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Vatican Calls for Respect of Immigrants' Rights

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi Addresses U.N. Panel

GENEVA, OCT. 13, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is the address delivered by the Holy See's permanent observer to the U.N. Office in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, before the session of the Executive Committee of the Program of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, held Oct. 4-8.

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Mr. Chairman,

1. The rights of refugees and protracted situations

On the occasion of this year's World Refugee Day, His Holiness Pope John Paul II stated: "Every person needs a safe environment in which to live. Refugees aspire to this but unfortunately, millions in various countries of the world are still living in refugee camps or prevented for long periods from fully exercising their rights."1

Indeed, Mr. Chairman, the rights recognized to the refugees in international instruments too often remain mere words. In many countries, for example, refugees are not allowed to work, a basic right, and thus earn a livelihood.2 Made dependent on food rations, they too often face real crises when these are reduced together with other necessities needed for existence with a minimum of dignity. Moreover their movements are usually limited to the immediate surroundings of camps, often located in remote regions, where refugees and local people are forced to compete for scarce resources with a real risk of new conflicts unless the needs of both vulnerable populations are duly taken into account.

The institutional capacity of the international community to realize the rights of refugees seems insufficient. The High Commissioner has renewed a concerted effort for refugee protection through initiatives like Convention Plus, so much needed in countries of first asylum in particular. But greater economic and financial investments, and especially political will, are required. Guaranteeing refugees their rights will assist them in becoming "agents of development" even in their host country and not just recipients of aid or merely tolerated guests.

The option of third-country resettlement remains equally necessary and more efforts are called for it. In fact, if international cooperation is lacking, then we are left with a fourth de facto, albeit unofficial, solution: warehousing of millions of people in camps in subhuman conditions, without a future and without the possibility of contributing their creativity. Camps must remain what they were intended to be: an emergency and therefore a temporary solution. Protracted refugee situations -- 7 of 12 million refugees worldwide have been refugees for 10 years of more -- seems a growing phenomenon with the consequence of masses of people without hope and generations of children becoming adults with a lost childhood.

2. Repatriation that is "voluntary"

Voluntary repatriation has today become the durable solution of choice. Fortunately in some countries the situation has improved enough that refugees can return home on a large scale as the reasons why they fled gradually cease to exist, and people have the possibility to restart their lives. What makes all the difference between successful and unsuccessful voluntary repatriation is how people are returned home: if in and to conditions of safety and dignity; what kind of guaranteed benefits they receive and which follow-up activities are developed whether it be de-mining, helping youngsters born in camps to adapt to rural areas, setting up micro-credit systems, or similar programs.

Provisions also need to be in place for settling property questions and land rights. These elements within a comprehensive structural development approach will show that the interest of refugees, as individuals or groups, is at the center of any plan and it will prompt the refugees to return freely.

Voluntary repatriation does not mean just going back. Otherwise there is the risk that people are moved from one difficult situation to a life of misery in their own country. Of course, these plans demand guaranteed possibilities of assistance with sufficient funding by international partners over a longer period to make implementation real. But that is the way of laying the foundation for a dignified return aimed at reintegration with reconstruction and reconciliation.

3. International action

Continuing warfare still obliges numerous people to leave their homes because of fear of persecution, human rights violations, harassment and widespread violence with a systematic use of rape as a war tactic. The cost of such forced movements is very high: the sufferings of people, the loss of lives, the process of eventually rebuilding society. We should not be shy in taking innovative steps, as it was the case twenty years ago with the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees that took into account generalized violence.

International human ...

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