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Reflecting the Mind of the
Vatican since 1850
Refugees in Crisis: Spiritual Resources and Ethical Principles
The humanitarian system is severely challenged today. There are more displaced people today than at any time since World War II. Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the situation a “monumental crisis” that will require a response based on “monumental solidarity.” We need to develop much better ways of protecting the humanity of those threatened by tragedies today.

The first part of this article highlights some resources found in the religious and spiritual traditions of our world for responding to this crisis situation. It gives particular attention to Christian inspiration to serve the needs of the displaced, and then it proposes some ethical perspectives that are more policy-oriented.

Recently some secular political philosophers, like Joseph Carens, and some refugee scholars, like Philip Marfleet, have been arguing that the time has come to make borders fully open to all who are fleeing from persecution, conflict or disaster. In a similar spirit, the modern human rights movement affirms the universal dignity of all human beings and seeks to tear down walls dividing people into those who count and those who do not count when the most basic requirements of humanity are at stake.

This orientation also has strong support in the world’s great religious traditions. Both Judaism and Christianity hold that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and share a dignity that reaches across the borders between nation states. Pope Francis drew on this biblical vision during his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, where he assured Syrian refugees that “God created humanity to be one family” and called Europe to “build bridges” rather than “put up walls.”
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