VATICAN CITY (CNS): Pope Benedict XVI urged governments and international organisations to give special attention to the rights of child immigrants, who often are victims of exploitation and abandonment.
Minors forced to immigrate for reasons of poverty, violence or hunger are the most vulnerable, he said.
The Pope made the comments in his annual message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, which will be celebrated in many countries on January 17.
The papal text was released at the Vatican on November 27.
The Pope said host countries must create policies that protected child immigrants and helped them integrate into society. These children should enjoy basic rights such as going to school and being able to work legally, he said.
“I warmly hope that proper attention will be given to minor migrants who need a social environment that permits and fosters their physical, cultural, spiritual and moral development,” he said.
Despite increased awareness of the need to help child immigrants, the Pope said, “many are left to fend for themselves and, in various ways, face the risk of exploitation”.
Pope Benedict referred to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises children’s “fundamental rights as equal to the rights of adults”. But “unfortunately this does not always happen in practice”, he said.
The Pope’s message was presented at a Vatican press conference by Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers president Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio; council secretary Archbishop Agostino Marchetto; and under-secretary Monsignor Novatus Rugambwa.
Archbishop Veglio said children came to be migrants in different ways: the lucky ones were accompanied by their parents or a guardian. Others were sent alone, either to save them from a desperate situation in their home countries or to work to send money back to their families.
“This becomes a heavy psychological burden for a child who doesn’t want to disappoint them,” he said. The child is then “willing to suffer injustice, violence and mistreatment to obtain a worker’s permit”.
Archbishop Marchetto said internationally established rights for migrant minors to have access to school, health care, a home and food were often not respected in the host countries.
Many children lived isolated lives, staying in refugee camps or immigration centres. Often they had no money, he said.
In many countries “there is a great divide between the stated objectives and real daily practice”, he said, and many people still reacted to immigrants in their countries with prejudice.
“This behaviour of discrimination, xenophobia and even racism must be addressed with policies aimed at protecting and reinforcing the rights of refugees,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Vatican’s representative to United Nations agencies based in Geneva said the increase in illegal global migration shows that so far efforts to manage immigration have not worked.
Speaking on November 25 to the International Organisation for Migration, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said data from the UN and individual governments showed that 15 to 20 per cent of all immigration was illegal, amounting to 30 million to 40 million people.
Countries on every continent are trying to deal with illegal immigration.