The UN Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Antonio Guterres, has said that the role of the Catholic Church is invaluable in keeping refugees safe. The Commissioner said that the Church is vital to helping victims of situations, such as the upheaval in the Central African Republic.
The Society of African Missions (SMA) is heavily involved in CAR as we have two SMA bishops and several priests working in different parts of the country where their is ongoing tension between the different factions jockeying for control in the country. The Irish Province, through its supporters, has sent several thousand Euro to Bishop Nestor Nongo-Aziagbia SMA of Bossangoa diocese to help the huge number of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) who are living in his seminary and other church properties. At one stage there were more than 50,000 IDPs in and around Bossango Town.
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In a report in the UK-based Catholic Herald, speaking about the Central African Republic, Mr Guterres said that although the recent conflict in the country is often described as a Christians versus Muslims crisis, the reality is that “religion is being used by unscrupulous political partisans” and this has created an environment that’s very difficult for humanitarian agencies to handle. “They began using religion for propaganda,” he added.
Guterres said several times during his meeting (on 10 March) that although much of the violence in CAR appears to be based upon religion, the reality is that in many hot spots there, the Catholic Church is keeping Muslims safe. That includes the chief imam of Bangui, Omar Kobine Layama, who has been sleeping in the home of Bangui Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga for safety.
Continuing to serve that role, and to counter those who portray the conflict as religion-based are among the things he said the Catholic Church can do to help in one of the world’s most troubling situations of displaced people.
Regions that have been unsettled for decades, such as Afghanistan, never seem to get out of conflict. Others keep resurfacing, such as those in Somalia and the Central African Republic. Throughout, he said he values the Church as a constant advocate for the protection of refugees and as a voice for all the world’s migrants.
In many parts of the world, he said, governments are passing laws to restrict movement and rights of migrants and refugees. Though they only “aspire to a better life,” Guterres said, migrants are increasingly subject to attacks from many fronts.
European nations, for example, “have become very selfish,” he said. Although many European countries are dependent upon migrants to maintain the vitality of their society, new laws are making it difficult for refugees and other migrants to resettle.
He urged the Church to continue to lobby the US government to set an example for the world of generous treatment of people who must flee their homelands. “The US has the largest refugee resettlement programme in the world,” Guterres said. “The way the US behaves is extremely important” to how the rest of the world responds.
He said he hopes the US will soon announce a resettlement programme for Syrians, for example, that may help offset some of the obstacles Syrian refugees are encountering elsewhere. Some of those obstacles are unintentional, such as the pressure Lebanese society due to the arrival in the country of 950,000 Syrian refugees. Others, such as borders being closed to people fleeing from a conflict, are more difficult to accept, he said.
In response to questions from the audience, he said the issue of children who are displaced from their homes and unaccompanied by relatives is one of the world’s most vexing problems. Guterres told of one refugee camp for Eritreans that has 2,000 children and teenagers who are on their own and who can’t be sent back to their families. In other cases, families are sending their children away, apparently in hopes of having the children send home money or to provide a link that enables other relatives to migrate, he said.
Often children are used as sex slaves, held for ransom payments or used by smugglers to transport drugs. Simply determining what is in the best interests of a child sometimes can be difficult to determine, he said. He described a recently launched venture of the UNHCR, Mercy Corps, Safe the Children and World Vision that is focused on preventing a “lost generation” of Syrian children.
Guterres said the project is aimed at helping the estimated 5.5 million Syrian children affected by its civil war. The organisations are calling for the public to support protection of threatened children but also for steps to break the cycle of violence and to support children in getting access to humanitarian assistance, education and psychological support.
– With thanks to the Catholic Herald for this article. Read the full Report in the Catholic Herald