Pope: Do not send migrants back to Libya and to “inhuman” camps


VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis on Sunday launched a passionate appeal to end the practice of returning migrants rescued at sea to Libya and other dangerous countries where they are suffering “inhuman violence”.

François has also embarked on a very controversial political debate in Europe, calling on the international community to find concrete ways to manage “migratory flows” in the Mediterranean.

“I express my closeness to the thousands of migrants, refugees and others in need of protection in Libya,” said Francis. “I will never forget you, I hear your cries and I pray for you.”

Even as the pontiff called for changes in immigration policy and hearts in his public remarks in St. Peter’s Square, hundreds of migrants were either at sea in the central Mediterranean awaiting a port after their rescue , or recently landed in Sicily or Italy. continent after leaving Libya or Turkey, according to the authorities.

“So many of these men, women and children are subjected to inhuman violence,” he added. “Once again, I ask the international community to keep its promises to seek common, concrete and lasting solutions to manage migratory flows in Libya and throughout the Mediterranean.

“How they are suffering, those who are sent back” after rescues at sea, the Pope said. Detention centers in Libya, he said, “are real concentration camps”.

“We must stop sending (migrants) back to dangerous countries and prioritize saving lives at sea with predictable rescue and disembarkation protocols, to guarantee them decent living conditions, alternatives to detention,” regular migration routes and access to asylum procedures, ”said Francis.

Officials from the UN refugee agency and human rights organizations have long denounced conditions in migrant detention centers in Libya, citing beatings, rapes and others forms of torture and insufficient food. Migrants endure weeks and months in these conditions, awaiting passage in dilapidated rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats arranged by human traffickers.

Hours after the pope’s call, aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières said its rescue ship, the Geo Barents, reached an inflatable boat taking on water, the sea rocked by high winds and waves up to three meters (10 feet) in height. He tweeted that “we managed to save the 71 people on board”.

The group thanked the Alarm Phone charity for reporting that the boat crowded with migrants was in distress.

Previously, Geo Barents, then with 296 migrants aboard his rescue vessel, was awaiting clearance in the waters off Malta to disembark. Six migrants tested positive for COVID-19, but the overcrowded conditions on board made it difficult to keep them far enough away from others, Doctors Without Borders said.

In Sicily, a ship operated by the German charity Sea-Watch, with 406 rescued migrants on board, has obtained permission to enter the port. But Sea-Watch said a rescue vessel operated by a Spanish charity, with 105 migrants on board, had been waiting for a port assignment to disembark them for four days.

While hundreds of thousands of migrants have left in smugglers’ boats for European coasts in recent years and set foot in Sicily or neighboring Italian islands, many are reaching the Italian mainland.

Red Cross officials in Roccella Ionica, a town on the coast of the “tip” of the Italian peninsula, said on Sunday that around 700 migrants, some from Afghanistan, had reached the Calabrian coast in recent times. days on ships apparently from Turkey.

Authorities said so far this year around 3,400 migrants had reached Roccella Ionica, a town of 6,000 inhabitants, up from 480 in 2019. Migrants who arrived in recent days were being accommodated in tented shelters, the police said. state television RAI.

Italy and Malta have faced criticism from human rights activists for leaving migrants on crowded lifeboats before being given a safe harbor.

The Libyan Coast Guard, who were trained and equipped by Italy, have also been criticized for rescuing migrants in Libyan waters and then sending them back to land where detention centers awaited them.

Doctors Without Borders tweeted on Friday that the crew of the Geo Barents had “witnessed an interception” by the Libyan Coast Guard and that the migrants “would be forcibly taken to dangerous detention centers and exposed to violence. and operation ”.

With the growing popularity of right-wing anti-migrant parties in Italy in recent years, the Italian government has come under increasing domestic political pressure to crack down on illegal immigration.

Italy and Malta have pressured their European Union partner countries, mainly to no avail, to take in some of the survivors at sea.


Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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