28 June 2011


There are an estimated 10.4 million refugees currently of concern to the United Nations. A further 4.7 million registered refugees are looked after in some 60 camps in the Middle East by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

In addition a further 26 million people are estimated to be displaced within their own country.

The refugees of concern to UNHCR are spread around the world, with more than half in Asia and some 20 percent in Africa. They live in widely varying conditions, from well-established camps and collective centres to makeshift shelters or living in the open.

Most of these refugees are living in countries which are struggling to provide basic services to their own populations. Relatively few are to be found in the more inaccessible affluent countries. Nevertheless faced with the prospect of an extended stay in a refugee camp with an uncertain future, it is understandable that some will take great risks in an attempt to attain a better life for themselves and their children.

The UN General Assembly has proclaimed June 20th as World Refugee Day to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and promote a greater understanding and compassion towards a group of people who are often treated with hostility and injustice.

Visit the World Refugee Day site for more information about refugees and to play the interactive game “Against All Odds”.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay completed her six day visit to Australia in May. During her visit she met with various Government Ministers (including the Prime Minister), the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and indigenous local government representatives. She also visited two immigration detention centres and met with indigenous people, migrants, NGOs and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

At the conclusion of her visit she praised Australia’s strong history of commitment to human rights at the international level, and its robust system of democratic institutions. The Australian Government’s efforts to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as the rights of older persons were also singled out for special praise.

However Ms Pilay also raised the two ongoing issues of particular concern for which Australia was heavily criticised during the recent Universal Periodic Review in January - the treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples and asylum-seekers. These two issues were raised by Edmund Rice International in its UPR submission.

Whilst welcoming advances that have been made in addressing some of the disadvantages faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples she noted that those advances were "undermined by policies that fail to recognise the right to self-determination for indigenous people" She urged a fundamental rethink of the policy and "a major effort to ensure not just consultation with the communities concerned in any future measures, but also their consent and active participation."

In her discussions with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Ms Pilay reiterated the long-standing concerns expressed by UN human rights treaty bodies that Australia’s mandatory immigration detention regime is in breach of Australia’s international human rights obligations - a policy has for many years cast a shadow over Australia’s human rights record.

She noted that thousands of men, women and – most disturbingly of all – children have been held in Australian detention centres for prolonged periods, even though they have committed no crime. This has led to suicides, self-harming and deep trauma.

She went on to point out the consequence of the "constant political refrain that Australia is being 'flooded' by people who are 'queue jumpers' has resulted in a stigmatization of an entire group of people, irrespective of where they have come from or what dangers they may have fled and urged the leaders of all Australia’s political parties to take a principled and courageous stand to break this ingrained political habit of demonizing asylum-seekers."

The full text of Ms Pilay’s comments can be found at the OHCHR website.


The Swiss multinational company Nestle is the world’s biggest food and drink corporation. In 2009 it reported a net profit of over $10.5 billion.

Yet lingering concerns remain about the ethics of some of Nestle’s business practices. These include its marketing of infant formula in the developing world, its slowness in ensuring the cocoa it sources from West Africa is free of slave labour (despite some recent positive steps) and the tactics it has employed in dealing with a labour dispute in the Philipinnes.

Further information about each of these issues and some suggested actions can be found at the Just Act website


Speaking at the recent United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) in Istanbul, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, stated that "a comprehensive and inclusive framework for international development is essential if any enduring results are to be achieved."

Noting that continued growth in many of these countries has "not translated into an improved situation for the people," Archbishop Tomasi focused on the concept of "integral human development" which is elucidated in Catholic social teaching: respect for human dignity; protection of human rights; care of creation; participation in community, subsidiarity and solidarity; along with education; natural resource exploitation; agriculture; manufacturing; trade; financial services; infrastructure and technology.

He went on to say that authentic development "must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth." and that quantifiable and economic criteria such as gross domestic product or stock market growth fail to capture the full measure of what it means to be human.

Growth that is promoting integral human development is "evaluated by how well it promotes sustainable development and communities, creates decent jobs, alleviates people’s poverty and protects the environment" he added.

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