Rome (NEV), 19 July 2019 – Representatives of the European Churches have expressed their disappointment at the failure of the EU Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs meeting held in Helsinki on 18 July 2019 to find a joint solution for search and rescue in the Mediterranean. The proposals of a temporary arrangement, which were presented by the French and German governments have not found agreement and further discussions were postponed until September.
Torsten Moritz, General Secretary of the Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) expressed dismay in view of the results. “Once again, EU ministers have failed to agree on even the most minimal solutions for search and rescue in the Mediterranean. While they talk, people die in desperation at sea,” he said. “The outcome of the ministerial meeting,” said Moritz, “is a slap in the face of Christians and those who believe in the sanctity of life. Churches across Europe will continue their support and involvement in activities of search and rescue of human life – an obligation and certainly not a crime,” he added.
“Christians are very concerned about the fate of their brothers and sisters who are currently in distress in the Mediterranean,” said the Conference of European Churches (CEC) President, Christian Krieger, adding that “the news that the joint plan for humanitarian rescue at sea cannot be achieved is incomprehensible and illustrates how national political issues prevail over human values.”
The Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), the Conference of European Churches (CEC), Action by Churches Together (ACTAlliance), and Bread for the World Germany sent a letter during the meeting of EU Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs held in Helsinki to appeal in favour of unconditioned rescues at sea, against the criminalisation of humanitarian aid, the introduction of safe and legal routes towards Europe and processes for relocating refugees in all EU countries.
The church organisations expected the recommendations to be taken into consideration.
“Our organisations represent Churches throughout Europe – Anglican, Orthodox, Protestant and other – as well as specialised ministries of Christian churches working in the humanitarian field and in the field of migration and refugees,” reads the letter. “The attack on a detention camp for migrants in Libya, in which at least 44 people died, is only one example of the dangers and horrid circumstances people are subjected to in Libya. Only this month 86 migrants heading to Europe drowned off the coast of Tunisia, in May 2019 alone, at least 65 migrants lost their lives. UNHCR reported 597 dead migrants in 2019. The number of undocumented casualties is far higher,” the churches say. They went on to point out that civil relief operations in the Mediterranean are urgently needed.
The various church organisations then listed a number of measures to be implemented by Europe.
First of all, to set up a search and rescue mission and to stop criminalising NGOs: “to refrain from sea rescue or to prevent rescue by civil and private sea rescue organisations is against international law and contrary to the values of the EU and its member states. The argument that search and rescue ships would promote or even trigger movements in the Mediterranean has never been substantiated,” they said.
The churches then requested to set up an EU emergency plan for the disembarkation and relocation of those saved at sea: “Member States should assume special responsibility for the reception of refugees within the Union. Family ties and the will of the asylum seekers should be the primary criteria considered when relocating a person.”
To end cooperation with Libya and with other neighbouring states determined unsafe by UNHCR and the creation of legal migration routes were two other measures requested.
In conclusion, the churches requested the evacuation of migrants and refugees from Libya and the support of the proposal by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) of a European humanitarian corridor: “our agencies support the current project of the FCEI and of the Community of Sant’Egidio to evacuate and receive 50,000 people from Libya and to distribute them according to a voluntary quota system in the EU.”
Read the letter.