THE Evangelical Church in Germany and the Mayor of Palermo, in Sicily, have issued a joint letter demanding that refugees who arrive on European shores by boat be fairly distributed across the Continent.
The declaration urges EU member countries to come together this summer and create a “European emergency solution”, under which migrants would be rescued from the Mediterranean and spread evenly across the EU.
Currently, countries such as Sicily and other Italian islands which are the nearest landfall for refugees crossing from North Africa must absorb and support the thousands of migrants who arrive each month.
Although the number of migrants making the dangerous sea crossing has fallen since the height of the crisis three years ago, more than 500 people have died so far in 2019, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.
Last month alone, 65 migrants died after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Tunisia.
In 2018, about six migrants died attempting to cross the sea to Europe every day, a UN report found.
“People move in search of better living conditions, or flee from war, poverty, and climate disasters,” the joint letter continues.
“The Mediterranean continues to be the deadliest border in the world. In view of the expected rise in refugee flows during the summer, it is essential for the European Union to remember its fundamental values, and to find solutions for the individual states so as to prevent more deaths in the Mediterranean.”
The statement also calls for the European authorities to stop “criminalising” search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
This has been echoed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. Speaking in Italy last week, he praised private organisations which rescued migrants from drowning, and said that any efforts to reduce this service was “an attack against European culture and tradition”.
Most of those who attempt the perilous journey leave from the shores of war-torn Libya and pay the equivalent of thousands of pounds to criminal gangs and people-smugglers to be packed into often unsafe rubber boats.
Much of the reduction in refugees’ crossing follows Italy’s persuasion of the Libyan authorities to
prevent migrants’ embarking, and to round up any boats that do manage to set sail. This policy has been criticised, how ever, by human-rights organisations.