Photo: A police officer kicks an asylum seeker on the border fence between Spain and Morocco at Melilla (Antonio Ruiz/El País)

“Refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and victims of human smuggling have no fewer human rights than lawful residents and their rights must therefore be fully ensured and protected”, the Holy See has told the governments of the world.

– On displaced people, avoid the “globalisation of indifference”

“Refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and victims of human smuggling and trafficking are some of the world’s most vulnerable people”, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See reminded the United Nations in New York in a November 11 statement.

In its comments to the UN, delivered by first secretary of the mission Monsignor Fredrick Hansen, the Holy See urged the international community to avoid what Pope Francis has called the “globalisation of indifference” whereby “migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking… become emblems of exclusion”.

– “Fundamental human rights must always take precedence over State interests”

The purpose of the UN meeting Wednesday was to consider baseline norms regarding the expulsion of aliens, a matter the Holy See said is worthy of the world’s “continued perserverance”.

The Vatican delegation said that international norms on deportation should call into question neither “the right of States independently to address issues concerning the stay of aliens in their territory”, nor seek “to impose unjustified limitations on those cases where the expulsion of the alien would be legitimate”.

However, while respecting the sovereignty of countries the Holy See underlined that with regard to refugees and other displaced people “fundamental human rights must always take precedence over State interests”.

The Vatican gave the example of non-refoulement, the practice by which refugees and asylum seekers are returned to countries in which they are at risk of persecution.

“No one – not only refugees – should be expelled, returned or extradited to another State when there are substantial grounds for believing that his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion or where he or she may be subjected to the death penalty”, the Holy See clamoured in that sense.

The Church’s mission to the UN also spoke of the practice of arresting refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, and said it is important to protect the procedural rights of those in detention.

The detention of the exiles of the world “should be the exception rather than the rule”, the Holy See told governments, adding that children, especially, “should never be detained and their best interests should be the primary consideration in all decisions made on their behalf”.

In those cases where there is no other option than to detain refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, the Holy See warned that governments must fully justify limitations on displaced people’s human rights and ensure that detention facilities fully respect human dignity. “The right of children who may be subject to expulsion to enjoy the care of their families must be ensured”, the Vatican added.

The Holy See concluded its statement by noting that at the moment there is little consensus among the international community regarding norms for the expulsion of foreigners.

However, the Church’s mission insisted that is important “to foster greater awareness on this important issue”.

As Pope Francis has noted with regard to people on the move, ‘Violent conflicts and all-out wars continue to tear humanity apart; injustices and discrimination follow one upon the other; economic and social imbalances on a local or global scale prove difficult to overcome. And above all it is the poorest of the poor and the most disadvantaged who pay the price”, the Holy See reminded the world, urging policy-makers to keep that reality in mind in their search for “rules that represent the best of our humanity”.

More on Novena on the Church’s care for refugees:

In new documentary, Pope slams Trump policy of separating migrant children from families: “Cruelty of the highest form”

Vatican diplomat decries rise in “deplorable” discrimination, racism and xenophobia during COVID-19

‘Initiative of Christians for Europe’ calls for EU asylum system based on “dignity and solidarity”

Nuns step up for refugees, offer Pope building in Rome as safe haven for arrivals through humanitarian corridors


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.