A Vatican diplomat has decried the rise in “deplorable” episodes of discrimination, racism and xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Migrants suffering from “the predominance of economic interests
over the human person”

Ivan Jurkovič, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, took part October 15-16 in the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) International Dialogue on Migration 2020, on the theme “COVID-19 crisis: Reimagining the role of migrants and human mobility for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”.

In a panel on “Social cohesion and community resilience: countering discrimination and xenophobia against migrants”, Jurkovič insisted that “it is undeniable that migration continues to be one of the most powerful forces shaping the economic, social, political, and cultural aspects of our societies”.

“While accompanied by challenges, for the most part, migration happens regularly and benefits countries of origin, destination, and migrants themselves”, the Vatican representative affirmed.

However, Jurkovič lamented that during the coronavirus crisis “many migrants have become particularly vulnerable and are burdened by unequal access to adequate healthcare; additionally, they face heightened discrimination as a supposed COVID-19-related health risk, including when they try to return to their country of origin”.

The Slovenian prelate denounced the paradox in which many migrants and refugees find themselves: that “on the one hand, migrants labor is in high demand and welcomed” by labour markets, while “on the other hand, migrants are often rejected and subjected to resentful attitudes by many in receiving societies”.

“This sad reality is a glaring contradiction. Regrettably, such double standards stem from the predominance of economic interests
over the human person”, Jurkovič deplored.

In his speech in the panel on discrimination against migrants, the Vatican diplomat quoted Pope Francis’ new encyclical Fratelli tutti as a way of encouraging the international community to see migrants and refugees not as a burden or a labour force to be exploited, but instead as a “gift” and an “opportunity for enrichment and the integral human development of all”.

“As we witness a growing trend towards extreme individualism and the
‘globalization of indifference’, we must work together to ensure that no one is excluded, including the poor and the most vulnerable, who often become the emblems of exclusion and discrimination”, Jurkovič implored.

– COVID-19-related upsurge in domestic violence and abuse “deeply regrettable”

In a panel during the same IOM Dialogue on migration – this time entitled “The role of women in the COVID-19 response and recovery” – Jurkovič regretted the fact that “COVID-19 also has further exacerbated the challenges and risks faced by women and girls”.

“This remains a global concern that hinders the full exercise of the unique and irreplaceable role of women, and that results in negative consequences, not only for women themselves, but also for their families, communities, and society at large”, the Holy See representative bemoaned.

However, Jurkovič also noted that the heightened “vulnerability” women and girls are suffering during the pandemic has nonetheless been met with “extraordinary resilience” on their part.

“Even during these challenging times, women have shown their strength and taken on key roles in promoting the wellbeing of society as a whole”, the Vatican diplomat noted in that respect, recalling that “many women, including migrant women, are at the frontline of the responses to COVID-19”, not least of all “many unsung religious sisters engaged in humanitarian activities” who are making an “invaluable contribution” towards fighting exclusion.

Nevertheless, Jurkovič recalled that COVID-19 lockdowns have been marred by a “deeply regrettable… upsurge in domestic violence and abuse”.

Quoting Pope Francis to insist that “every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh; every violent death diminishes us as people… […] We must break this cycle which seems inescapable”, Jurkovič pleaded that the pandemic may become “a wake-up call to strengthen the invaluable role of women in society”.

– A special plea for child migrants: “All children have individual needs and rights even when they cross borders”

In one final IOM panel on “Protection of vulnerable migrants during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis”, Holy See Observer Jurkovič warned that “it would be a short-sighted approach to measure the impact of the COVID-19 crisis only in terms of physical health or in mere economic terms”.

“There are long-term impacts which also involve the dimension of mental health as well as considerable social challenges, including the lack of job opportunities and lack of access to education”, Jurkovič stressed, noting that “these also are vulnerabilities confronted by many people, including migrants and those employed in the informal market”.

The Vatican diplomat sounded a particular alarm for the special vulnerability being suffered at this time by “invisible and voiceless” child migrants, “especially those unaccompanied by parents or guardians”.

“They risk falling victim to perverse scourges such as child trafficking, exploitation, and abuse”, Jurkovič warned, insisting that “no matter where they are or where they come from, all children have individual needs and rights even when they cross borders”.

“Response policies must prioritize their best interests at all stages”, the Vatican diplomat pleaded.

More on Novena on the Church’s fight against xenophobia:

Special to Novena: Interfaith groups modelling harmony (and winning over the sceptics) in their compassionate welcome of migrants and refugees

Caritas Greece insists “ticking bomb” of Moria refugee camp “should never have existed”, pleads with EU for common migration policy

Austria: interfaith group condemns “unconscionable” anti-Semitic attack in Graz

Special: Selflessness of immigrants during COVID-19 forces UK media, public to rethink xenophobia


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.