Italy: Church urges government to help migrants

image: UNHCR

image: UNHCR

The Vatican has appealed to the authorities in Italy to rescue migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa by sea, and give them medical help and support.  The appeals were made after more than 70 Eritrean migrants died from hunger and thirst, during a gruelling three week sea voyage from Libya. Italian border police rescued just five survivors from the boat,  near the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.

In July, the UN Refugee Agency made an official complaint about the rough treatment meted out by immigration authorities to refugees from another boat which was intercepted in the same area.

Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers, told Vatican Radio: "such tragedies call for a strong and far sighted policy of international cooperation."

He said that while governments have the legitimate right to regulate immigration,  "there is nevertheless the human right to be rescued and given emergency help."

Quoting Pope Benedict's recent encyclical: Caritas in veritate,  Archbishop Veglio said: "every migrant is a human person who possesses inalienable fundamental rights."

"Our so-called civil societies in reality have developed feelings of refusal toward foreigners, that come not only from a lack of knowledge about others, but also from a selfishness in which one doesn't want to share what others don't have," Archbishop Veglio said.

Since 1988, he said, 14,660 migrants have died trying to reach Europe.

An editorial in Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, said the indifference to the plight of migrant Africans was comparable to the lack of public opposition as the Holocaust unfolded in Nazi Germany.

"Certainly, the people then didn't know ... but those long trains, the voices, the screams in the train stations ... did nobody see or hear? Then, it was totalitarianism and terror that closed people's eyes. Today, no. There is a quiet, resigned indifference, if not an irritated aversion, that has fallen over the Mediterranean," the editorial said.

Source: Vatican Radio/Avvenire

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