JRS urges Europe to act over migrants

As the death toll in the Mediterranean reaches record proportions, Europe’s first priority must be to implement a full-scale search and rescue operation, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). It is calling on the extraordinary European Council meeting on Thursday 23 April to respond to this ongoing tragedy with a concrete action plan prioritising human dignity and justice.

"Saving human life must come first," says Fr Jean-Marie Carrière SJ, the Director of JRS Europe. "Europe should take up the leading example of Italy. Now is the time for emergency action."



The Jesuit Refugee Service is urging EU leaders to:

·         Substantially increase use of resettlement for refugees unable to find protection in the region;
·         Family reunification for refugees already in the EU; and
·         The temporary lifting of visa requirements or at the very least the introduction of visas on humanitarian grounds.

“Now is a moment for political courage," says Fr Carrière. "We urge European leaders to set aside their differences, avoiding the blame game, and to work together constructively to find solutions to this crisis ... The priority has to be to save lives: that means a large scale search and rescue mission, and stopping those who force migrants onto unseaworthy boats. At the same time, there must also be safe and legal ways to find international protection in Europe.”


The statement from JRS Europe follows the tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea of the past few days, in particular the death of more than 800 people early on Sunday morning off the Libyan coast. About 350 on board the fishing vessel that capsized on its way to Italy were believed to be Eritreans. Refugees from other nations included people from Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. A spokesman for UNHCR described it as "the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean that we have recorded". Pope Francis used his Sunday address to pilgrims in St Peter's Square to appeal for the international community to take swift and decisive action to prevent further tragedies.

“All 28 EU member states have a responsibility to work together to save lives and to protect human life and dignity," says Fr Carrière from the Jesuit Refugee Service. "Europe must prove that as well as talk, it can also really act to defend human rights.”

Photo: Survivors of Sunday's disaster off the Libyan coast arrive at the Sicilian port of Catania. Credit: EPA