updated 11/14/2006 10:44:36 AM ET 2006-11-14T15:44:36

A senior Vatican cardinal on Tuesday condemned the building of walls between countries to keep out immigrants and said Washington’s plan to build a fence on the U.S.-Mexican border was part of an “inhuman program”.

Cardinal Renato Martino made his comments at a news conference presenting Pope Benedict’s message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, in which the Pope called for more laws to help immigrants integrate.

“Speaking of borders, I must unfortunately say that in a world that greeted the fall of the Berlin Wall with joy, new walls are being built between neighborhood and neighborhood, city and city, nation and nation,” said Martino, head of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace.

President Bush signed legislation last month approving the construction of a 700-mile fence -- a move that angered Mexico’s government.

Bush defends the fence as necessary to tighten control of the border to keep criminals and terrorists out. Thousands of poor Mexicans risk their lives each year sneaking across the 2,000-mile border to seek jobs.

Asked if the U.S.-Mexican fence was the wrong thing to do, Martino said: “Yes, that’s exactly what it is.”

Martino praised Mexican and U.S. bishops for opposing what he called “an inhuman program, which is what the construction of that wall and all others is”.

Israel is building a barrier comprised of concrete and razor-topped steel fences along and inside the occupied West Bank. It says the barrier, which is about half-finished, stops suicide bombers. Palestinians call it a land grab that will deny them the viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza.

Saudi Arabia said it would start work next year on a security fence along its border with Iraq to stop Islamic militants entering the country.

In his message for the Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Pope called for more laws to help immigrants better integrate in their new countries.

“Much is already being done for the integration of the families of immigrants, although much still remains to be done,” he said. “(But) it is necessary to provide for legislative, juridical and social intervention to facilitate such an integration.”

Integration of immigrants is a big political issue in a number of European countries.

The question of whether Europe is doing enough to integrate Muslims into society has been urgently addressed by governments across the continent since the London attacks of July 2005 when British-born Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people.

Tensions remain high in Paris’s run-down suburbs, where poor job prospects, racial discrimination, a widespread sense of alienation from mainstream society and perceived hostile policing touched off a wave of riots in October 2005.

The pope also called for more protection for women immigrants who end up as victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution.

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