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Bishop in Europe: migration is a bigger challenge to the European Union than Brexit

22 June 2018


A man with a flare joins a demonstration in Rome on Saturday to show solidarity with migrants, after a 29-year-old migrant agricultural worker, Soumaila Sacko, was fatally shot in southern Italy this month

A man with a flare joins a demonstration in Rome on Saturday to show solidarity with migrants, after a 29-year-old migrant agricultural worker, Soumai...

MIGRATION is the biggest challenge facing the European Union today — “bigger than Brexit” — and will be for several years to come, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has said.

Dr Innes was speaking from the central-committee meeting of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, on Tuesday, days after 630 migrants from Libya were permitted to alight in the Spanish port of Valencia, on Sunday, having been refused entry to Italy.

The group had been stranded on international waters for several days, on the cargo ship Aquarius, because the Italian and Maltese governments would not allow the vessel to dock, provoking criticism from the French.

The migrants were safely transported to Spain on the Aquarius, which is funded by the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and two Italian vessels.

Dr Innes said that, while Italy carried an “unfair burden” for welcoming refugees, arrivals in Italy via the central Mediterranean migration route had fallen by tens of thousands in the past three years: from 181,436 in 2016 to 12,105 in the first five months of 2018.

“In that light, the refusal of the Italian authorities to allow the MSF and SOS Mediterranean-sponsored ship Aquarius to land is hugely upsetting,” he said.

“Those on board are human beings created in God’s image. Both as a matter of faith, and of human rights, they ought to have been treated as precious human beings, not as problematic cargo.”

One of the MSF doctors on board, Dr David Beversluis, described the initial rescue of those who had attempted to flee the shores of Libya this month: “We provided lifesaving care to hundreds of people pulled from collapsing rubber rafts in the search-and-rescue zone north of Libya. We resuscitated several people who had nearly drowned after falling into the water.”

Italy had “flown in the face of international law” by denying the group access to a port of safety, he said. “And, more importantly, the political stand-off seeks to diminish the value of these vulnerable people as human beings. It is a disgrace and a stain on modern Europe.”

MSF has urged European governments to put human lives first, ahead of the European Council meeting, next week.

Dr Innes said that there had been improvements to how the crisis had been handled, however: “Migration is the biggest challenge facing the EU: bigger than Brexit. And it will be for years to come. The attitude of European authorities towards migrants has been increasingly geared towards proper management and security.

“In this, they have been more successful than people generally realise. The number of irregular migrants arriving in Europe has fallen dramatically in 2018 compared with the period 2015 to 2017.”

The Diocese in Europe was “deeply committed” to the welfare of migrants and refugees, he said. “We are part of a humanitarian corridor bringing vulnerable migrants legally into Belgium. We are partnering with the diocese of Canterbury and USPG to sponsor a refugee projects officer in Calais.”

Pope appeals for Yemen. Pope Francis has urged world leaders to bring the parties of the Yemen civil war to the negotiating table so that “the already tragic humanitarian situation does not get worse”, Vatican News reported last week.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since the conflict broke out in 2015, including 5200 civilians, the United Nations has estimated. At least 8.4 million people are at risk of starvation, and 22.2 million people need humanitarian assistance.

“I am following the dramatic circumstances of the people of Yemen,” the Pope said on Sunday, before drawing attention to World Refugee Day, on Wednesday, organised by the UN to protect people fleeing conflict in their homelands.

“I hope that the states involved in these processes reach an understanding to assure — with responsibility and humanity — assistance to, and the protection of, those who are forced to flee their own country.”

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