“Thousands of migrants need international protection but they are prevented from reaching the European Union”. Peter Verhaeghe, head of Caritas Europe “migrations” office is among the participants in the 2010 Migramed-Forum held on June 16-18 in Valderice (Trapani, Italy), on the initiative of Caritas-Italia in conjunction with the regional delegation of Caritas-Sicily. Approximately one hundred delegates from Italy, joined the delegates of 11 Mediterranean Caritas seats (including those in Lybia, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Tunisia etc.) for the meeting. Participants issued a final statement and created a partnership network involving Caritas centres on the Southern and Northern shores of the Mediterranean. The encounter was specifically held during the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. Participants agreed on the publication of an annual dossier on “tendencies and critical aspects” of the migration phenomenon, starting next year. On June 20, on the occasion of the UN World Refugee Day, the Pope called upon the faithful to pray “that, in a just reciprocity, there be a response adequate” to the refugees’ expectations “and they show the respect that they have for the identity of the community that receives them”. Follows SIR Europe’s interview to Verhaeghe. What did you discover with this meeting of Northern and Southern Mediterranean Caritas representatives? “We discovered that the situation in the Southern shore of the Mediterranean is completely different compared to the North, notably marked by the active presernce of Catholic Church organizations. Italy and Spain are marked by great freedom of initiative, but the same can’t be said for the South. However, we wish to step up the cooperation between all Caritas centres, notably with Caritas Libya. For example we could follow the situation of migrants who availed themselves of the support of Caritas services in various Countries”. Which are the consequences, also at European level, of the Italy-Libya agreement on refugee vessels’ rejection in the sea?“The enforced Italy-Libya agreement prevents asylum-seekers from reaching Italy. It cannot be said that the European Union grants them hospitality when people are prevented from reaching the Continent. In fact, the offices for asylum-requests in Sicily are empty. Thousands of people who no longer manage to reach the European Union are in need of international protection”.Caritas Europe also does lobbying activity in EU institutions. What is the general attitude towards the agreement?“Last year we asked the Commissioner to intervene but the reaction was rather weak: on the one side there is Europe’s intention to have a common asylum procedure, on the other lies the respect for national decisions and responsibilities. Indeed, each EU Member State is faced with different challenges. Moreover, the Libya-Italy agreement is a bilateral agreement. This complexity is due to national responsibilities, which are only partly shared at European level. However, refugees seeking entrance in a Country fall under national regulations. I doubt that the Countries will ever agree on transferring this obligation to Europe”.Couldn’t EU’s intervention be stronger?“Nothing is impossible. But the moment hasn’t arrived yet. Political will is still lacking. These behaviours are always justified with the pretext of the economic crisis. But I think it would be much better if there were a common foreign policy”. What do you think of the closure of the UNHCR offices (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) in Lybia?“We hope it’s provisional measure and that the offices will be reopened soon. It all depends on the conditions. If the purpose of the closure is to prevent UNHCR’s services then it makes no sense for the Office to be present in Lybia. It’s certainly a political game and we must negotiate. We consider the presence of UNHCR very important since Libya didn’t sign Geneva’s 1951 Convention; there is no control on the situation of migrants and nobody is tasked with establishing whether they need international protection”.
Caritas Europe: there is a need for joint political determination