The Holy See
back up



Tuesday, 4 November 2003


Mr Chairman,

The Holy See is daily and acutely aware of the scourges that afflict refugees, displaced persons, returnees, migrants and stateless persons. It regards their dignity as foremost and has made every effort to respond, in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international agencies, to the transnational nature of the challenge.

They have always been the object of concern and deep consideration for the Holy See. Its cooperation in these matters with the United Nations goes back to the aftermath of World War II. In 1951 the Holy See was asked to be a member of the Advisory Committee on Refugees. Moreover, through various agencies of the Catholic Church, it has accumulated vast experience in working with refugees, migrants, internally displaced and stateless persons.

The international community must make fresh efforts to implement the great humanitarian ideal which is at the heart of the UNHCR's mission: the protection of refugees and the defense and promotion of their dignity. This emphasis on human dignity, human rights and solidarity comes from the natural moral foundation of the equal dignity of all.

The protection of refugees also entails meeting the special needs of refugee women and, in particular, children. In some places, up to 70 percent of refugees are children, who become refugees at the rate of many thousands per day. Some of them have lived their entire life in a refugee camp. In a broader spectrum, 80 percent of children living with HIV/AIDS in the world are to be found in Africa, the second largest asylum region of the global refugee population.

In addition, as the report of the UNHCR points out, much remains to be done in terms of access of refugee children to education. Only 50 percent of refugee children are enrolled in the four lowest grades and a mere 12 percent in the four highest grades. In fact, providing them with education remains an essential means to help avert dangers such as military recruitment, exploitation, abuse and trafficking.

To date, the list of refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced and stateless persons still number in the millions. In this regard, it is worrying to note from the UNHCR report that some elements of the media and even some political figures have continued to portray asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons with unfair suspicion and prejudice. This unfortunate portrayal sometimes contributes to make them victims of humiliation, persecution and even violence.

The Holy See, through the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Caritas International and other charitable agencies, is doing its share, in cooperation with other agencies, notwithstanding the enormous amount of work yet to be done. However, greater efforts are needed to address the increasing flow of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons in different parts of the world, often the consequence of ongoing conflicts and upheavals, persecution of minorities, denial of human rights and uncertainty about the future.

The Holy See supports UNHCR's operational efforts to protect refugees' human dignity and to ensure their basic rights and family reunification.

My delegation welcomes the 2004 call of the UNHCR for effective cooperation in burden sharing and the search for durable solutions. We note the advantages of greater linkage between the UNHCR and partners within and outside the U.N. system, including collaboration with the U.N. Development Group and with the informal Geneva Migration Group.

In this regard, my delegation also welcomes the initiative of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs when it convened the two Coordination Meetings on International Migration this year, one last July and the other in October. The partnerships and inter-disciplinary information sharing among these more than 20 U.N. programmes, agencies and other international organizations shall be a useful technical reinforcement for a balanced consultative process among the migrants' and refugees' country of origin and destination. My delegation hopes that it will serve to bridge the gap between magnanimity on the one side and preoccupation for national security on the other.

Mr Chairman,

Throughout history, migration has always been a phenomenon that leaves a mark on receiving countries. While studies demonstrate that individual migrants and their families benefit from migration, cooperative migration management, freed from too nationalistic and mercantilist interests, can be an instrument towards development. This has been the working conviction of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Besides acknowledging the connection between migration management and development, the Holy See has also the compelling vision and unwavering trust that migrants possess innate potentials and capacity to make their own contribution to society, when they are given a chance to feel their dignity and worth. We are encouraged that this vision is also reflected in the latest UNHCR Report.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.