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Churches provide humanitarian corridor giving safe passage for refugees

Posted on: December 18, 2015 9:02 AM
A refugee makes a peace sign in Belgium
Photo Credit: Episcopal News Service

[ACNS] A coalition of Protestant and Catholic organizations have reached an agreement with the Italian government to provide safe passage for refugees from North Africa and the Middle East; in an attempt to by-pass the dangerous Mediterranean crossings organised by people smugglers, which has led to the deaths of around 3,700 migrants so far in 2015.

The Churches will set up assistance offices in Morocco and Lebanon – with the possibility of a third centre in Ethiopia later – and will provide airline tickets as well as accommodation, assistance with asylum procedures, educational opportunities and Italian language courses. The Italian government will provide humanitarian visas entitling the refugees to accommodation in Italy but not the right to travel to other EU countries.

The first arrivals under the “safe passage” scheme are expected to arrive in Italy at the end of January.

The announcement of the new scheme, which was made yesterday in Rome, came as churches across the globe spoke out in support of migrants on a day which has been designated by the United Nations as International Migrants Day.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and All Members of Their Families, but the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe argue that in that quarter of a century, not enough states have ratified the convention.

“The Convention was adopted 25 years ago today and provides the most comprehensive and coherent international instrument to protect the rights of migrants and their families,” the three organisations say in a statement. “Yet it remains poorly ratified, particularly by migrant-receiving countries in Europe.”

The CEC’s general secretary, Guy Liagre, added: “For years, churches across Europe have called on European governments and EU institutions to ratify this important convention. Yet no EU Member State has taken this step.”

The Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, said: “This is very significant for future stability for both vulnerable people and societies as a whole. Our cooperation with the International Labour Organisation on the rights of workers is an important part of this work for social justice.”

The three ecumenical bodies say that the convention “recognises the human rights of migrant workers and promotes their access to justice as well as to humane and lawful working and living conditions.

“It provides guidance on the elaboration of national migration policies and for international cooperation based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. It also sets out provisions to combat abuse and exploitation of migrant workers and members of their families throughout the migration process. . .

“In a time when abuse and exploitation of migrant workers is a reality all over the world, the Convention is an important instrument in providing a fair playing field. It covers important aspects such as the rights of migrants to live with their families. Regular reporting mechanisms provide recommendations for policy and legislation. If implemented, these recommendations can enhance the rights of migrants in countries that are signatories to the convention.”

Elsewhere, La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico (the Anglican Church in Mexico) warned that extrajudicial executions by state authorities had been reported; along with collusion over the exploitation of minors both in the forced sex trade and the scavenging of garbage.
They said that a pattern of persecution, criminalisation and general xenophobia was part of a “strategy of extermination” that threatens migrants through the Southern Border Plan.

The International Organisation for Migration, the main co-ordinator for International Migrants Day, has encouraged candlelit vigils to take place across the world as “a renewed opportunity to increase awareness on drivers of migration, and most importantly shift the narrative of migration towards a positive recognition of the many ways migrants contribute to host societies.

“The candle-light should become the symbol of our solidarity with migrants and their families and remind us that for many, migration is often the only sliver of light left for millions of people around the world.”