Italy: Pope Francis visits Lampedusa to call for global response to forced migration

09 July 2013

Secure humanitarian channels should be created urgently in order to permit the people fleeing from war and persecution to reach Europe and see their right to seek asylum guaranteed.

Brussels, 9 July 2013 – JRS Europe joins with JRS International and JRS Italy in welcoming the visit of Pope Francis to migrants on the island of Lampedusa.

Pope Francis made a symbolic stand for human rights and justice yesterday as he visited the island to stand in solidarity with the migrants and refugees who journey in the hope of a peaceful future in Europe, and the host community faced with the challenge to extend hospitality to the influx of migrants.

“Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one feels responsible”, asked Pope Francis on Monday morning.

The Jesuit Refugee Service welcomes the Pope’s call for greater global responsibility for those who have suffered persecution, war and poverty in their home countries. Lampedusa, home to 6,000 inhabitants, is a main point of entry for thousands of migrants coming to Europe from northern Africa.

“The important thing is to understand the true significance of this day, which is –for the Pope—before all else a gesture of solidarity, a call to focus everyone’s attention on one of the grave problems of our time: that of forced migration caused by so many terrible motives, among which are the lack of liberty, hunger, many other problems that make migrants’ lives in their native lands extremely difficult and even impossible”, said Frederico Lombardi, SJ, the director of the Press Office of the Holy See.

The Holy Father released a wreath of flowers into the sea in memory of the estimated 17,000 who have lost their lives in the perilous journey to Europe. Later, the Pope met with a representative of the some 500 migrants on Lampedusa and celebrated Mass in a sports stadium, which proved historically symbolic as the stadium housed thousands who fled unrest in North Africa in 2011. 

The Pope was prompted to make his first visit outside Rome to Lampedusa after hearing of an incident in June in which seven migrants traveling in a Tunisian fishing boat towards Lampedusa drowned at sea while clinging to tuna nets. Similar stories are inevitable in the future if the Pope’s message of protection for refugees is not acted upon.

Fortunately, on Sunday coastguards succeeded in rescuing 120 migrants seven miles off south eastern Lampedusa and yesterday 162 Eritreans made it to the island in good condition despite freezing water temperatures.

JRS Europe’s Regional Director, Michael Schöpf, said “Through this visit, Pope Francis has shown his prioritization of being with migrants in need of protection at the borders of Europe. It is essential that we develop a humanitarian focus in European migration policies, with an emphasis on hospitality and the provision of protection to those in need. We must accept Pope Francis’s challenge to move away from a “globalization of indifference” and move towards creating a dignified space for those seeking asylum in Europe.”

(Adapted from JRS International press statement)

We must accept Pope Francis’s challenge to move away from a “globalization of indifference” and move towards creating a dignified space for those seeking asylum in Europe.