So far this year, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that as of the end of May, almost 100,000 refugees and migrants had crossed the Mediterranean. Their hope is of reaching European shores as they flee from violent conflict, terrorism, poverty and persecution. Hundreds of thousands more are expected to do the same – looking for a new life to come! Unfortunately, many do not make it! Hundreds of refugees died in the Mediterranean Sea. The refugees’ dramas continue in the Mediterranean until today!
Syria had the largest refugee population, totalling almost four million. The neighbouring countries Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are hosting most of the Syrian refugees. Other areas of significant refugee populations include Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Iraq, Colombia, and the Central African Republic.
Let us not forget the almost 21,000 Burundians who fled to Rwanda early in 2015 to escape electoral violence, or the islanders who are fleeing to Djibouti to escape the fighting in Yemen, or the over 39,000 refugees in Cameroon who fled the violence of insurgents in Nigeria.
Is Europe a continent of hope?
Many refugees see Europe as a safe haven and a continent of hope. Refugees take a variety of routes and come from a number of different countries, including Eritrea, Niger, Syria, Iraq and Somalia. Most of them landed in Italy and in Greece. Smaller arrival numbers have been recorded in Spain and Malta. At the same time, 1,850 refugees or migrants have died or are missing at sea.
It is shocking to see the many boats capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea. Death at sea has become a grimly common occurrence. Human traffickers who smuggle migrants, mainly due to the political anarchy in Libya, should be detected and arrested. They are called “the slave drivers of the 21st century!”
Pope Francis has called repeatedly for the international community to take action decisively and quickly in order to stop these tragedies from recurring. The Pope calls the Mediterranean Sea “a vast migrant cemetery.”
We should support the call of the UNHCR that is advocating for a comprehensive and urgent response from the European Union. Refugees awaiting registration, including families with children, have no choice but to sleep in the open. Hundreds of women, children and men are sleeping in cramped and unsanitary conditions. People in need should be supported with full respect for their human dignity.
At the same time, we underline the need for an inclusive European and international approach to address the root causes such as poverty, social insecurity and violent conflicts in the countries from where the migrants are coming. Global action is needed to stabilize Libya from where the most boats are coming. Especially in Syria, a comprehensive peace process should be developed as soon as possible.
We support the European Commission’s invitation to Member States to resettle those people in need of international protection from North Africa, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. The principle and value of “burden sharing” should be done equally by all 28 Member States and be an expression of solidarity within the European Union.
We appeal to all Member States of the United Nations and to civil society worldwide to do their utmost to support the nations and communities that have welcomed the forcibly displaced into their midst.
Fr. Paul Lansu