Italian Coast Guard and Guardia di Finanza vessels gather at the spot where 366 migrants perished in the 2013 Lampedusa migrant boat disaster during a commemoration ceremony Oct. 3. Catholic bishops and aid agencies have condemned a European Union plan t o scale down the rescue of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. CNS photo/Darrin Zammit Lupi, Reuters

Church leaders deplore European plans to reduce refugee rescues

By  Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service
  • October 30, 2014

OXFORD, England - Catholic bishops and aid agencies criticized a move by European nations to scale down the rescue of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, where hundreds drown each month attempting to reach Europe.


"What we're seeing is almost a nightmare vision. Any policy which causes people to die must be considered immoral," said Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England, president of the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions.

"The theology here is quite simple. Everyone is created in the image of God, so we cannot let them die if we can save them. To do so will lead us into an impossible ethical situation," he told Catholic News Service Oct. 30.

The bishop's comments came after the British government confirmed Oct. 29 it would no longer support Mediterranean search-and-rescue operations. The Italian government said it also was ending its program.

The British decision reflects a "growing xenophobia," Kenney said, suggesting that European citizens must better understand "what war and poverty really mean."

A spokesman for Caritas Internationalis said rescue programs had been launched "because women and children were dying at sea." Patrick Nicholson, communications director for the umbrella organization for Catholic charities around the world, urged the European Union to find "common solutions" rather than "unfairly leaving the problem to Italy."

"With or without these programs, people will continue to place themselves in danger by crossing the Mediterranean and we'll have a responsibility to save their lives," Nicholson told CNS Oct. 30.

"It's impossible for us to countenance hundreds of people being left to die at sea, particularly when there doesn't seem to be any Plan B apart from building a Fortress Europe," he said.

Up to 150,000 refugees have been rescued by Italian naval ships since January, compared to 65,000 in 2013, and about 3,000 migrants have drowned this year, according to refugee agencies.

Italy's operation, Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), was launched in 2013, after more than 360 refugees drowned in a boat disaster off the island of Lampedusa.

However, the government of Premier Matteo Renzi said Oct. 29 Mare Nostrum was closing down because it was unsustainable, and would be replaced Nov. 1 by the new Operation Triton being launched by Europe's Frontex border agency.

The plight of refugees has even gained the attention of Pope Francis. He urged Europeans to "open the doors of their hearts" by welcoming those who "who risk their lives at sea to flee war and poverty" during an Oct. 1 private meeting with survivors of the Lampedusa disaster.

EU border officials planned to meet Nov. 4 to discuss ways to regulate the flow of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.

Frontex spokeswoman Isabella Cooper told the BBC Oct. 29 that Operation Triton would have just one-third of the budget of Mare Nostrum and establish patrols only within 50 km of the Italian coast.

Joyce Anelay, Britain's Foreign Office minister, said in a statement her country would not support future rescue missions, and believed it was better to "focus attention on countries of origin and transit," and "fight the people smugglers who willfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats."

However, Michael Diedring, secretary-general of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, told the BBC Oct. 29 he was "disgusted" by the "morally reprehensible" move, adding that refugees resorted to "organized criminals" because the EU offered "no safe and legal means" to file asylum claims.

Louise Zanre, director of Jesuit Refugee Services in Britain, dismissed as "nonsensical" claims that rescue missions encouraged refugees to flee Africa, and accused the British government of using the issue "to make a cheap political point about immigration."

The general secretary of the ecumenical Commission for Migrants in Europe, Doris Peschke, told CNS Oct. 30 the rapid increase in "despairing refugees" had been caused by crisis in the Middle East and North Africa, rather than by the EU's rescue missions, and said other routes would be found if the Mediterranean became too dangerous. She said she believed most Europeans were ready to help refugees and that government policies should reflect those views, rather than "the racist arguments of populist organizations."

"To imply we should simply leave people to die is a dreadful, cynical response. It has nothing to do with European values, which uphold human rights, including the right to life," Peschke said.

Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Lynch of Southwark, England, chairman of the Office for Migration Policy at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said Oct. 30 in a statement that Britain's refusal, as Europe's leading naval power, to join in search and rescue operations was "a misguided abdication of responsibility to those thousands of men, women and children who have been driven from their homes by persecution and war and forced to risk death at sea."

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Im willing to believe its governments, and not universities and churches, abdicating global responsibility, but universities are becomming foundations of relativism and atheism....on the march...

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible, which has become acutely important amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.