Refugee treaty needs improvement, says Vatican official


GENEVA — More than half a century after its creation, an international treaty designed to protect refugees has room for improvement, a Vatican official said.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative to U.N. and other agencies in Geneva, noted the Holy See was among the original 26 states that took part in the conference on the status of refugees in 1951, which then led to the U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees.

He made the remarks during an intergovernmental meeting Dec. 7-8 in Geneva marking the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The more than 33 million refugees in the world “are both the flashing red light of alarm pointing out deep social and political failures and an urgent call to remedy their suffering,” he said.

If people who are forcibly displaced are to be protected in today’s new circumstances, there needs to be an “evolution of standards” that expand and improve on what the convention ensures, the archbishop said.

For example, the provision of financial support by richer countries should not mean they are thus free from welcoming and hosting refugees on their shores, he said.

The so-called “burden sharing” of the refugee crisis also should entail richer nations accepting “persons fleeing conflict or disaster in similar proportion to poorer states,” because the gap between poor and wealthy countries in taking in refugees “remains significantly wide,” he said.

Detainment camps should be gradually done away with and refugees should have access to legal work, he said.

The archbishop said there should be a clearer sense of the right of a refugee to freely change his or her religion without restrictions imposed by hosting nations.

The convention also should expand the right to education beyond elementary school, he said. Including a right to secondary education and vocational training will help refugees contribute to society, he said, and girls and women would especially benefit since a “well-run school is a deterrent to violence against women and girls,” affirms their dignity and helps prevents discrimination.