Cardinal Charles Maung Bo
This year’s World Refugee Day occurs in the midst of the pandemic. People who are forcibly displaced are especially at risk from COVID-19. They are often on the run, crowded together, and with inadequate health care.
If humanity is divided, the pandemic crisis cannot be overcome. When no one is left out, it is possible to heal a planet. For everybody’s sake let us care for refugees.
Division and conflict remain the main cause of forced migration in the world and in Asia. In April this year I joined my voice to the calls of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Pope Francis for a global ceasefire in the face of the unprecedented and growing worldwide threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Myanmar, the world’s fifth major producer of refugees, a partial ceasefire was declared. But the difference between a comprehensive and a partial ceasefire is everything. War is still displacing tens of thousands of people who are now starving in northern Rakhine and southern Chin States. The failure to extend the ceasefire to all parts of Myanmar affects peace across Asia. Conflict leads to victory for no one.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis had urged: “May our joint fight against the pandemic bring everyone to recognize the great need to reinforce brotherly and sisterly bonds as members of one human family …. Conflicts are not resolved through war and antagonism, and differences must be overcome through dialogue and a constructive search for peace.”
If people continue to be forced from their homes, we will remain a world in crisis. I call on leaders across Asia and all people to address the endemic racism, nativism, and hateful rhetoric present in our societies that particularly affect treatment of undocumented migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
Today is a time to ask leaders of nations to respect the rights of all people. Prioritize the long acknowledged principles of international law proper to civilized countries regarding the protection of forcibly displaced persons.
In some countries of Asia COVID-19 has been the excuse for denying assistance to migrant populations and has been used as an excuse for rounding up and detaining migrant men, women, and children.
This strategy works against the interests and good health of all. It is important to include the needs of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons in all policies of response to COVID-19, including relief.
Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic must include concrete steps toward peace. In order to end the health crisis, relieve the hunger and poverty induced by the pandemic, and to prevent the uprooting of people as refugees, the real causes of conflict must be addressed, military offensives halted, and displaced people allowed to return to their villages.
We face a multiple, global crisis. It can be overcome if we give priority to attending to the most vulnerable people such as the refugees.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo is prelate of Yangon in Myanmar and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC)