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Pope joins mourning for Africans

11 October 2013


In peril: a coastguard vessel unloads the bodies of those who drowned off the island of Lampedusa last week

In peril: a coastguard vessel unloads the bodies of those who drowned off the island of Lampedusa last week

THE tragedy of last week's shipwreck off the island of Lampedusa was "just another episode in a horrific saga of human exploitation and misery", the Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, the Ven. Dr Jonathan Boardman, said at the weekend.

At least 274 West African migrants lost their lives when a boat carrying up to 500 people travelling from Misrata, in Libya, sank about half a mile from the shore.

The UN reported that most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia. In a statement for the Church Times, Dr Boardman said: "Many of the West Africans who worship in Anglican chaplaincies in Italy came to Europe as long ago as the early '90s by trekking across the Sahara, and then risking everything by seeking passage across the Mediterranean. Their tales of deprivation, constant danger, and the nearness of death emerge only when pressed - the trauma is too difficult regularly to recall."

The EU President, José Manuel Barroso, said during a visit to Lampedusa on Wednesday that Italy was to receive an additional €30 million from EU funds to help refugees. He pledged to work "tirelessly" to im- plement an EU-wide asylum policy.

Mr Barroso was accompanied by the Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta. They were met with shouts of "Shame! Shame!", by Lampedusans who have long complained that the island is expected to cope on its own with thousands of migrants.

On a pilgrimage to Assisi on Friday, Pope Francis condemned the treatment of refugees. The world "does not care about the many people fleeing slavery, hunger, fleeing in search of freedom. And how many of them die, as happened yesterday! Today is a day of tears."

Dr Boardman said that his archdeaconry tries to address the current intensification of the crisis by assisting partners in Lampedusa, principally the lay Roman Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio, which assists unaccompanied minors who arrive there. He said: "Italy simply cannot cope with the pressure, in spite of a high degree of human sympathy for the refugees.

"The waters in which these poveri cristi, the normal Italian expression for needy humans, but meaning literally 'poor Christs', are perishing are the same ones where St Paul suffered shipwreck. Concerted ecumenical and integrated European effort needs to be applied in finding a resolution to this humanitarian disaster rather than abandoning Italy to go it alone."

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