Statement by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference to mark International Human Rights Day

10 Dec 2014

Bishops call for the protection of human rights, and for the upholding of the dignity of the human person, concerning people living in poverty, asylum seekers living in Ireland, other displaced people around the world, and for those subjected to human trafficking 

To mark International Human Rights Day today, the Irish bishops are calling for urgent action to protect the rights of the rapidly growing number of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons throughout the world.  This year, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that the number of displaced persons has surpassed 50 million for the first time since the Second World War (Annual Report 2013).  As the humanitarian crises responsible for this displacement intensify and deepen, International Human Rights Day provides a timely reminder of the commitment of the international community to the protection of human rights and the dignity of the human person.

Addressing the European Parliament on 25 November last, Pope Francis appealed for a united response to the question of migration: “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!  The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.  The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging particularistic solutions to the problem, solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants, and thus contribute to slave labour and continuing social tensions.  Europe will be able to confront the problems associated with immigration only if it is capable of clearly asserting its own cultural identity and enacting adequate legislation to protect the rights of European citizens and to ensure the acceptance of immigrants.”

Locally we can see the clear and urgent need for the Irish and British governments to recognise and address the unjust systems that leave people seeking asylum at the margins of our communities: socially and culturally excluded, prevented from working and integrating in society.  We welcome the establishment in October by Ms Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice & Equality, of a working group on Direct Provision, and we reiterate our appeal for urgent action, prioritising the needs of those who have spent more than five years in this very difficult situation and the children who are prevented from experiencing normal family life at a critical stage in their development.

Trócaire’s experience in working in some of the poorest, most conflict affected countries in the world shows that the responsibility for supporting people displaced by conflict and by man-made disasters is almost entirely met by communities and States which cannot meet the basic needs of their own people.  According to the UN, over 80% of refugees worldwide are hosted by developing countries.  At the end of 2012, half of all refugees were hosted by countries with a GDP per capita of less than $5,000.  To put that in context, Ireland’s GDP per capita is $47,000.  After over three years of taking in more refugees per capita than any other country in the world, Lebanon and Jordan cannot cope with more refugees and borders are closing.  To our collective shame, countries outside the region have only agreed to receive a total of about 50,000 refugees from Syria – less than 2% of the total number of Syrian refugees.

The devastating consequences of the failure of the international community to protect civilian populations caught up in armed conflict can be seen in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and many other nations.  In recent months we have witnessed the terrifying images, most notably from Iraq, of people forced to flee because of the denial of freedom of conscience and religion.  These are basic protections to which all are entitled under international human rights law and which the international community has a duty to defend.

For displaced persons, the initial violence is frequently compounded by homelessness, poverty, unemployment and the threat of further violence.  About 13.6 million people, over twice the population of the island of Ireland, have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and many are without food or shelter as winter starts.  Trócaire works with Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon who have suffered horrific abuses: women and girls raped, fathers and sons killed or ‘disappeared’, houses destroyed by bombs.  The trauma of not knowing whether family members are alive or dead is evident in people’s faces and in their silence.

Pope Francis has condemned those who exploit this situation, “people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others” (Visit to Lampedusa, 8 July 2013).  Foremost amongst these are the traffickers who coerce the vulnerable into various forms of slavery, but there are many more who “have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity” (Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the GospelEvangelii Gaudium, 210, which was published in November 2013).

Working with those displaced by conflict in South Sudan, Trócaire has experienced first-hand how such intense contexts lead to gross violations of the human rights of those displaced, as well as the host community: protection of women and children from violence and abuse is imperative, as well as meeting the basic needs of people to live with dignity and in safety.  We pay tribute to the courage of those who risk their lives working in dangerous conditions to defend the rights of the most vulnerable.  We remember in our prayers the aid workers who have been killed in the course of this work in recent times.

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis appeals to all countries for “a generous openness” which recognises how migration and cultural diversity can enrich our lives: “How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralysing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development!” (210).

As Christians, during this period of Advent, we remember that the Holy Family was a family forced to flee for protection.  We pray for all those who find themselves displaced from their homes, that they may find peace, safety and welcome.


F0r media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444