Pope appeals to EU to accept more migrants, while 700 drown

religion | Apr 19, 2015 | By Martin Barillas

Pope Francis demanded a “much broader involvement” on the part of Europe to address the wave of illegal immigrants washing ashore, especially in Italy and Spain. Each of those two countries are the entry ways for thousands of illegal immigrants who are coming mostly from the Muslim Magreb region and Sub-Saharan Africa. Appealing to their sense of humanity, the Pope told listeners during his weekly address on April 19, "These are men and women like us, brothers seeking a better life," while asking European leaders to "act decisively and quickly to stop these tragedies from recurring."

The Pope called on Christians to pray for the victims of illegal human trafficking, adding "(They are) hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of war. They are seeking a better life, they are seeking happiness." On April 19, it was reported that as many as 700 illegal immigrants may have perished while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Scores of bodies were being recovered by Italy’s coast guard on the very same Sunday on which Pope Francis issued his appeal. This year Italy suspended much of its rescue operations in the Mediterranean, and has come under criticism for supposed indifference to human suffering.

Joined by Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella, Pope Francis said on April 19 “I express my gratitude for the commitment that Italy is making to welcome the many migrants who, risking their lives, ask to be taken in. It’s evident that the proportions of the phenomenon require much broader involvement. We must never tire of appealing for a more extensive commitment on the European and international level.”

Since January 2014, some 200,000 people have been rescued at sea by the Italians. The number of migrant deaths in Mediterranean crossings has risen by a factor of 50 times since Italy’s Mare Nostrum rescue operations were replaced by activities limited to within 30 miles) of the Italian coast. For Its part, the United Kingdom announced last autumn that it would not support any EU-sponsored search-and-rescue, arguing that it would “encourage” more migrants to cross. "Ninety per cent of the cost of the patrol and sea rescue operations are falling on our shoulders, and we have not had an adequate response from the EU," Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told the daily Corriere della Sera.

"And then there is the difficult issue of knowing where to send those rescued at sea – to the nearest port? To the country where their boat came from? The EU has to respond clearly to these questions," Gentiloni said.

Among the pressure-groups appealing for a renewal of the operations is Save the Children. The group is circulating a petition to resume the rescue operations. So far in April, 12,342 migrants have arrived in Italy: a significant increase over the number for March of 2,283.  The depredations on the part of Muslim terrorists in Nigeria, Libya, Chad, and Egypt, are blamed for some of the flow of migrants seeking a better life. Their arrival in Europe has put a strain on the Continent’s social welfare schemes, as well as a sharp increase in the number of inter-religious incidents in the UK, Scandinavia, France and Germany.

The Pope’s appeal for clemency came just two days after it was revealed that a group of Muslims attacked fellow migrant Christians on board a vessel that was taking them from Africa to Europe. According to reports, 12 Nigerian and Ghanaian passengers drowned in the Mediterranean. The boat had been carrying 100 passengers in all. Fifteen Muslim migrants – from Mali, Senegal, and Ivory Coast - were arrested by Italian police and charged with the crime. The remaining passengers were brought to Sicily. The migrants had set out from Libya on April 14 in a frail boat, much like many other migrants. Survivors said that the fearful Nigerian and Ghanaians struggled to save their lives by forcefully resisting drowning attempts by forming a veritable human chain in some cases. Passengers on the vessel took photographs of the incident that attest to the horror.

Last week, a shipwreck off the coast of Libya claimed the lives of approximately 400 people, while another 41 migrants feared drowned on April 16 when their rubber dinghy sank en route to Italy.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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