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Catholic Aid Groups Urge Humanitarian Response to Migrant Crisis

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) 

“Merchant vessels and national coast guards have again responded valiantly to the immense and growing challenge of saving the lives of vulnerable migrants, refugees and asylum seekers off Europe’s southern shores. But that’s far from enough in the face of this growing humanitarian crisis,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia. “Without a European search-and-rescue operation, the European Union’s approach looks increasingly haphazard and negligent.”

Last October, Catholic bishops and aid agencies condemned a European Union decision to wind up a search-and-rescue operation launched in 2013 and replace it by a more limited border operation run by Frontex.

The World Council of Churches has urged Europe to take “collective responsibility,” rather than leaving the problem to border services in Greece, Italy and Malta, and to recognize the need to tackle “poverty, social instability and conflicts” in the migrants’ countries of origin.

Meanwhile, the president of the German bishops’ conference said the drownings represented “a defeat for everything that makes the European Union a community of values,” and called on the E.U. to reinstate its search-and-rescue operation and stop treating the saving of lives as a “mere political issue.”

“It is clear the E.U. attracts refugees, and traffickers exploit the willingness of E.U. border control to rescue their victims — and it is regrettable that sufficient action isn’t taken in countries of origin to counter the reasons which make them feel they must leave,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who also heads the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community.

“But all of this does not justify ignoring the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean. Politicians in Europe have often deplored the deaths of refugees without drawing conclusions. This tragedy is now pushing European countries to take drastic measures. Europe’s response will be a litmus test for European values.”

Babicka said church agencies were urging humanitarian visas for refugees from Syria and Libya, as well as legal “humanitarian channels” for labor migrants and a better system for family reunifications.

She added that Catholic groups had found a strong ally in Pope Francis, who warned in a November address to the European Parliament against allowing the Mediterranean “to become a vast cemetery.”

“How we treat migrants and refugees reflects the state of basic rights in the E.U.,” Babicka said. “But the problem is worsening and major states aren’t doing enough to combat it and uphold the Christian values which provide the foundation for E.U. values.”

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Tags: Africa Relief Migrants Italy