UNHCR chief meets Pope Francis, echoes call for more compassion for refugees and others on the move
Rome, 6 December 2013 - In a private audience at Vatican City today, Pope Francis met United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres to talk about the plight of the world's more than 45 million forcibly displaced people.
High Commissioner Guterres used the occasion to express his deep appreciation for the Pope's work in bringing public attention to refugees and internally displaced people, as well as the dangerous journeys involved for asylum-seekers and migrants alike in seeking to flee across the world's sea and land frontiers.
Guterres welcomed the Pope's recent statements calling for enhanced efforts to save lives in the Mediterranean, at a time when increasing numbers of people, including refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia are travelling to Europe by sea. Tremendous efforts are needed to save lives and create a more welcoming Europe for people seeking sanctuary and opportunity.
Guterres informed the Pope of UNHCR's Strategy on Protection At Sea, which focuses on enhancing rescue, promoting protection from exploitation and abuse as well as establishing protection-sensitive responses after disembarkation.
Pope Francis and the High Commissioner also shared their worries about the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the need for massive support to neighbouring countries, now hosting over two million refugees.
High Commissioner Guterres spoke of his concern at reports of some European Union countries placing barriers or forcibly returning refugees, including people fleeing the conflict in Syria. He noted that UNHCR has called for a global moratorium on returns to Syria and its neighbouring countries.
Guterres shared with the Pope UNHCR's efforts to reach out to faith leaders, including through a December 2012 'Dialogue on Faith and Protection' and the related adoption in November 2013 of a statement, "Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmation of Welcome for Faith Leaders" at the Religions for Peace World Assembly in Vienna. That statement, which has been endorsed by hundreds of religious leaders and faith-based organizations around the world, calls for migrants, refugees and others to be welcomed into communities, and for a common stand against intolerance, exclusion and xenophobia. Read Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders.