UNHCR chief meets Pope Francis to discuss refugee issues

News Stories, 6 December 2013

© Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis discusses refugee issues with High Commissioner Guterres in the Vatican today.

ROME, Italy, December 6 (UNHCR) Pope Francis discussed the plight of millions of forcibly displaced people around the world with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday during a private audience in Vatican City.

Guterres expressed his deep appreciation for the Pope's work in bringing public attention to refugees and internally displaced people, as well as putting a spotlight on the dangerous land and sea journeys that some asylum-seekers and migrants take.

The High Commissioner welcomed the Pope's recent calls 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 crossing the Mediterranean by irregular sea routes to reach Europe.

Guterres told Pope Francis about 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 more than 2.2 million refugees.

The High Commissioner 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 neighbouring countries.

The two men also discussed UNHCR's efforts to reach out to faith leaders, including through a December 2012 "Dialogue on Faith and Protection." In October, Pope Francis met 2013 Nansen Refugee Award winner Angélique Namaika, a Roman Catholic nun from Democratic Republic of the Congo.