VATICAN (NWN) – Pope Francis on Sunday strongly called for an end to the practice of returning migrants rescued at sea to Libya and other unsafe countries where they suffer from “inhuman violence.”
Francis also entered a highly controversial political debate in Europe, urging the international community to find concrete ways to manage “migration flows” in the Mediterranean.
“I express my closeness to thousands of migrants, refugees and others in need of protection in Libya,” Francis said. “I will never forget you, I hear your cries and pray for you.”
Despite the fact that the pontiff, in his speeches to the public in St. Peter’s Square, called for a change in policy towards migrants, hundreds of migrants were either at sea in the central Mediterranean Sea, waiting for a port after being rescued, or had recently come ashore in Sicily or Italy. according to authorities, after sailing from Libya or Turkey. Dozens of others sent out pleas for help with the flimsy rubber boat.
“Many of these men, women and children are subjected to inhuman violence,” he added. “Once again, I ask the international community to keep its promises and find common, concrete and long-term solutions to manage migration flows in Libya and throughout the Mediterranean.”
“How those who are sent back suffer” after being rescued at sea, said the Pope. According to him, the detention centers in Libya are “real concentration camps.”
“We need to stop sending (migrants) back to unsafe countries and prioritize saving lives at sea through rescue and predictable disembarkation protocols to guarantee them decent living conditions, alternatives to detention, regular migration routes and access to asylum procedures,” Francis said.
Officials from the UN Refugee Agency and human rights organizations have long denounced the conditions of detention of migrants in Libya in detention centers, citing beatings, rape and other forms of torture, as well as malnutrition. Migrants endure weeks and months in these conditions, waiting to cross in unseawable rubber boats or wobbly fishing boats organized by traffickers.
On Sunday, humanitarian group Alarm Phone said it had been contacted by 60 people who said they needed rescue from their flimsy rubber boat. But he later said that he had lost contact with the boat that was descending. It said that a merchant ship approached the boat, which, apparently, was in the search and rescue sector of Malta.
In addition, Médecins Sans Frontières reports that 296 migrants aboard its rescue vessel Geo Barents are awaiting permission to disembark in waters off the coast of Malta. It says six migrants have tested positive for COVID-19, but the tightness on board made it difficult to keep them at a sufficient distance from others, the report said.
In Sicily, a ship from the German charity Sea-Watch with 406 rescued migrants on board was allowed to enter the port.
While in recent years hundreds of thousands of migrants have embarked on traffickers’ boats to European shores and set foot in Sicily or the nearby Italian islands, many reach the Italian mainland.
Red Cross officials in Roccella Ionica, a town on the “Cape” coast of the Italian peninsula, said on Sunday that some 700 migrants, some from Afghanistan, have reached the coast of Calabria in recent days in boats that appear to have departed from Turkey. …
Authorities said some 3,400 migrants made it to Roccella Ionica, a city of 6,000 this year, up from 480 for all of 2019. Migrants who arrived in the past few days have been housed in tents, state television RAI reported.
Italy and Malta have been criticized by human rights activists for leaving migrants aboard overcrowded lifeboats before providing them with a safe port.
The Libyan coast guard, trained and equipped by Italy, has also been criticized for rescuing migrants in Libyan waters and then returning them to land where detention centers awaited them.
Doctors Without Borders tweeted Friday that the Geo Barents crew “witnessed an interception” by the Libyan coast guard.
“We do not know the exact number of intercepted people. But we know that they will be forcibly sent to dangerous places of detention and will be subjected to violence and exploitation, ”the humanitarian organization said.
With the rise in popularity of right-wing, anti-immigrant parties in Italy in recent years, the Italian government is under increasing domestic political pressure to combat illegal immigration. Italy, along with Malta, has also lobbied its European Union partner countries, mostly in vain, to accept some of those rescued at sea, as many of the migrants hope to find relatives or work elsewhere in Europe.
“Let us all feel responsible for these brothers and sisters of ours who have been victims of this very serious situation for many years,” the Pope said, concluding his speech by asking the believers in the square to join him in silent prayer.
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