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Conference Opening


ROME, 16 February, 2017 – Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher and H.E Mgr. Silvano Maria Tomasi urged reflection on the past to inform the international community’s response to refugees today, at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) conference in cooperation with the Holy See “Refugee Policies from 1933 until Today: Challenges and Responsibilities”.

The conference brings together experts in Holocaust history and contemporary policy-makers to reflect on the past with a view to concretely informing positive, ethically responsible, and rational policy-making today.

Image: Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with the States, Holy See. Credit: International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

The audience at the opening event, which took place at the Palazzo della Cancelleria, consisted of around 160 participants representing governments and NGOs from over 20 countries – many of them from IHRA’s 31 Member Countries and 11 Observer Countries.

The Advisor to the IHRA, Professor Steven Katz, and the IHRA Chair, Ambassador Mihnea Constantinescu, opened the conference by stressing that from the Holocaust the world could see the consequences of the international community failing to act. The IHRA Chair advocated for “historically-informed policy-making”, reflecting on the past to face the challenges of the present. Read the IHRA Chair's address

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Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher is Secretary for Relations with States, Secretariat of State of the Holy See and has served at the Apostolic Nunciatures in Tanzania, Uruguay, the Philippines.

Archbishop Gallagher began his opening remarks by noting that compassion and generosity to refugees have been a hallmark of Pope Francis’s papacy. 

“In the face of such evil and injustice, no one can remain indifferent,” he said. “Our shared humanity demands us not to remain indifferent.”

He also expressed his hope that the present conference would not only make an important contribution to raising awareness of the suffering of refugees but that it would also help to bring about solutions. He drew a clear connection to the present day, stating: “We remember so that we may build together a better future. I hope that by reflecting on the memories of the past, we might help bring forth new responses to current challenges. The Holy See has always urged tackling the root causes that give rise to refugees in the first place - peace and reconciliation in an effort to prevent humanitarian travesties.”

In his remarks, Archbishop Gallagher also emphasized the Catholic Church’s clear stance against antisemitism and its commitment to remembering the Holocaust. Read Archbishop Gallagher's full address here.

H.E Msgr. Silvano Maria Tomasi held the keynote speech at the conference. Msgr. Tomasi is Secretary Delegate of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and previously served as permanent observer to the Office of the United Nations.

Throughout his address, Msgr. Tomasi stressed the need to remember the past and to protect the dignity of each and every human being.

“As the tragic events of history have shown us, indifference and forgetting can kill,” he said. 

Msgr. Tomasi noted that the world was currently facing the highest number of displaced persons since the end of World War II and continued by tracing the development of the legal protections for refugees, touching on the Convention for the Protection of Refugees among others. He noted that many of these protections emerged from the experience of the Second World War but added that there was a long way to go before the current international response to the plight of refugees could be considered adequate. Speaking of the current crisis, he said, “The resistance to opening the door to migrants is very evident in the rise of populism, and in the focus on border control and repatriation schemes.”

"The juridical responsibility of states towards refugees is a minimum, but it does not exhaust the moral responsibility”. Read Msgr. Tomasi's full address here.

The conference continues on 17 February at the Palazzo della Cancelleria. The draft programme and further information on speakers is available on the website of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.