Official seeks focus on child refugees


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Where “public opinion and political expediency” have led to harsher treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, people still have an obligation to make special efforts to assist child refugees, a Vatican official said.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative to U.N agencies in Geneva, focused on the mistreatment of asylum seekers, and especially the unaccompanied minors among them, in an address Oct. 4 to members of the executive committee of the Office of the U.N High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

In 2008, he said, 11,292 applications for asylum were lodged by unaccompanied minors in 22 member states of the European Union. With the violence across North Africa and the Arab world this year, “hundreds of unauthorized lone boys from the Middle East and other places are making their way across Europe.”

The archbishop said there are instances in which minors arrive “under false pretences as forerunners to trigger family reunions or as victims of smuggling and trafficking,” which means special attention must be paid to the possibility they are being exploited by adults.

“In this context, processing children’s applications for asylum should be given a greater priority,” he said.

“Unaccompanied minors must be treated first and foremost as children and their best interest must be a primary consideration independently of the reason for their flight,” he said.

“The increased visibility acquired by unaccompanied minors claiming asylum in developed countries calls for a renewed attention to their need of protection and to the development of practical measures to help them adjust to the new environment,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Tomasi said unaccompanied child refugees should not be placed with adults in detention facilities, and he cited research that showed minors who seek spiritual guidance find an important source of motivation and support in religion.

The U.N High Commissioner for Refugees defines unaccompanied minors as those under 18 years of age or under a country’s legal age of majority, who are “separated from both parents, and are not with and being cared for by a guardian or other adult who by law or custom is responsible for them.”

Archbishop Tomasi said, “Creative compassion becomes possible if there is a genuine sense of solidarity and responsibility toward the needier members of our human family. Refugees are not anonymous numbers but people, men, women and children with individual stories, with talents to offer and aspirations to be met.”