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Holy See Statement on Displaced Iraqis

"The World Is Witnessing an Unprecedented Degree of Hate"

GENEVA, MAY 4, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the April 17 text of an intervention by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer at the United Nations at Geneva, during an international conference called by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The conference was considering the humanitarian needs of refugees and internally displaced persons within Iraq and neighboring states.

* * *

Mr. President,

1. In Iraq it seems "easier to die than to live," as some media reported in the face of the increasing violence and daily atrocities that are destroying innumerable lives and the hope of an entire people. The initiative taken by the UNHCR to bring together representatives of governments and of humanitarian organizations is therefore an opportune and promising decision.

The delegation of the Holy See expresses its appreciation and looks forward, as a result of this conference, to heightened awareness on the part of the international community and to concrete forms of help for the uprooted populations of Iraq. Over the years, the UNHCR has rescued and given hope to millions of victims of persecution, conflicts and violation of basic human rights. We are all challenged to maintain this noble tradition.

2. The world is witnessing an unprecedented degree of hate and destructiveness in Iraq; this phenomenon concomitantly exerts a widening deadly impact in the entire Middle East region. Sectarian and tribal clashes, military actions, armed groups competing for power, kidnappings, rapes, international terrorism, threats to and murder of the innocent members of families simply because they uphold their ancestral faith -- these are all elements that, in combination threaten human dignity and social well-being in the region. Targeting of unarmed civilians is a particularly tragic sign of total disregard of the sacredness of human life.

While the consequences of this generalized violence affect the social and economic life of the country, they also are a stark reminder of the passionate appeals of the late Pope John Paul II to avoid "the tremendous consequences that an international military operation would have for the population of Iraq and for the balance of the Middle East region already sorely tried, and for the extremisms that could stem from it." He insistently called for negotiations even though he knew well that peace at any price might not be possible (John Paul II, Angelus, March 16, 2003).

3. Massive uprooting and displacement of the Iraqi population is now indeed a tremendous consequence. The figures are telling: Some 2 million Iraqis currently displaced internally and 2 million others have already fled the country, and between 40,000 and 50,000 are fleeing their homes each month.

The very generous welcome provided by Jordan and Syria, in particular, and by the other countries, is certainly highly commendable. Economic, social and security concerns, however, are putting to the test this willingness and capacity to welcome.

It is urgent, therefore, for the international community to take up its responsibility and share in the task of protection and assistance, to answer the call for action now through the implementation on the ground and in practical decisions of the legal and moral commitments it patiently formulated and agreed upon. Where war and violence have destroyed the social tissue and the unity of Iraq, judicious political choices and a non-discriminatory humanitarian engagement would be the first step to re-establish a pluralistic unity.

4. There are special categories of victims that stand out in this largest Middle East exodus since the still unresolved Palestinian one of 1948. Displaced women, elderly and children bear the brunt of the tragedy. With the experience of daily violence and, even more tragically, with the killing of family members before their eyes, many children are traumatized and remain without professional care. Most uprooted Iraqi children wake up in their exile to a daily experience of uncertainty, deprivation, lack of schooling, and to hard labor just to attain the minimal essentials of human survival. One has to wonder how their psychological scars will condition the future.

Christian and other religious minorities who have been a target of forced eviction and ethnic and religious cleansing by radical groups find themselves in limbo in their temporary place of refuge since they are unable to return to their homes and are without a possibility of local integration or resettlement. It is the suffering of all the victims that should prompt a coordinated, effective and generous response.

5. A comprehensive reconciliation and peace are the obvious responses that address the root of all forced displacement. As the international community pursues this ...

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