Church groups urges EU to change approach to migrants rescued at sea

Published 06 December 2019  |  
Giorgos Moutafis/Reuters
A rescue boat of the Spanish NGO Proactiva approaches an overcrowded wooden vessel with migrants from Eritrea, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean last month.

The heads of EU institutions are being called upon by European Church groups to change their approach to asylum and migration, particularly where it concerns the rescue of migrants at sea.

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) and Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) said they wanted to see the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament show leadership and take shared responsibility on the question of asylum and migration.

Outlining their concerns in a joint letter to leaders of the institutions, the CEC and CCME called for a change in approach away from a focus on protecting borders, to protecting the lives of individuals seeking refuge in the EU.

"We hold dearly the inviolable dignity of every human being created in the image of God and are deeply committed to the concepts of the common good, global solidarity and a society welcoming strangers," the letter reads.

"It is against this background that we address you today on the issue of a comprehensive, protection and human rights oriented EU asylum and migration policy."

Making a number of recommendations, the two organisations urge the EU to decriminalise search and rescue of migrants by non-governmental actors, especially in the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands have died trying to cross over to European countries.

They go on to call for a European-wide system to evacuate refugees and migrants "stuck in Libya under conditions violating their human rights", as well as a relocation scheme for those arriving at EU borders, including those rescued at sea.

"While Italy and Malta clearly need solidarity on page 2 Search and Rescue, Greece and Cyprus need more support to deal with the recent significant rise in new arrivals exacerbating the overcrowded conditions of the hotspots (Greece) and the high number of beneficiaries of international protection (Cyprus)," they write.

"We expect all countries to play their part, but recognise the challenges these countries particularly experience as external border states of the EU," they say, adding that "national efforts and European support must go hand in hand".

Elsewhere, the letter claims that a well-organised migration system can contribute to the wealth and social harmony of the EU.

"Churches across Europe have over decades, and in particular since 2015, contributed massively to a structure and culture of welcome. We will continue to do so. We also stand ready to support those defending Christian values and practice through loving our neighbour," it states.

Dr Torsten Moritz, General Secretary of the CCME, said that it was time for the EU's discussions on asylum and migration to move beyond "protecting borders and keeping migrants and refugees outside Europe".

"Therefore, for churches it is especially in this time of the year important to underline that discussions should focus on protecting and welcoming humans – here in Europe," he said.

CEC President Rev Christian Krieger said that Christmas was a reminder of Jesus' experience as a refugee in Egypt.

He said that "this remembrance should inspire us for a 'fresh start' in European asylum and migration policy – as promised by the European Commission President von der Leyen".

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