VATICAN CITY — Countries that forcibly repatriate refugees violate their human rights, and Roman Catholics indifferent to their suffering commit sin, the Vatican said Friday. It appealed for international solidarity on behalf of more than 30 million castoff people around the world.
"The tragedy of groups and even of entire peoples forced to go into exile is felt today as a constant attack on essential human rights. The condition of refugees that reaches the very limits of human suffering becomes a pressing appeal to the conscience of all," the Vatican said in a document titled "Refugees a Challenge to Solidarity."
"Protection is not a simple concession made to the refugee; he is not an object of assistance but rather a subject of rights and duties. Each country has the responsibility to respect the rights of refugees and assure that they are respected as much as the rights of its own citizens," the document said.
The authors cited no specific references, but the document had clear relevance to Western Europe, where refugees and immigrants from Eastern Europe and Third World nations have been victims of right-wing attacks in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere.
The document lamented that the 20th Century has been described as "the century of refugees," noting that many, like the Palestinians, have been forced to live in camps for years "or even generations." Quoting Pope John Paul II, the document called the presence of 17 million officially designated refugees in the world today and even more internally displaced people "a shameful wound of our time."
Vatican documents are nearly always worded diplomatically, but Friday's was not. It chastised countries who make scant efforts to help accommodate refugees from other regions, and it excoriated the practice of many First World countries, including the United States, of forcibly repatriating refugees.
Local churches and everyday Catholics are also obliged to actively assist refugees, the document said.
"Indifference constitutes a sin of omission," the Vatican said.