The Holy See
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Mgr Agostino MARCHETTO

Statement at the Ministerial Meeting of States Parties to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees*

Geneva - Sunday, 9 December 2001


Madame Chairperson

The Delegation of the Holy See wishes to thank the Government of Switzerland and UNHCR for this initiative of bringing together representatives of governments and humanitarian organizations. We are confident - as one of the initial States Parties to the Convention - that at the end of these days positive results will be seen for the benefit of all affected by displacement as a result of persecution, conflict, or other human rights violations.

UNHCR was founded in order to answer the great drama in the aftermath of the Second World War. It was a breakthrough and answered the demands of its times. It brought a future to people who were forced to move.

My delegation wants to thank UNHCR for all that was done over these fifty years to guarantee fully the dignity and rights of these persons. The Organization with its personnel was close to people, tried to answer their problems and find solutions in different times and circumstances. Sometimes staff members were under attack, with occasionally dramatic consequences. They have done their work with much dedication and sacrifice.

Madame Chairperson

Unfortunately, the task of UNHCR still exists even if the necessity of changes is evident. The number of persons protected by UNHCR has been rising, some twenty-one million at present. Furthermore there are more than twenty million internally displaced persons. The causes of this uprooting have become more complex and challenging and the answers given only insufficiently address these new challenges of today. A strict, narrow and legalistic way of interpretation of the Convention, sometimes with restrictive measures, also does not come to the assistance of people in despair, nor does it strengthen the international protection regime. This changed situation requires additional solutions and political will. My delegation expresses the hope that the spirit of 1951 will be revived, leading to an open-minded policy to answer integrally the problems of today. My delegation emphasizes the fact that protection is a dynamic and action-oriented function rather than an abstract concept.

Millions of refugees are hosted in first countries of arrival. They carry, sometimes for years, the heavy burden of the displaced, who do not have a prospect for a quick return in freedom, security and dignity. Their situation not only requires opportunities for local integration into the host country when return to their countries is impossible, but also more chances for third country resettlement. Moreover economic programmes should be developed so that, when people return to their home country, they indeed have a future there.

Refugees who did not cross an international border, internally displaced persons, often find themselves in even more desperate situations. The lack of an international protection system has become more evident here. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were introduced into the United Nations in 1998, setting forth their rights and the obligations of governments and insurgent groups to these populations. The Holy See encourages the further development of a clearer system of responsibility for these persons. This involvement in protection and human rights issues will require larger human and financial resources to be made available. UNHCR, while having no explicit mandate to care for internally displaced persons, has in the past, along with other concerned parties, assisted them when and where possible. The delegation of the Holy See wishes to commend such activity on the part of UNHCR and others and to encourage expanded considerations of the plight of these human beings who have the right to humanitarian assistance even and first of all in the sovereign territory of their homeland.

In this context a general consideration must be made:  distinguishing between voluntary and involuntary migration and between migrants and refugees has become more difficult since the element of free choice is hardly the principal reason for people deciding to move abroad. The economic differences between countries as well as human rights abuses and the existence of conflicts that force people to leave need to be addressed. Moreover, by developing balanced migration policies, the legal framework for asylum seekers will also be guaranteed.

Madame Chairperson

Our task is to make solidarity a reality. It implies acceptance and recognition of the fact that we, as one human family, are interdependent. It calls us to international cooperation in favour of the poor and powerless as our own brothers and sisters. Loving and assisting our neighbour has global dimensions in an interdependent world. "[Solidarity] is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis n. 38)."

Effective responsibility and burden sharing among all States is therefore indispensable to promote peace and stability. This should be an inspiration for the human family of nations to reflect on the challenges of today and find the required solutions in a spirit of dialogue and mutual understanding.

Our generation and future generations demand this so that refugees and internally displaced persons will benefit from it. In this context civil society through the NGOs has a great role in advocacy and in creating favourable public opinion. Let us work and plan together  for  a  universal  common family.

*L’Osservatore Romano, 16.12.2001 p.2.

L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English 2002 n.3 p.9.