Italy has seen an influx of African migrant workers, who often take dangerous paths and endure perilous and unhealthy conditions to arrive on the shores of the southern European nation. A majority of these immigrants are smuggled onto boats that cut across the Mediterranean Sea, only to be left stranded in the water. Following a week of tragedy two boats carrying hundreds of immigrants sunk between the coasts of Libya and Sicily, Pope Francis addressed Italy's dire immigration crisis, calling on the European Union to provide more resources and support.
In a public address at the Vatican Saturday, Francis urged the EU to take action. "It is evident that the proportions of the phenomenon demand much greater involvement," the pontiff said. "We must not tire in our attempts to solicit a more extensive response at the European and international level."
Francis added that he wanted to express his appreciation to the government of Italy for "undertaking in welcoming the numerous migrants seeking refuge at the risk of their lives." As the pontiff spoke, Italian President Sergio Mattarella stood by his side. The two Italian figures reportedly had a meeting earlier on Saturday, marking Francis' first meeting with the newly elected president.
"These broken lives compromise the dignity of the international community and we are in danger of losing our humanity," Mattarella said Saturday.
Catholics in Italy have been lobbying for more resources and safer conditions for the hundreds of thousands of migrants who've traversed the Mediterranean over the last few years to flee war-torn and poverty-stricken regions with the hope of finding work and improved living conditions in southern Europe. A spokesperson for the Jesuit Refugee Service, one of the groups fighting for stronger immigration protections for these migrants, told Vatican Radio this week that international governing bodies must step in before the crisis grows worse.
"We have Iraq and Syria exploding, we have Eritrea and other crises ongoing in world – people need to get to safety," James Stapleton of JRS told Vatican Radio. "We need to have a European response. We can’t continue with a ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ response” leaving it up to whoever happens to be on the front line geographically."
More than 400 migrants sailing from North Africa to Sicily are currently feared missing after two boats capsized in the Mediterranean earlier this week. The Italian Coast Guard was able to rescue only little more than 100 stranded passengers.
These tragedies seem to be happening at an accelerated pace, as thousands of immigrants continue to travel on shady, unsafe and oftentimes illegal vessels from North Africa to Sicily each week. In February, 300 migrants were presumed dead after their boats sunk miles from Sicily, the U.N.'s refugee agency said.
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