Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 13, 2009
Poverty, war lead to migrant deaths
Human traffickers exploit the desire for a better life
BY CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - Too many people fleeing extreme poverty and war die crossing the Mediterranean from Africa in search of a better life in Europe, Pope Benedict said.
During his midday recitation of the Angelus prayer April 5, the pope remembered the estimated 200-300 people who drowned a week earlier in the sea off the coast of Libya when stormy weather caused the sinking of the boats attempting to transport them to Italy.
"We cannot resign ourselves to such tragedies, which unfortunately keep occurring," the pope said.
The problem of the poor and oppressed trying to enter Europe through Italy and other Mediterranean countries is so large that it "makes ever more urgent coordinated strategies between the European Union and African states," the pope said.
Pope Benedict also called for "the adoption of adequate humanitarian measures so that these migrants do not turn to unscrupulous traffickers," who charge hundreds of dollars for places on overcrowded, unsafe boats.
Father Daniel Farrugia, vicar delegate of the apostolic vicariate of Tripoli, Libya, told Catholic News Service that, unlike Europeans or North Americans whose life expectancy is long, "for many of our brothers and sisters here death forms part of life."
For some of them, he said in an email April 4, "dying at home or dying in the sea changes nothing. At least they have tried to look for a better future."
The deaths obviously are a tragedy for the loved ones left behind and for the Church in Libya, Farrugia said.
Church officials regularly visit the detention camps holding people who have come from across Africa and from as far away as Asia trying to get to Europe through Libya.
"We assist many of them with food, clothes and medicines," he said. "They come to us not to solve problems, but to find a caring and listening heart."
Farrugia said the Church tries to help people "discern and understand if it is the will of God to cross to Europe."
"These people have no alternative but to entrust themselves to human smugglers who often treat them as meat," said Berardino Guarino, project director for Fondazione Migrantes, an Italian Catholic organization that assists migrants.
At least 200, and perhaps as many as 300, immigrants were listed as missing and presumed dead after three boats sank off the coast of Libya in rough waters March 27-29.
An Italian merchant ship rescued another 300 people and recovered 21 dead bodies from the water after the fishing boat they were packed onto sent out a distress call.
Authorities said those trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy from Libya included people from Bangladesh, Egypt and other parts of Africa.
Refugees and the desperate poor from Asia and Africa cross the Libyan desert to the coast where they pay smugglers for a place on crowded, rickety fishing boats headed for Europe.
Guarino told Vatican Radio March 31 that poverty and oppression mean the influx of migrants to Europe "will not end easily.
"We must remember that on these boats there are refugees, people who have a right to asylum," he said. "The question will not be resolved simply by patrolling the coasts."
"Evidently the conditions causing people to leave are so serious that even this risk (of drowning) is recognized and put into the calculation," said Oliviero Forti, director of the immigration office of Caritas Italy.
"Thousands of people cross the sea each year and several hundred - maybe as many as 1,000 - meet their deaths."