2014-10-02 15:19:00

JRS: 1 year from Lampedusa tragedy EU refugee policy inadequate

(Vatican Radio) October 3rd marks one year from the Lampedusa shipwreck in which 366 forced migrants died as they fled conflict, poverty or the oppression of dictatorship.

This week Pope Francis met privately with some of the survivors of the tragedy sharing in their grief and speaking also of the harsh reality for those migrants who make it to port, but find “closed doors”.

In his address to the delegation of survivors who are in Italy to grieve the 1st anniversary of the tragedy, the Pope called on the men and women of Europe to ‘open the doors of their hearts’ and welcome migrants who risk their lives at sea to flee war and poverty.

The tiny island of Lampedusa is one of the nearest gateways to Europe for many Syrian and African refugees and forced migrants. It was the first place Pope Francis chose to visit outside Rome after his election in March 2013.

Upon arrival, he threw a wreath in the sea in memory of the many people who have drowned trying to reach Europe.

Linda Bordoni asked James Stapleton, Head of Communications at Jesuit Refugee Service International, what the refugee agency’s most pressing appeal is today…

Listen to the interview:

Stapleton says JRS is appealing to governments to step-up the “Mare Nostrum” programme and make it a European programme. The EU – he explains - has established a new programme called “Frontex Plus” that doesn’t go far enough: “It’s not going into international waters where most people are losing their lives. We would like the EU to establish a beefed-up resettlement programme” he said.

Stapleton points out that at the moment 20% of the population of Lebanon is made up of Syrian refugees. Many of the countries in North Africa have very large refugee populations and this causes problems of stability in the region and “people in need of protection and not receiving it. What we want is the European Union to step up and show solidarity with these people” he said.

Stapleton said “We know that if these governments do something lives can be saved. In the last year over 140,000 people have been saved. Many of them would have lost their lives had it not been for the “Mare Nostrum” Programme of the Italian Government”.

“What we want is to put lives ahead of security”.

According to the International Organization for Migrants over 3000 people have died in the Mediterranean since the beginning of this year. Stapleton says public awareness is undergoing change, people’s attitudes have been impacted by the witness of leaders like Pope Francis.

“I think there is a small change. After leaders like Pope Francis stood up and said to European Governments that we should be ashamed of ourselves” Stapleton said.

Stapleton said “We have to think of this in a broader puicture we think of ourselves as a continent of democracy and freedom”. He says thee is a lot to that but now “we have to step up and provide support in the countries that border Europe”. We need to provide people with visas to be able to escape conflict without risking their lives he said.

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