“With sorrow I heard about the news of the shipwreck involving migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Let us not remain indifferent to these tragedies, and let us pray for the victims and their families.”
Pope Francis’ @Pontifex tweet on Thursday, 10 August, comes in the wake of the sinking of yet another migrant boat off the shores of Italy.
Forty-one people died on Wednesday when the vessel transporting them from Sfax in Tunisia to Italy capsized.
Four survivors were rescued by a Maltese cargo ship and taken to Lampedusa by the Italian coastguard. The survivors, from Ivory Coast and Guinea, said that 45 people had been on board, including three children.
The vessel reportedly set off last Thursday and travelled for around six hours before it was capsized by a large wave.
Increase in numbers
According to Italian authorities, more than 90,000 people have reached Italy this year after crossing the Mediterranean Sea. That’s more than double the number compared to the same time period last year.
They are fleeing conflicts in countries like Sudan and Ethiopia, insecurity in the Sahel regions and beyond, drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, and the climate crisis throughout the African continent that has devastated crops, herds, and livelihoods. The route is also used by refugees fleeing persecution and violence in Afghanistan, Syria, and other Middle Eastern and Asian nations.
While some are intercepted off the North African coast and taken back to the ports of departure, many are picked up by the Italian coast guard or charity boats who take them to reception centres.
Europe’s largest cemetery
The International Organization for Migration reports that the Mediterranean crossing is one of the most dangerous migrant routes in the world. It estimates that almost 28,000 people have gone missing trying to cross the sea since 2014.
Pope Francis, who has described the Mediterranean Sea as Europe’s largest cemetery, has repeatedly appealed to leaders and policy-makers to protect the lives and dignity of our brothers and sisters on the move.
One model he has upheld is that of the “humanitarian corridors” that provide safe passage to vulnerable migrants who are then supported and helped to integrate into host societies. The initiative is promoted by faith groups and government authorities of some EU countries.
Mediterranean Meeting in Marseille
On 22-23 September he will travel to the French city of Marseille to participate in the “Mediterranean Meetings” organized and promoted by the Italian Bishops’ Conference as part of an initiative to foster dialogue between Mediterranean leaders and address the region’s shared problems posed by increasing migration patterns, economic inequality, climate issues, interreligious dialogue.
Some 70 bishops are expected to attend the meeting in addition to representatives from other churches and about 60 Mediterranean mayors.