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ROME – Colombian Ambassador to the Holy See Jorge Mario Eastman, whose country is all too familiar with the complexities of a mass migration crisis, has warned that the Ukraine-Russia war will make the global situation worse.
Speaking on a panel titled, “Women, Crisis, and Resilience,” held Friday in honor of International Women’s Day, Eastman said the world is currently witnessing “the cruelty and the devastation…of an unjust war against a free country.”
Millions of people throughout the world “are raising their voices” and invoking action from political leadership to help Ukrainians “defend their lives” and their freedom, he said.
Eastman noted that women and children make up the bulk of those fleeing war “in a country that the majority of the world doesn’t know and probably doesn’t even know how to pronounce the names of those they are helping with economic contributions and political solidarity.”
So far, over 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring countries, most of whom, around 53%, have gone or are attempting to enter Poland, whose border crossing currently displays messages to Ukrainians telling them they are safe and welcome.
Speaking of Colombia’s own experience hosting a swath of Venezuelan refugees, Eastman warned that “now, with the Ukraine-Russia war, there will be greater flows of migrants and refugees” throughout the world.
For years, both Europe and the Americas have struggled to cope with a massive migration crisis linked to violent conflict in Africa and the Middle East, and poverty and drug and gang violence in Central and South America.
The migration crisis has been one of the most pressing and divisive issues for both continents, and political leaders have consistently failed to develop a uniform policy for handling the influx.
Colombia itself has borne the brunt of one of the biggest migration crises in recent years, having received some 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees fleeing poverty and political instability in the past five years alone, Eastman said.
Of these migrants, around 50% are women, he said, noting that this figure is equivalent to the total population of a large European city such as Turin, Italy.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problems that already existed, Eastman said, noting that in the past two years there has been an increase in sexual violence among the migrant community in Venezuela, and a lack of job opportunities.
Of those who do find work, the majority are men, he said, noting that this new unemployment crisis unfolding over a short period of time has made daily life more difficult for migrants, especially women.
Eastman said he is proud of how Colombia has handled their own internal migration crisis, offering Venezuelans temporary protection status and granting migrants and refugees access to the public health system.
Pointing to the crisis in Ukraine and the world’s largely unified support of the country and its battle against the Russian military, Eastman said he believes “the true defense of human life is being raised, above ideologies and power.”
“For me, in reality this crisis also gives me back hope in the humanity we are seeing at this moment, the strength to overcome,” he said.
He recalled Pope Francis’s 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti on human solidarity and brotherhood, saying, “I feel that we are living Fratelli Tutti directly; the teachings of Pope Francis we are making reality when we remember something that inspires – in the sense of a good politics or leadership, one to love, hope, the reserve of goodness that is there in the heart of the people.“
Eastman praised the assistance being given to Ukraine by various foreign governments and charitable organizations such as Caritas, saying, “a message of faith and hope are so meaningful at this time.”
Friday’s panel was organized by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations and featured panelists from different cultural backgrounds and religious traditions. It was sponsored by several embassies to the Holy See, including the embassies of Ireland, Argentina, Australia, and the Netherlands, in addition to Colombia.
Organizers of the event opened with a moment of silence for Ukraine and each panelist offered their own prayer for peace in the country, which has entered its 10th day of war with Russia.
Spanish Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, head of the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue, gave opening remarks, praising the role women play in times of conflict and crisis.
Women, he said, have a unique capacity to welcome and care for others, and are able to move forward without “giving in to fatalism.”
They also have “a unique capacity for forgiveness,” and a remarkable ability “to give life amid injustice and harms,” he said, asking that the role of women, especially in times of crisis, be better respected.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen