As Italy’s bishops meet to discuss issues of local interest and the broad assessment they are about to begin of the Church at the national level, migration has again emerged as a pressing issue after more images of children drowned in an attempt to reach Europe made headlines.
On May 24, the same day the Italian bishops opened their annual general assembly, Oscar Camps, founder of the Spanish NGO Open Arms, dedicated to sea rescues in the Mediterranean, sent a tweet containing photos of an infant, a young boy, and a woman washed up on the beach in Zuwara, Libya after a shipwreck.
Todavía estoy en shock por el horror de la situación, niños pequeños y mujeres que solo tenían sueños y ambiciones por vivir. Llevan más de 3 días abandonados en una playa de #Zuwara #Libia. No le importan a nadie. #CadaVidaCuenta pic.twitter.com/yAXmKWOqgI
— Oscar Camps (@campsoscar) May 24, 2021
In his tweet, Camps said the bodies had been lying there unattended to for three days, and that he was “still in shock by the horror of the situation. Children, infants, and women who only had dreams and ambitions to live.”
“No one cares about them,” he said, including the hashtag, “#EveryLifeCounts.”
Some reports indicate that once the bodies were found, they were taken by authorities and arrangements will be made for their burial, while certain information about the bodies will be kept for the purpose of possible identification.
Though the bulk of the Italian bishops’ assembly will likely focus on ironing out the agenda for their own national “synodal way,” other issues such as migration, which has been a constant concern for them ever since the migrant crisis erupted in 2015, are also being talked about.
In his opening address for the assembly, which was inaugurated by Pope Francis, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia said that the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI) “through its national offices, has guaranteed the arrival in Italy and the safe reception of over a thousand refugees from the Middle East and Africa, demonstrating that an alternative to irregular entries and deaths at sea is possible.”
When judgement day comes, God’s wrath “will be severe and unappealable” for the failure to address the problem, which Pope Francis often says has turned the Mediterranean into “a cemetery.”
Bishop Franco Giulio Brambilla of Novara and vice president of CEI also mentioned the issue of migration in his own remarks, noting that there have been numerous “heartfelt” pleas from the bishops of Sicily, where many incoming migrants end up, for boarders to reopen “on a European level.”
“In recent years, the play has always been, ‘welcome yes, welcome no.’ But there is also ‘welcome how,’” Brambilla said, saying true welcome includes a process of “integration.”
According to Italian newspaper Avvenire, which is owned by CEI, Camps placed most of the blame for the ongoing tragedies, including the latest deaths in Zuwara, on European governments, who refuse to address the problem.
Often political leaders refer to the migrants who drown and wash ashore as “dead,” however, “they were ‘made to die,’” he said, adding, “These are not ‘accidents’ or unpreventable ‘misfortunes.’”
Europe, Camps said, “will have to answer for it, because these tragedies are repeated under the gaze of the authorities in the Mediterranean.”
Currently in Brussels for an Extraordinary European Council meeting, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is pushing for migration to be included in the official agenda of the upcoming European Council meeting set for June 24-25, which would be the council’s last meeting before the summer holidays, and for an agreement to be made among the various EU member states at that time.
Most EU countries have dodged the issue since the initial crisis in 2015, however, there is support for Draghi’s request from other Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Greece, and both France and Germany have indicated openness not only to sharing the load of the migrants landing on Italy’s shores, but also to resume talks about a unified approach to the issue.
According to a statement from the Italian Prime Minister’s office, Draghi met with French President Emmanuel Macron in a sidebar discussion in Brussels which touched on the migration issue and the need to increase efforts to stabilize countries of origin, particularly Libya and central Africa.
“In the perspective of the decisions on migration issues that will be submitted to the next European Council, the two leaders shared the need for close and constant coordination between Rome and Paris aimed at an increasingly incisive role of the European Union in Africa,” the statement said.
The issue is becoming increasingly relevant as departures from Libya have increased in recent weeks, many of which end in disaster, as the latest incident in Zuwara illustrates.
Newly elected Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh is expected to visit Italy soon, and the issue of migration is likely to be on the top of the discussion list.
In his remarks during CEI’s plenary assembly, Brambilla said the appeals of the bishops who have already spoken up about the migration issue and the need for a solution at the level of the EU “are quite loud.”
Brambilla said there is a “decisive communication” problem surrounding the issue of migration in terms of the information circulated by media and how the topic is often perceived. As discussion on the issue moves forward, he stressed the need not to give in “to deformed information on the perception of the real situation.”