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ROME – Celebrating the World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sunday, Pope Francis implored the world “not to close doors to hope.”
“It is necessary to walk together, without prejudice and without fear, placing ourselves next to those who are most vulnerable: migrants, refugees, displaced persons, victims of trafficking and the abandoned,” Francis said on Sunday.
His words came four days after meeting with a group of Afghan refugees in the Vatican, some of whom had received assistance by the Vatican as they tried to flee their country in August.
“We are called to build an ever more inclusive world that excludes no one,” he insisted, before inviting those present to spend some time contemplating a monument called “Angels Unaware” installed in St. Peter’s Square in 2019. Created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, it was the first new sculpture installed in St. Peter’s Square in over 400 years. It depicts 140 migrants and refugees, including the Holy Family.
Francis urged the faithful who had gathered for this weekly appointment to contemplate the “boat with migrants, and to linger on the gaze of those people and to grasp in that gaze the hope that every migrant has today to start living again.”
“Let’s not close the doors to their hope,” Francis insisted.
The Vatican’s top diplomat, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, “our societies today are the theatre of many injustices where human beings are maltreated, exploited, ignored, killed, or left to languish in humanitarian emergencies.”
Situations where refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons are “increasingly left in limbo or even left to drown, unwelcome and unable to find a new home to raise their family in dignity, peace and security” are a reality on every continent, Parolin said, with people of all religious, indigenous, racial and ethnic backgrounds experiencing violence and oppression, or reduced to second-class citizens.
For instance, at least five migrants died this week after being deported from the European Union by Polish border troops, close to the border with Belarus, where men and women are stranded in a forest, surviving freezing nightly temperatures with little to no material support.
EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have each declared a state of emergency amid a surge of thousands of people trying to cross their borders from Belarus, with the European Union accusing Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as a weapon, abandoning them at the border. Poland has banned aid workers and journalists from its border zone.
The stand-off has gone on for over 40 days, amid refugees coming from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries with limited or no access to drinking water and food, medical assistance, sanitation facilities and shelter.
In Chile, some 3,000 people violently attacked a make-shift refugee camp set up by Venezuelan migrants who fled the regime of Nicolas Maduro.
For several years now the crisis in Venezuela has been labeled by the United Nations as the worst in the world without being a war-zone, and there are more people who’ve fled this Latin American nation than refugees and internally displaced people in Syria, which has been consumed by conflict for close to a decade.
On Sunday, Chilean prosecutors opened an investigation into the violent attack on undocumented Venezuelan migrants, whose belongings were burned on Saturday in the northern city of Iquique.
The demonstration brought together thousands of people carrying Chilean flags and signs with anti-migrant slogans. Amid xenophobic shouts, the most radical protesters burned the belongings of the migrants camping in the streets of this city in the Tarapacá region, some 1,100 miles north of Santiago.
The protest came a day after the eviction of a public square full of migrant families with children.
Chile’s Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado expressed his disagreement with the violent protest. However, he said, “We will continue evictions in all public spaces that are required” and also “with the expulsion plan” of undocumented migrants.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants, most of them from Venezuela and Haiti, face deportation unless the government of Sebastian Piñera changes its current immigration law, which came into force on April 20. It only allows those who entered the country through an authorized crossing point before March 18, 2020, to change their immigration status. Those who entered in a clandestine manner through unauthorized crossings have 180 days to leave the country without penalty. Chile had its borders closed to foreigners during most of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Jesuit Migrant Service, the foreign population in Chile increased from 305,000 in 2010 to 1.5 million in 2020, going from representing 1.8 percent of the total population to 7.5 percent.
This is partly explained by the explosive increase in Venezuelan migration – from a community of 8,000 in 2012 to 500,000 in 2020 – and Haitian migration – which increased from just 1,600 people in 2012 to more than 185,000 in 2019.
After the protests turned violent, Waleska Ureta, director of the Jesuit Migrant Service, told the press that “a real and serious solution to what is happening today must include access to shelters with adequate sanitary conditions, health, food and the initiation of regularization processes. Otherwise, it will only perpetuate a circle of irregularity, exclusion and even rejection.”