Welby and Pope call for Europe-wide action on migrant deaths

20 April 2015

AP

Shore-side: migrants stand on the deck of the Italian naval ship Driade, before disembarkation in Messina, Sicily, on Saturday 

Shore-side: migrants stand on the deck of the Italian naval ship Driade, before disembarkation in Messina, Sicily, on Saturday&nb...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have demanded European nations take in more migrants fleeing North Africa and the Middle East, days after hundreds were feared to have died after their boats sank in the Mediterranean.

Up to 400 migrants were believed to have drowned when their boat capsized last week, but as many as 900 people could have died after another boat sank near the coast of Libya on Saturday. The death toll has prompted Archbishop Welby to call for a united effort to prevent more deaths.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: "We can't say this is one country's responsibility, the one nearest, that's not right.

"Of course we have to be aware of the impact of immigration in our own communities but when people are drowning in the Mediterranean, the need, the misery that has driven them out of their own countries is so extreme, so appalling that Europe as a whole must rise up and seek to do what's right.

"It will be demanding and that's why the burden must be spread across the continent and not taken by just one country or one area."

His intervention echoed that of Pope Francis's on Saturday, when he said that Italy could not cope with the thousands of migrants attempting to cross the sea into Europe in ramshackle vessels.

"I want to express my gratitude for Italy's undertaking in welcoming the numerous migrants seeking refuge at the risk of their lives," he said. "It is evident that the proportions of the phenomenon demand much greater involvement. We must not tire in our attempts to solicit a more extensive response at the European and international level."

On Monday, the International Organisation for Migration said that it had learnt there were three more boats in the Mediterranean which had issued distress calls. However, the Italian coastguard was reportedly struggling to reach them as they were still busy dealing with the weekend's shipwrecks.

David Cameron has spoken with the prime ministers of Italy and Malta, which has also seen boats full of migrants sink close to their shores. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "The Prime Minister agreed that the EU needed to respond urgently to address the crisis to try to prevent further deaths. All three leaders agreed that the criminal networks behind human traffickers were primarily to blame for this tragedy, and that the highest priority had to be action to disrupt their activities."

The Guardian reported that the death toll in 2015 was more than 900, compared to just 50 in 2014 when the Italian navy was conducting a more comprehensive search and rescue mission in the waters between Italy and northern Africa.

Many of those cramming into the decrepit boats are fleeing violence and persecution in Libya and Syria. The Italian police said last week that they had arrested 15 Muslim migrants who had arrived from a boat on suspicion of throwing at least nine Christian fellow asylum seekers into the sea.

The police said that, based on testimony of the other migrants on board, the men had got into a dispute with the Christians before a fight broke out. They have been arrested on suspicion of "multiple murders, aggravated by religious hatred".

Forthcoming Events

21-22 February 2020
Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature
With Sam Wells, Catherine Fox, Mark Oakley, Suzannah Lipscomb and many others. 
See the full programme

26 March 2020
Theology Slam Live Final
Theology Slam is back, continuing its search for the most engaging young voices on theology and the contemporary world. Find out more

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)