Vatican City, May 5, 2020 / 08:10 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s migrant and refugee office has released a booklet with guidance on how the Church might respond to the problem of people internally displaced within their own countries due to conflict or disaster.
Many people might be unaware of the existence of internally displaced people, or IDPs, Cardinal Michael Czerny, under-secretary of the migrants and refugees section, said May 5.
Speaking during a livestreamed press conference, he noted that internal displacement “is a current, contemporary reality in a surprising number of countries.”
Internally displaced persons are defined as those who have had to flee their home or residence due to violence, conflict, disaster, or development projects to find refuge in another part of the country. Since IDPs have not crossed international borders, they do not have the legal status of refugee or migrant and do not receive the legal protections those categories can give.
Czerny’s office, which is a part of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Development, published a booklet May 5 called “Pastoral Orientations on Internally Displaced People.”
The document is directed primarily at dioceses, parishes, Catholic NGOs, and other Catholic organizations. It has short paragraphs on key issues related to the welcome, protection, promotion, and integration of IDPs, interspersed with quotes from relevant Church documents and speeches by Pope Francis.
The importance of spiritual care for Catholics who are internally displaced in their countries is one of the topics addressed. Cardinal Czerny said Tuesday he would like to highlight the response an average Catholic parish might give when it “discovers IDPs in its midst and learns how to reach out to them.”
“To me, this is a great sign of hope,” he said.
“When the Holy Father asks us to go to the peripheries, we might think of going to a faraway foreign land where we will do exotic things,” the cardinal said. “But the real peripheries which hurt are the ones that are very near at hand, the ones where people among us are invisible, are set aside, are discarded, are overlooked.”
According to data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), at the end of 2019, 45.7 million people were living internally displaced from their homes worldwide for reasons of conflict. Including other causes of displacement, the number of IDPs is more than 50 million.
The IDMC reported that the countries with the highest numbers of internally displaced people are Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Colombia, though nearly every country in the world has IDPs.
In the United States, the IDMC says there were 916,000 people newly displaced internally due to disaster in 2019. The majority of these new displacements were caused by Hurricane Dorian and the California wildfires.
The Church can do something so that “those among us who have been forced to flee and find themselves among us will receive Christian welcome and the response the Body of Christ wants to give them,” Czerny explained.
He said the aim of “Pastoral Orientations” is for the more than 50 million IDPs “to be recognized and supported, promoted and eventually reintegrated, so that they can play an active, constructive role in their country even if powerful causes, both natural and unjust human causes, have forced them to flee from home and take refuge somewhere.”
“In the post-COVID-19 world that is emerging, their contribution will be very much needed,” the cardinal added.
He explained that publishing the document on internal displacement is “not a lessening on the priority of refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking,” but a matter of “continuing to respond to the full range of people’s needs and vulnerabilities,” even in the midst of a global pandemic.
“There are very many needs which didn’t go away just because we were focused on other things in the past weeks,” he underlined. “It’s not a question of COVID-19 displacing priorities. It’s a question of both/and…”
Problems such as internal displacement were already there, “and, on top of it all we also have the challenge as a human family of resisting and overcoming this pandemic.”
The Church, he said, is able “to take on a new challenge without jettisoning other problems as if they suddenly became irrelevant.”