Fr Manuel Barrios Preto, COMECE Genereal Secretary

“The pandemic should not be an excuse to let human beings die in the Mediterranean Sea”, states COMECE General Secretary, Fr Manuel Barrios Prieto. Referring to the many migrants who were not promptly and safely disembarked at the closest EU port over the last days, COMECE calls for “a predictable solidarity mechanism agreed among EU member states”.

COMECE shares the concerns recently expressed by the Maltese Conference of Bishops about the fate of 47 people stuck for days on an NGO rescue vessel in Malta’s search and rescue area (SAR), in an extremely precarious situation and finally taken back to Libya.

The EU should support its Member States in ensuring the prompt and safe disembarkation of migrants and asylum seekers at the closest safe port, “which should be a European port, as Libyan ports cannot be considered safe”, says Fr Manuel Barrios Prieto, General Secretary of COMECE.

As required by the Resolution MSC.167(78) of the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organisation, people rescued at sea can only be disembarked in a safe port. “Migrants and asylum seekers are often subjected to torture, violence, and inhumane treatment when they are taken back to countries from where they embarked”, continues Fr Barrios Prieto.

To prevent the Mediterranean Sea turning into a vast cemetery, COMECE calls the European Union and its Member States to work for a common response to forced migration, establishing “a predictable solidarity mechanism agreed among EU member states to cope with emergency situations of vulnerable migrants in distress at sea”.

Despite the current difficulties caused by the current Covid-19 pandemic to all EU Member States, COMECE highlights that humanitarian principles should always prevail. “No one should be left behind – says General Secretary Fr Barrios – including migrants in a rescue vessel”.

As Pope Francis reminded all of us in his 2019 Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2019, “it is not just about migrants: [it is about our humanity], it is a question of seeing that no one is excluded”.

The EU is a community of values and principles, with the common understanding that human beings are equal in dignity and deserve respect for their human rights and protection, especially when they are in a situation of high vulnerability.