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Recently Returned Bishops Offer Initial Recommendations on African Refugee Situation

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WASHINGTON (September 5, 2000) -- Ending the violence, allowing greater access to the victims of conflict, and increasing foreign aid from wealthy nations are among the initial recommendations of two U.S. bishops who returned last week from a fact-finding mission to Africa's Great Lakes region.
"'Protection is not a simple concession made to the refugee: he is not an object of assistance, but rather a subject of rights and duties,'" said Bishops Philip F. Straling of Reno (NV) and Thomas G. Wenski, auxiliary bishop of Miami, citing the Jubilee Charter of Rights of Displaced People. "Our visit to Africa made us acutely aware that this ideal is far from being honored."

The bishops led a delegation representing the Bishops' Migration Committee, which visited the east African region to assess the situation of refugees, internally displaced people, and returnees. In each country, the delegation sought to meet with members of the national bishops' conference, government officials, the U.S. ambassador, and representatives of humanitarian agencies.

After consultation with the Committee and staff, they will make more complete recommendations for responding to the needs of refugees and displaced persons in that region. In the interim, they offered five key observations and immediate recommendations:

End the current violence. Echoing the national bishops' conferences in the region, the two bishops called the end of the current violence a "pre-condition for the return home of innocent civilians." They urged full participation in the Arusha peace process for Burundi and in the Lusaka peace process for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Improve access by humanitarian workers to victims in immediate need of assistance and protection. The two bishops praised agencies like Catholic Relief Services, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and others "whose staffs labor heroically and anonymously under conditions of great danger." They appealed to the region's governments to put their people first and allow humanitarian agencies greater, more immediate access to people in need.

Appropriate greater funding. They urged Congress to increase the funding for the Migration and Refugee Assistance Account to at least $700 million for the fiscal year which begins October 1. They called the current financial assistance to Africa "shamefully low."

Provide special protection to the most vulnerable. The two bishops said women with children whose husbands are dead or missing, as well as unaccompanied youth, are in special need of protection. They cited especially the more than 5,000 unaccompanied youth in Kenya's Kakuma camp.

Offer resettlement in a third country. They appealed to the governments of the United States and other nations to increase their admissions of Africans.

Other members of the delegation included: Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup, N.M., representing Catholic Relief Services, the Bishops' overseas development and relief agency; Mark Franken, Executive Director of the U.S. Catholic Conference's Migration and Refugee Services; Father Michael Blume, undersecretary of the Vatican's Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples; Father Michael Perry, African policy advisor in the USCC Office of International Justice and Peace; and Lacy Wright, MRS refugee policy advisor. From August 18- 27, they visited Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), the Republic of Congo (often called Congo Brazzaville), and Kenya.

NOTE: All U.S.-based members of the delegation are available for interviews. Contact the USCC Department of Communications to request an interview.

The full text of the statement from Bishops Straling and Wenski.

September 07, 2000 Copyright =A9 by United States Catholic Conference