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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 111, December 2009



MESSAGE of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) 


Mr. Laurens JOLLES

UNHCR Regional Representative, Rome

Delegate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees


I am very pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to this World Congress on Migrants and particularly thankful to Monsignor Marchetto for having invited us to be part of this opening ceremony. Over the years and in particular in these past few months my Office here in Rome has had a communion of views and positions in relation to treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with Monsignor Marchetto, that we often both expressed publicly in an increasingly difficult and restrictive environment for migrants, asylum seekers and stateless persons. It is for us very encouraging to realise that in our duty to come up for those who had lost the protection of their Government, we are not alone and that we can count on a number of organisations, friends and individuals who are prepared to fight for principled views, for moral values, and for support and solidarity with those forced to move who often are less fortunate than most of us.

Unfortunately while on the one hand we live in the age of globalisation that has greatly facilitated the legal movement of goods, news, bank transactions, information technology that increasingly transcend borders, on the other hand clearly this globalisation does not apply to the movement of people – migrants, asylum seekers or stateless persons – for whom it is increasingly difficult to cross borders  and for whom  every year more obstacles are being created to ensure containment close to the areas they often have to flee from. There has been a tightening of rules when it comes to entry into third countries, coupled with a marked growth in the obstacles created to obstruct the progress. While this is understandable, it means that for refugees who have had to flee to areas where they could be protected from  severe persecution, gross discrimination or generalised violence and insecurity, it is becoming harder and harder to find the necessary legal asylum space.

Who are these people on the move? They are an estimated 200 million migrants all over the world that need to meet their needs or improve opportunities. But a large and growing proportion is and will eventually end up in displacement. And the nature of this displacement is changing. The phenomenon of migratory movements is becoming even greater than before. War and insecurity in many parts of the world as well as climate change and poverty are often interrelated. Amongst these many are refugees. The food and energy crisis of 2008 together with the global financial economic crisis have compounded the push factors. Confronted with a lack of security, food, education, health care livelihood, a sustainable environment, people are understandably opting to leave their usual place of residence and are being absorbed into broad  migratory movements, destined primarily to cities.

Often States and individuals are ready to sympathise with the plight of migrants or refugees as long as it is not at their own borders. How often do we hear politicians but unfortunately also friends and family saying “… I am all for assisting these people but not here….”  One unfortunate result of this attitude, aside from refoulement or forced return of refugees to the dangers they had to flee from, is that trafficking and illegal person smuggling has become big business. We see this nearly on a daily basis particularly with boat people.

We have found that with the Council of Bishops and many religious institutions we share many similar values:

We recognise the need to offer adequate protection to those who cannot benefit from the protection of their own governments and who have had to flee their countries because of persecution or a situation of generalised insecurity;

We recognise the value of a good reception, the value of the principle of asylum and the value of a meaningful integration as expressions of global civilisation;

We recognise that non discrimination is sign of evolution, of tolerance of honour and dignity;

We recognise the virtue of a truly humanitarian spirit and the need to tend a hand to those less fortunate than us particularly to refugees in need of international protection;

We recognize the importance of trying not only to see the difficulties that migrants and refugees can bring with them but also to focus on the advantages, the contributions and the opportunities that contact with persons coming from different cultures can bring to a country.

We recognise the moral obligation to combat racism, xenophobia and all forms of prejudices and particularly the obligation to speak out against those voices that wish to make us believe that every immigrant is a criminal and that we are about to be submerged by alien and hostile cultures;

It is therefore encouraging to realise that in this task we are not alone and we can count on many allies particularly in Church circles.

The Church and the Council of Bishops have been very supportive of the need to ensure access to asylum and access to international protection. And we hope that we will be able to continue to work together for the universal common good, banking on our common moral values.

In the name of our UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mr Antonio Gutierrez, I would like once again to pay tribute to this World Congress on Migrants and to wish you very useful and successful discussions.