A Plague of Darkness: What’s Forcing 60 Million People to Flee Their Homes?

The Holy See is asking the United Nations to take action against ‘violent non-state actors’ who are violating human rights and forcing an unprecedented number of people to migrate.

A migrant
A migrant (photo: John Perivolaris via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

NEW YORK — Racism and religious intolerance are two of the driving forces behind the growing migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East, a representative from the Holy See warned the United Nations on Tuesday.

“In many of the countries of origin of migrants and refugees, the most heinous crimes against religious freedom have been — and continue to be — committed,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza said, citing problematic forced conversions, executions and the seizure of taxes and property of those who hold to their religious beliefs.  

“Religious and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by these abuses perpetrated by violent non-state actors who are clearly intent on destroying religious, cultural and ethnic diversities,” the archbishop continued.

He then called on the U.N. and the international community to work diligently to counter “violent non-state actors who wantonly violate fundamental human rights.”

There are more than 60 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons in the world today, nearly the equivalent of Italy’s population. And that number is only expected to grow, Archbishop Auza warned. He said the number of persons forced from their homes by conflict and discrimination each day has nearly quadrupled since 2010.

While recognizing the legal and social complexities of migration, Archbishop Auza urged the United Nations to prioritize the human rights of migrants and refugees.

“Over and above all other considerations … it is necessary always … to recognize the migrant as a fellow human being, endowed with the same human dignity and rights as we are,” he said. “This is especially true when we deal with persons who were forced to migrate against their will, like the refugees, the persecuted for religious or ethnic reasons and those who are being trafficked for sexual exploitation, slave labor and other forms of abuse.”

Pope Francis made a similar call for a just and humane response to migration during his historic address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in September. The Pope urged lawmakers to not be shocked by the size of the migrant crisis, but “view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”

Archbishop Auza echoed the Pope, warning the U.N. of the temptation to turn inward and regard migrants and refugees as outsiders.

“We must resist the tendency to recoil at the enormity and complexity of the crisis,” he said. “We must fight the temptation to turn inward, labeling the other as a threat to our way of life. We must make the crisis we face an opportunity to realize a more just and fraternal world for all.”

Archbishop Auza encouraged the U.N. member nations to re-evaluate laws that could foster discrimination and violence, though he did not mention any specific laws. He also called for increased dialogue, particularly between religions.  

“Racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance have no place in a world committed to peace, genuine pluralism and the common good of all humanity,” the archbishop said. “[They] are a serious affront to human dignity and are inexcusable impediments to building an international community committed to the promotion of human rights.”

Michelangelo, “Creation of Adam” (detail), Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1508-1512

From One Man God Made All Nations

“The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: ‘Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.’” (CCC 1935)