Domestic Refugees Must Be Helped Too, Vatican Aide Says

Archbishop Martino Addresses U.N. General Assembly

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 2, 2001 (ZENIT.orgFides).- All refugees have a right to humanitarian assistance, including those oppressed by their governments in their homeland, a Vatican aide told the United Nations.

Archbishop Renato Martino, permanent observer to the United Nations, voiced the Holy See´s deep concern for the prolonged fighting in Afghanistan and for 3.5 million Afghan refugees camped in Pakistan and Iran.

He stressed that people adrift and «trapped by war or persecution within state boundaries, need just as much help or possibly more than refugees.»

In the past the U.N. High Commission for Refugees has helped these people even though it has no explicit mandate to do so, he reminded a U.N. General Assembly commission on the question of refugees.

The Holy See commends and encourages this activity by UNHCR and other agencies, despite the criteria of territorial sovereignty and even if this goes against government wishes, since «these human beings have a right to humanitarian assistance.»

To alleviate the sufferings of people, forced to abandon their homes, there must be security and humanitarian aid: prime necessities without which «any refugee assistance program is senseless or counterproductive,» the archbishop said during his Nov. 20 address.

The Catholic Church´s permanent U.N. observer also explained that short-term assistance is necessary but not sufficient. The reasons why people forced to leave their home — there are 22 million refugees overseen by the UNHCR — must be discovered, he said.

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