Pope, world, European churches mourn Mediterranean migrants', join call for action

(Photo: REUTERS / Pascal Rossignol)A migrant dries his pants on a chair in a squat opened by activists from the No Borders UK network in a former recycling factory in Calais August 2, 2014. More than 1,000 migrants from Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan currently live in Calais and hope to make it across the Channel to England. The squat is planned for evacuation in the next few days by the police, according to a Calais court decision. No Borders UK is a network which aims to fight against borders and immigration controls. The wall reads, "Adventure is Human."

European and world churches have joined Pope Francis in grieving the death of as many as 700 migrants in the Mediterranean, while calling for international action to prevent such tragedies.

Pope Francis on April 19 appealed to the international community to take swift and decisive action to avoid more tragedies of migrants seeking a better life.

His cry to the world followed news of the sinking of yet another boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea in which it is feared 700 people died.

"They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life," Francis said after his Sunday morning mass in St. Peter's Square, where addressed tens of thousands of people.

Migrants fleeing wars and deprivation in Africa and the Middle East end up in Libya. There human traffickers, equated to modern day slave traders, extract huge fees from them and put them in dangerous vessels aimed at southern Europe.

The Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe, the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches issued a joint statement on April 20 also deploring the loss of life in the sea tragedy.


"This catastrophe reminds us of near daily instances across the Mediterranean in which Italian, Maltese, and Greek coast guards are largely left alone in rescue efforts," said the WCC general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit.

"We ask for meaningful European search and rescue efforts and call on European Union Member States to contribute substantially and speedily to such efforts in order to prevent future loss of life among people driven to this desperate crossing," Tveit said.

Trafficking gangs dispatching migrants on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean are tipping off Italian officials in advance so their boats can be picked up by coastguard and naval vessels, The Telegraph had reported April 15.

The gangs have become so confident their boats will be picked up that they even reduce the amount of fuel each vessel has before it sets out from North Africa, the newspaper quoted a former manager in the UK Immigration Service as saying.

Since the start of 2014, nearly 200,000 people have been rescued at sea by Italy.

"We deplore this loss of life "and are deeply saddened by this tragedy on Europe's doorstep," said the CEC general secretary Rev. Guy Liagre. "We pray also for those involved in the demanding rescue and recovery mission," he said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein lamented, "As we learn of yet more men, women and children who have lost their lives in their search for better and safer lives abroad, I am horrified but not surprised by this latest tragedy.

"These deaths, and the hundreds of others that preceded them in recent months were sadly predictable.

"They are the result of a continuing failure of governance accompanied by a monumental failure of compassion."

The U.N. human rights' boss said noted that Italy's Mare Nostrum program, which ended in October, was "a valiant, and in many ways successful, effort to save lives, the scaled-down Operation Triton is simply not fit for purpose,"

He said it is totally inadequate and "more geared to border control and policing the seas than to saving lives."

"Stopping the rescue of migrants in distress has not led to less migration, nor indeed to less smuggling, but merely to more deaths at sea, as this recent tragedy shows," he added.

"Triton should immediately be replaced by a robust, European-wide, State-led and well-resourced search and rescue capability in the Mediterranean."

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