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Respect rights of refugees, Indian priest says

Father Prakash urges world leaders to work together to do more for refugees

Gulf News

Mumbai: As the UN World Refugee Day will be observed on June 20 to honour the courage and strength of those forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence, an Indian Jesuit priest working in Beirut, Lebanon, has made a fervent plea that world leaders and governments work together to do more for refugees.

While the global campaign to address the plight of refuges was launched last June by the UN Refugee Agency, Father Cedric Prakash, who is the Regional Advocacy & Communications Officer of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) for the Middle East and North Africa, in Beirut, says that “a top priority has to be that governments and people respect the rights of all forcibly displaced persons.” He points out to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14) that states, “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” And adds, in this context, more than 145 countries of the world have signed the United Nation ‘1951 Refugee Convention’ and the ‘Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967.’

The human rights activist, belonging to the Gujarat Jesuit Province of India where he founded an NGO “Prashant” in 2001, says, “India is one of the few democracies in the world that is not a signatory to both the Refugee Convention and the Protocol. This is very unfortunate and certainly beyond comprehension. India has a track record of hosting millions of refugees from the neighbouring countries and even from some African ones.

“Thanks to the then (late) Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Government, in May 1971 India provided refuge to more than ten million Bangla Deshis, in the wake of the civil war there” and who have continued to stay on.” In addition, there are thousands of Tibetans, Sri Lankan Tamils, Afghanis, and Rohingyas from Myanmar, Bhutanese from Nepal and from Sudan, Somalia and other sub-Saharan African countries who have sought refuge in India, he says.

He believes the refugee crisis has gripped the world as never before with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) pegging the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people around the world as 65.3 million.

More than half of the refugees (53 per cent) today come from just three countries: Syria (4.9m). Afghanistan (2.7m) and Somalia (1.1m). “Strangely enough and contrary to public perception the countries which host the most amount of refugees today are Turkey (2.5m), Pakistan (1.6m), Lebanon (1.1m), Iran (979,400), Ethiopia (736,100) and Jordan (664,100).”

Blaming the military-industrial complex that profits greatly from wars and conflicts, he says, “So, as we observe yet another World Refugee Day, let us ensure that the decision-makers of this world have the sagacity and the political will to respect the rights of the forcibly displaced and above all, to tackle the endemic issues which are responsible for the refugee crisis!”