duty-bound to express its closeness to refugees and people forcibly uprooted" by taking on their problems, as much as it can; by defending them; and by "raising its voice to speak on behalf of those who cannot be heard."

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Governments are adopting "more restrictive" policies towards people forced to leave their country, whose number has reached at least 100 million people and counting. Attempts are being made to stop people from fleeing, or limit the number of asylum seekers. In short, "more and more often deterrence measures are used in lieu of incentives to promote the well-being of human beings, safeguarding human dignity and promoting their centrality." This is why two Vatican ministries, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant peoples and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum have drafted and released a paper entitled 'Welcoming Christ in refugees and forcibly displaced persons' that is both a study and an exposé of the situation.

The paper, said Card Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, focuses on "the urgent need to guarantee the rights enumerated in the 1951 Refugee Convention, even though they are few and could be improved. The spirit of 1951 should be rejuvenated and new farsighted policies should be adopted in order to respond fully to today's needs as well as future ones."

The Church is "convinced that the pastoral care for all persons who, in various ways, are involved in forced migration is a collective responsibility, as well as [the responsibility] of each individual believer," and "feels duty-bound to express its closeness to refugees and people forcibly uprooted" by taking on their problems, as much as it can; by defending them; and by "raising its voice to speak on behalf of those who cannot be heard."

Some 16 million refugees are affected (including asylum seekers and Palestinians registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). An additional 28.8 million are internally dispersed people; 15 million are environmental refugees and 15 million are people made homeless by development projects. In addition 12 million people are stateless, "almost invisible" because they lack papers and the opportunity to find work and study, and thus deserve to be treated in accordance with "international human rights". Equally, states "have a duty to adopt citizenship laws that respect fundamental principles of international law."

"When ethnic or religious minorities experience hatred and systematic and violent exclusion in society, civil, political, and ethnic strife follows, increasing the flow of refugees. It is therefore necessary to provide adequate protection to all those who flee violence and social unrest, even when these situations are not caused by governments. In this case, the latter should grant them 'subsidiary protection status."

"The life and privacy of refugee families should also be respected. They should enjoy the right to family reunification in the host country and the right to earn a living with dignity as well as fair wages and adequate housing for human beings. Their children should have the right to proper education and medical care."

The problem, however, is not just immigration policies, which, when they are restrictive, "encourage people smuggling and create dangerous situations, like sea crossings". Indeed, the paper seeks to "put the poor at the centre of the political debate as people with equal dignity" in order to "promote their participation in decision-making and administrative processes", boost welfare services taking their needs into account "as a priority, honour the commitment of spending 0.7 per cent [of GDP in foreign aid], cancel the debt of heavily indebted countries and least developed countries, with provisions to prevent further indebtedness," [. . .] "promote trade and financial reforms to open markets to developing countries, sponsor good governance and the fight against corruption, reduce military expenditures, develop research activities and provide drugs against AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other tropical diseases."

Lastly, "All refugees have a right to assistance, including for their spiritual needs during the period of asylum, which might be in a camp set up for them, or during the process of integration in a host country."

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