2014-05-14 15:05:28

JRS: Pope's words on migrants go to the heart of the question

(Vatican Radio) As the death toll of migrants rises in the latest boat sinking in the Mediterranean sea, Pope Francis is calling on Europe to unite forces and to put human rights in the forefront.

Speaking at the General Audience, the Pope asked for prayers for those who have lost their lives in the past days as they crossed the Mediterranean sea in overcrowded and derelict vessels, describing such incidents as “shameful carnage”.

This week’s sinking of a boat trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa follows the discovery on Sunday of the bodies of at least 40 immigrants off the Libyan coast.

Nearly 19,000 immigrants have been rescued since Italy’s government launched the "Mare Nostrum" naval operation last October.

James Stapleton, Head of Communications at Jesuit Refugee Service, says JRS welcomes Pope Francis’ words: “what he says is what we have been saying for a long time. This is not a question that can be resolved by Italians on their own” he said.

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“People are fleeing for their lives, people are prepared to put their lives at risk”. Stapleton says we must understand that. We need to understand that security measures can’t just be put in place to prevent people from arriving, and – he added - it’s not enough to just save small numbers at sea.

Stapleton agrees that the media has an important role to play in raising public awareness as regards the reasons so many people are fleeing their countries, but also getting across to ordinary citizens that Italy has the capacity to absorb refugees if long term measures and integration are put into place.

However he says first of all it’s the political establishment that needs to take the lead: “they need to start to talk about immigration, and they need to start to talk about refugee issues and asylum in a different way”.

Then, he says, “we need to start telling the real stories about why people are coming, and about the absolutely manageable number of people fleeing persecution and human rights violations coming to Italian shores at the moment” he said.

Even although the numbers have increased – he points out – they are small numbers in relation to the numbers of migrants in Italy and to the capacity of one of the most powerful economic powers in the world to receive them. But, Stapleton says: “we need to remember the choices we make here – we are talking about saving people’s lives”.

Stapleton says that the Pope’s voice in this scenario is absolutely essential as he is a moral leader. He points out the effect that Francis’s presence in Lampedusa had last October in pushing ahead the government's “Mare Nostrum” policy which has actually resulted in saving hundreds of lives.

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