Europe must open up to migrants, say bishops
Bishop Kenney describes UK policy as ‘horrible’ and calls for compassion.
COMECE urges Catholics to reject politicians’ anti-migrant rhetoric.
Bishops across the European Union have called on member states to open their hearts to the thousands of migrants trying to enter Europe, and reject the anti-refugee rhetoric of nationalist and right-wing politicians across the continent.
French, German and Italian bishops issued formal statements that more must be done to help the estimated 100,000 migrants currently languishing in Italy, Greece and Malta, while the official UK policy towards these beleaguered people was labelled “horrible” by Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham.
The bishop, a former chairman of Caritas Europe, made his comments in response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s belief that the migrant issue can be dealt with “at source”, in a clear attempt to pave the way for EU military and police operations on the beaches of Libya against people-traffickers while ignoring the growing humanitarian plight of the migrants themselves.
Bishop Kenney, who a decade ago personally helped in the recovery of the bodies of a number of drowned migrants from beaches in Spain, said “people just do not realise the horror and the poverty that these people are fleeing from.”
“We have an obligation to look after them … the reason being that they are men and women made in the image of Almighty God,” he added.
Many of the migrants are fleeing wars and severe economic deprivation in Syria and Eritrea. There are an estimated 450,000 to 500,000 more migrants gathered in Libya, preparing to set off across the water to reach Europe.
In response to this exodus, the EU has declared that the crisis constitutes its first-ever “emergency situation” and allows provisional measures under the 2007 Lisbon Treaty. The European Commission is seeking, under the treaty, to relocate the migrants to other nations based on factors such as population, GDP and unemployment as well as the number of refugees already taken in. Ministers have discussed mandatory quotas for the resettlement of migrants and to consider how to break up human trafficking gangs.
But any humanitarian reponse has met with stiff resistance from national Governments. The French interior minister has complained that many of the migrants are “illegal” and need immediate deportation, while Spain has objected to accepting migrants when its unemployment rate stands at 23 per cent. The Polish prime minister has voiced opposition to mandatory quotas in principle, while Denmark has refused to accept any of the migrants at all.
For the UK, Prime Minister Cameron appears to be edging ever further to the right in his handling of the crisis, saying that he will countenance only Royal Navy involvement in the rescue operation to save migrants in the Mediterranean without commiting the UK to accepting any refugees.
His comments come as a Royal Navy ship plucked 1,200 migrants from flimsy boats off Libya in a single day.
This political cowardice to reach out to desperate people has provoked a strong response from bishops. COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, has urged the European Commission to ensure its proposals for mandatory quotas are acted upon immediately. Its general secretary, Fr Patrick Daly, said that quotas were an attempt to resolve the problem at a European level and were an expression of the Catholic principle of solidarity.
“For the Church, the fundamental principle underlying the migration issue is one of deep and profound compassion for those on the front edge: the migrants themselves who are seeking asylum on our shores, those who have placed their hopes on a better life in Europe, and there is also sensitivity for those countries on the front line, particularly Italy, Malta and Greece,” Fr Daly said.
“What the Church is very much in favour of is an optimum, both for the receiving countries and those in need of relocation in the EU,” he added.
The French bishops’ conference has also appealed to its faithful to show a Christian side to the migrants, issuing a declaration for Catholics to show more hospitality to migrants.
“The dignity of human beings is at stake,” said the statement, signed by Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris and eight others.
Catholics in France should change their attitudes to migrants and “overcome their prejudices and fears,” the bishops said. “For many reasons – wars, poverty, climate disruption – many are forced to leave their country where they cannot live,” they said.
“It is not possible to close in on ourselves and ignore the misery of so many men, women and children around the world who seek only to live in dignity,” they added. “We urge our leaders to intensify international co-operation to meet the challenges. Europe must especially take responsibility and call the constituent countries to provide a real response.”
The German bishops’ conference and the Protestant Evangelical Church in Germany issued a joint statement, pleading for a “more generous reception of refugees from the Middle East in Germany.”
They called on Germans to do more to assist those refugees remaining in camps across the Middle East.
“The people of Syria and Iraq now need our help and our solidarity, said Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the German bishops’ conference. “Please support the work of aid agencies in the region.”
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, Italy, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, along with eight bishops of Liguria province, asked Catholics to open their hearts “to these brothers and sisters in humanity, so sorely tried and in search of a better and safer life.”
They also demanded that the EU act swiftly so Italy was not left to cope with the influx of migrants alone, decrying the response of many EU states to the crisis as “hard-hearted and indifferent.”Tags: Bishop William Kenney, Caritas, David Cameron, Eritrea, Europe, human trafficking, humanitarian, Libya, migrants, Royal Navy, Syria, UK