A shameful wound for our time
In our world there are millions of people who have been forcibly uprooted from their homes or native lands and cannot return due to persecution, war, or generalized disorder. Their lives and well-being depend on the protection of the community of nations. These are refugees. In addition to them are the internally displaced people, refugees in everything except being outside their homeland. They are, however, generally worse off, for international law makes practically no provision for them. The situation of all such people is in the words of John Paul II "a shameful wound of our time" (25.6.1982).
Refugees and Migrants
The media and political talk commonly confuse refugees with migrants who leave their homes or lands to earn their livelihood elsewhere. Although the majority come from poor countries, most emigrate voluntarily. But among them, those "who flee economic conditions that threaten their lives and physical safety must be treated differently from those who emigrate simply to improve their position" (Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity, 4). Such economic migrants question our distinctions "between the concept of refugee and that of migrant up to the point of making the two categories coincide under the common denominator of necessity" (John Paul II, 31.7.1992).
Clandestine and Undocumented
Persecution and violence do not allow their victims the luxury of getting passports and visas before a forced departure. Some have little choice but to use traffickers and arrive irregularly in safe countries. This should question any equation of migrants or refugees with criminals. The rhetoric of "zero tolerance" for illegally entering a country means the destruction of the already fragile international asylum regime and betrays the ignorance of its proponents.
Refugees and Church
The Lord, who walked with the refugees of the Exodus in search of a land free from slavery, accompanies today's refugees in order to accomplish his loving plan together with them.
The drama of forced migration was felt so deeply following the Second World War that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was es-tablished fifty years ago. It remains the main inter-governmental agency for the protection of refugees. To carry out this task, it uses its own special-ized personnel, non-govern-mental organizations, and implementing partners, some of whom are Catholic Church based. The Holy See is a member of its Executive Committee and tries, in contact with governments and other groups, to assure the defense of the lives and dignity of refugees.
In December 1996, the Bishops of Africa's Great Lakes Region appealed "to our States and to the international community so that they take the option: 'A new century without refugees' .... May the dynamic of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 breathe into our Churches new energies for a new evangelization." Four years later, however, the refugee pheno-menon is worsening while the political will to protect them declines. As believers we must persevere in prayer and never despair, for God will hear the cry of those who cry to Him day and night (Lk 18,7). That means trying to be Good News and announce it among refugees and displaced peaople in the confidence that God will bring all these efforts to perfection on the Day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1,9)