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Catholic Aid Groups Urge Humanitarian Response to Migrant Crisis

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Migrants wait to disembark from a tug boat in the Sicilian harbor of Pozzallo on 4 May. More than 3,600 migrants were rescued at sea in 17 different operations in just one day in early May, according to the Italian coast guard. (photo: CNS/Antonio Parrinello, Reuters) 

05 May 2015 – By Jonathan Luxmoore

OXFORD, England (CNS) — As the European Union announced tough measures to curb the flow of migrants and refugees across the Mediterranean Sea, Catholic aid groups urged a more humanitarian response.

“We’re disappointed by the E.U.’s proposals — although changes have been promised to stop people dying on our borders, these policies are insufficient,” said Karolina Babicka, an advocacy officer with Caritas Europe. “Catholic agencies like ours have warned the E.U. for years about this crisis, but its leaders haven’t responded seriously.”

She told Catholic News Service that E.U. governments were “at least partly responsible” for conditions in Libya and other countries, because of past interventions, and should be doing more to deter refugee flights by promoting stable development.

More than 3,600 migrants were rescued at sea in 17 different operations in just one day in early May, according to the Italian coast guard. On 20 April, Caritas reported more than 1,500 people had drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year. The number of refugees and migrants attempting the crossing to Europe have increased sharply with growing violence in the Middle East and North Africa.

On 23 April, the European Union announced measures to deter boat refugees. It said it would strengthen sea patrols by its Frontex border agency and destroy human traffickers’ boats, as well as increase the speed at which it processed asylum applications. It also announced a pilot project on migrant resettlement.

But Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative at the United Nations in Geneva, said priority should be given to “rescuing threatened human life,” rather than “economic questions or immediate state interests.”

“Europe needs to go beyond the normal methods of control,” Archbishop Tomasi was quoted as saying by France’s Catholic La Croix on 24 April. “If the European Council doesn’t deal with this problem in a radically new way, there’ll be a risk of merely leaving things as they are.”

The Brussels-based Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions said European policy should “prioritize life-protecting and migrants’ human rights” rather than “controls, vigilance and border blockades,” and called on the United Nations to act if Europe failed to stop the mass deaths.

Babicka told CNS that tripling Frontex’s budget was “a small step in the right direction.” However, she added that the border agency had no mandate to conduct search-and-rescue operations and said Catholic representatives had been “surprised and shocked” by the E.U.’s proposal to destroy smugglers’ boats.

“If you start destroying boats, as the E.U. has tried to do against pirates off Somalia, it’s likely you’ll destroy the people in them too, and this raises legal and moral questions,” said Babicka. “The smugglers are there because there’s a demand — from desperate people who’ve no other way to reach safety. If you sink them, other even more dangerous routes will be found instead.”

An Amnesty International official also called for a search-and-rescue operation.





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Tags: Africa Relief Migrants Italy