“We must not turn a blind eye”

The tragic events of the past days awaken the consciences. The EU's response is slowly taking shape. The appeals of Christian Churches

The ten-point plan proposed by the EU Council for Foreign Affairs of April 20 and the extraordinary summit of heads of Government and State of April 23rd are Europe’s timid but much-needed steps in the direction of a common migration policy. Consistent decisions. It’s early to see concrete results, because until now EU countries were determined to handle migration policies at national level, denying Brussels’ institutions the power and the money to manage the flows of migrants arriving from Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe. But the hundreds of deaths of the past days have finally awakened the consciences. The problem is on the table and it is widely believed that it’s an urgent necessity – and a duty – to take action (exception made for explicitly or implicitly xenophobic political forces and public opinion brackets). Now consistent decisions are expected. The ten-point plan envisages, inter alia, a strengthening of rescue operations at sea, full-fledged fight against illegal migrants traffickers (which however requires the UN’s green light), intelligence operations to prevent illegal migration and trafficking. But far too many Countries oppose a solidarity-based “relocation” of the refugees that sought shelter in Italy, Greece or Malta. “European values at stake”. The Christian Churches in the Old Continent followed the wake of appeals made by the UN Secretary General and by the Pope demanding the international community to intervene to save the lives of those fleeing from hunger and war, seeking a better life in Europe. The message is clear: we cannot stand idle while children, women and men drown in the Mediterranean, as happened in the past months, especially since the situation in Libya is no longer under control. “The recent tragedy in the Mediterranean represents a defeat for everything that makes the European Union a community of values”, said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE). “It is clear that the EU attracts refugees, it is also clear that traffickers exploit the willingness of EU border control to rescue their victims, and it is regrettable that sufficient action is not being taken in their countries of origin to counter the reasons which make them feel they must leave. But all this does not justify us in ignoring the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean and which the European Union is facing”. “Europe must now work to find concrete proposals for the establishment of human asylum and migration policies supported and implemented in solidarity by all member states of the European Union”. Marx added: “Europe’s response will be a litmus test for European values”. Community approach. Caritas Europe stated, from Brussels: “Every new migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean and the EU’s current approach to their root causes contributes to eroding the European project in the minds of those who believe in it”. “This casts a spotlight of guilt not only on the unscrupulous traffickers that put these people in that boat but also on the European Union”, said Jorge Nuño Mayer, Secretary General of Caritas Europe”. La Caritas criticizes “The European approach to migration, focused on security and border controls”. That’s why the European Union “must replace the disastrously inefficient Triton operation with a fully-fledged search and rescue operation that would further improve the good results of the Italian “Mare Nostrum”. In Bucharest, where the presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of South-East Europe met April 17 to 21, released a document stating that during their stay in the Romanian capital “there was another tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea, claiming the lives of more than 700 people, who had been seeking a more dignified life and had been exploited by people without scruples. The participants at the meeting prayed for them and for all those who have lost their lives in a similar fashion and for their families, uniting their voices to all those who refuse to give in to the violence and exploitation, calling for every person to be respected in their dignity as sons and daughters of God”. Renewed solidarity. Also the leaders of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), representing Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox Churches in Europe, assured their prayer and solidarity. “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”, CEC states in a meeting. WCC General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit called for “renewed solidarity and action, and for a resumption and strengthening of a collective European response”.

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