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Archbishop and Pope unite in call for EU help for migrants

24 April 2015


Shouldered: soldiers carry coffins during the funereal service for 24 of the drowned migrants, in Msida, on the outskirts of Valletta, on Thursday 

Shouldered: soldiers carry coffins during the funereal service for 24 of the drowned migrants, in Msida, on the outskirts of Valletta, on Thur...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis have demanded that European nations take in more of the migrants who are 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 deaths 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.

"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."

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

More details have emerged about the latest capsize of a migrant boat. Italian prosecutors said that the captain of a ship that was packed with migrants, and which sank on Saturday, accidentally crashed his vessel into a rescue ship. Only 28 people survived.

The captain, Mohammed Ali Malek, a Tunisian, has been arrested, accused of causing a shipwreck, multiple homicides, and being an accomplice to clandestine immigration.

The International Organization for Migration has warned that the death toll in the Mediterranean this year is already 30 times higher than last year, when the Italian navy was conducting a more comprehensive search-and-rescue mission.

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

The police said that 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".

The Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, the Ven. Jonathan Boardman, said on Tuesday that the Italian Church was committed to saving migrants, but that Christians elsewhere needed to step up their efforts.

"The Church in Italy is entirely on the side of the migrants," he said. "The work on Lampedusa [an Italian island, the destination of many migrants] is putting the Church's money where its mouth is."


Archdeacon Boardman said that he had met the local Roman Catholic Archbishop and parish priest in Lampedusa, and it was clear that they were "working flat out" in the crisis. The diocese in Europe also gave about £20,000 from its charity appeal to a charity in Lampedusa last year.

But Archdeacon Boardman said that he agreed with Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis: the crisis could be solved only if Christians across Europe - not just in the Mediterranean - made a contribution.

"The message [of compassion to migrants] isn't getting through, because the majority of Anglicans will vote Conservative or UKIP," he said. "They need to start supporting political programmes that don't set up barriers."

The Global Freedom Network, an ecumenical project (News, 21 March 2014), was, he said, also vital in the effort to save lives at sea, by destroying the networks which smuggle people across the world.

The General Secretary of the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe, Doris Peschke, said that only "legal and safe pathways" into Europe, and resettling more refugees, would stop more tragedies at sea.


The Mission to Seafarers director of justice and public affairs, Canon Ken Peters, said on Tuesday that those responsible for responding to the disasters in the Mediterranean should not be forgotten by the Church.

"In going to the rescue, they may well put their own lives at risk," he said. "They don't go to help out of an obligation, but because they want to offer a genuine helping hand."

He said that, when smaller boats of migrants were intercepted by the coastguard or naval vessels, the migrants could be taken on board for weeks at a time while a port that would accept them was sought.

"I absolutely accept it is a humanitarian crisis, and people must deal with it as it happens, but is there a suggestion that we must accept all people into Europe?" Canon Peters said. "It's not a maritime problem, but a problem with a failed state."

'A pain pathway' - Leader comment

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