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18 Ottobre 2013

The future of African immigrants

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Pope Francis gave a plug to the Community of Sant'Egidio during his Oct. 6 Angelus address, when he saw a banner from the movement in St. Peter's Square. He exclaimed, "Sono bravi questi di Sant'Egidio!" -- meaning, roughly, "These Sant'Egidio people are great!"

Born amid the European student protests of 1968, Sant'Egidio began as a home for progressive young Italians who wanted to remain Catholic. Over the years, it's become a primary carrier for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, as well as the church's social Gospel.

One familiar Sant'Egidio face is Mario Marazziti, for years the community's spokesman and now a member of the Italian parliament and president of its Committee for Human Rights. Marazziti recently sent along an essay and some pictures from a trip to Lampedusa, an Italian island in the southern Mediterranean that serves as a major point of arrival for immigrants from Africa and the Middle East seeking to reach Europe.

On Oct. 3, a boatload packed with more than 500 Eritrean men, women and children capsized off Lampedusa and caught fire, with just 155 survivors and 364 dead bodies recovered. In itself, there was nothing unusual in the disaster, as more than 20,000 people are believed to have perished over the last decade making the 70-mile crossing. Given the staggering numbers of dead this time, however, the incident made global headlines.

Pope Francis devoted his first trip outside Rome to Lampedusa back on July 8, condemning what he called a "globalization of indifference" to migrants. For a brief time, it seemed the Oct. 3 tragedy might change things, as Italian Prime Minister Letta promised a state funeral for the victims, legislators talked about getting rid of Italy's harsh law criminalizing "clandestine status," European authorities pondered more humanitarian ways of dealing with immigrants, and humanitarian groups around the world mobilized to help the survivors.

A scant two weeks later, however, it already seems the wind has gone out of the sails. While the Italian government dithered over the details of a state funeral, the dead were interred without ceremony because their decomposing bodies posed health risks. Survivors, meanwhile, are facing criminal investigations for illegal entry while they languish inbidonvilles composed mostly of cast-off mattresses and mud.

Marazziti spent time with the survivors, collecting the stories of how they ended up on that boat. From Eritrea, he discovered, it took them two months to arrive in Khartoum, Sudan, having been blackmailed along the way by immigration "brokers" and human traffickers. They spent a year in Khartoum as virtual slaves, begging to collect enough money to pay off the brokers who took them to Tripoli in Libya. They spent additional months in Tripoli, scraping together the $1,600 a head it cost to make the final stage of the journey -- which, of course, ended in death for most.

Marazziti is pushing a multipoint program to try to avoid such tragedies in the future:

·       Construction of additional refugee centers on Lampedusa. At present there's just one, with space for 250 people, though the number of migrants on the island at any one time is usually more than 1,000. (Marazziti notes that Andrea Riccardi, the founder of Sant'Egidio, had allocated funds for a new center while he was a minister in the government of former Prime Minister Mario Monti, but it was never built.)

·       Creating the possibility of legal entry into Europe, including the rapid processing of requests for refugee status and asylum. "Anything that lengthens the routes to entry," he argues, "is a way to increase the number of deaths and to fatten the human traffickers."

·       Opening offices to process requests for asylum on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, in Tunisia and Libya, by drawing on European consulates and embassies.

·       Creating a European Immigration Office in North Africa, which, he argues, would "break human trafficking" and "make possible legal trips ... people could come by paying a fee on a normal ship or ferry boat."

·       Creating a European Welcome and First Aid Center in Sicily, where applications for asylum in all 28 European nations could be handled.

·       Opening a "humanitarian corridor" in the Mediterranean Sea, with radar banks in Libya and Tunisia to identify boatloads of migrants and patrol ships capable of ensuring that these people remain safe, wherever they finally end up. Marazziti calls it "humanitarian patrolling," saying it's the only way to curb the "pandemic of death."

Lest anyone think all that amounts to unilateral surrender in the face of illegal immigration, Marazziti insists the movement of peoples from South to North today is a "structural part of this phase of globalization."

In other words, Marazziti believes economic and cultural realignments are fueling movement across international borders, and throwing up higher walls or adopting harsher laws won't change that dynamic. The choice, as he sees it, is whether the world will treat these people humanely or stand back and watch more of them die.

For the record, Marazziti notes that many of these migrants are Christians, suggesting an additional motive for their fellow Christians in the West to be concerned.

It remains to be seen how much luck Marazziti will have in pushing his agenda. What seems more certain is that when Francis called the Sant'Egidio crowd bravi, this is the sort of thing he had in mind.


Read the full article :  


[John L. Allen Jr. is NCR senior correspondent. His email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnLAllenJr.]

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