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Refugees need recognition of dignity, pope says

Pope Francis addresses Global Refugee Forum, reiterates belief that the plight of refugees is a shared responsibility.
A rescue operation in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya.

A rescue operation in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. (Photo: Vatican News)

Published: December 15, 2023 06:15 AM GMT
Updated: December 15, 2023 06:22 AM GMT

In addition to a legal status that allows them to flee unsafe situations, refugees also need the opportunity to integrate into the societies that host them and build a dignified life, Pope Francis said.

"Being a refugee should not be a mere granting of a status, but a recognition of a full God-given human dignity," he said in a message read Dec. 14 to participants in the Global Refugee Forum, an international gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, sponsored by the U.N. refugee agency and held every four years.

"Only by including refugees as a part of the solution can they flourish as human beings and sow their seeds in the place where the live," said the message, which was read on the pope's behalf by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Noting the 114 million forcibly displaced people in the world today due to conflicts, persecution — including for religious belief — and the effects of climate change, the pope said, "we are overwhelmed by an abundance of news and statistics, and we often forget that behind these numbers there are human faces, each with their own story and suffering."

"Each number represents one of our fellow brothers and sisters who are in need of help," he said.

The pope encouraged nations to work to integrate refugees into society and to let their "talents and skills become a resource for the host communities."

"Refugees are persons with rights and duties, not just objects of assistance," he wrote.

Still, the pope reiterated that "as members of the same human family, each individual deserves a place to call home."

"That means having food, access to healthcare and education and a dignified work," he said. "It also means having a place where you are understood and included, loved and cared for, where you can participate and contribute."

Pope Francis also stressed that "principle of safe and voluntary repatriation of those who are forced to flee must be strictly adhered to."

"No one should be repatriated to a country where they could face severe human rights violations or even death." International agreements have widely emphasized the voluntary nature of repatriation and specify provisions against refoulement — the forcible return of refugees to a country where they may be subject to persecution.

The pope said nations must promote "the principles of fraternity, solidarity and non-refoulement through greater international cooperation and burden-sharing" in order to ease the pressure that is placed on countries that host refugees.

The first Global Refugee Forum was held in 2019. That year, more than 3,000 participants attended, representing governments, business leaders and NGOs, and some 1,400 pledges were made to advance projects in solidarity with refugees ranging from financial support, promoting government policies and providing humanitarian support to refugees in need.

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