ROME (AP) — The Vatican says internal migrants should have the same legal protections as refugees and says their children should have the right to birth certificates, education and being reunited with their parents if separated.
The Vatican on Tuesday published a booklet of pastoral guidelines to care for internally displaced people — migrants who are forced to flee their homes because of conflict, natural disasters or persecution but don’t cross international borders to seek asylum elsewhere.
More than 40 million people are believed to be displaced within their own countries.
Pope Francis has made the plight of refugees a hallmark of his papacy, calling for countries to welcome, protect, promote and integrate anyone who is forced to leave their homes. The new guidelines apply that appeal to internal migrants and lay out ways the Catholic Church can help through advocacy, education, aid and spiritual assistance.
The guidelines call for internal migrants to receive the same U.N.-sanctioned humanitarian protections as refugees, noting that the same forces, dangers and vulnerabilities are at play.
It says the church should advocate for family reunifications when children are separated from their parents. To avoid new generations of stateless children, it calls for the church to press governments to issue birth certificates for children of internal migrants, and says the church itself can step in to issue its own forms of identification via school documents or baptismal certificates for Catholics.
Cardinal Michael Czerney, Francis’ top adviser on migration, presented the new guidelines Tuesday, noting they follow on similar ones issued for the pastoral care of refugees and victims of human trafficking.
Amaya Valcárcel, international coordinator for the Jesuit Refugee Service, said the key problem about internally displaced people is their “invisibility,” and that outside aid groups often have difficulty reaching them because of government restrictions on access inside their own borders.