Amnesty International has blamed «failing EU policies» for the soaring death toll among refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean. It said the EU was turning a blind eye to abuses in Libyan detention centres, and was mostly leaving it up to sea rescue charities to save migrants. It also stated that more than 2,000 people have died in 2017 trying to get to Europe.
For far too long, almost on a daily basis, we have been witnessing the terrible plight of refugees. It looks like, here in Europe as elsewhere, we seem to be at a loss of what to do. For some governments, the only answer seems to be the building of even higher walls with barbed wire, search lights and security guards. Others spend money putting asylum seekers in detention centres far away from public gaze and scrutiny. But there are other walls and they are not just physical. There are walls of fear, prejudice, hatred, and ideology that we see on a regular basis in so many different counties not just here in Europe but also in Africa and elsewhere in the world. Some governments here in Europe are so afraid of opinion polls or what the public think they would rather make cynical deals with Libya consigning thousands to the risk of drowning, rape and torture. Amnesty International does not hide its anger «Rather than acting to save lives and offer protection, European ministers… are shamelessly prioritizing reckless deals with Libya in a desperate bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Europe.” Strategies that were once working like the search and rescue strategy, seem to have been abandoned as we turn our backs on a crisis of enormous proportions. The unfolding tragedy poses a true threat to the very soul of Europe and indeed the world. It is no wonder that currently refugees are branded with the lowest status in any nation.
It is not surprising then that increasingly around the world we witness the building of walls to keep out the displaced. At one time, especially in Europe we dreamed of a continent without borders and yet more and more we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. We seem to forget that the history of the world is one of migration and we know especially that after the great world wars migrants and refugees were made welcome in new lands and cultures. They fled war and hatred even genocide. The story line has not really changed as millions of men and women today seek refuge as they flee failed states, persecution, exclusion and the brutality of evil regimes. They seek only to live in peace and security and are ready to leave everything behind in their desire for a new tomorrow and a more secure future for their children. Surely, we have our own part to play in working for a better tomorrow for all peoples. In Africa and beyond we have confreres actively involved in the struggle to help such people. Here in Europe there are a number of communities that have taken in one or two refugees (even here in The Generalate) and yet other communities are quite happy to see their empty rooms remain closed and shuttered. Some communities have a great outreach to the strangers in their midst and others somehow forget this important dimension of our mission today.
We can all play our part wherever we are, for as one human family we must strive to build bridges of solidarity rather than walls of division. Our refugee sisters and brothers present us with opportunities for mutual enrichment and flourishing: it is God who brings us together.
It is good to pray for such migrants and refugees and we must somehow be alongside them in their struggle to face the demons of fear, poverty, disease and hatred. We can in our own small way help the international community to find ways to unlock the potential of refugees who have so much to offer if they are given the opportunity to regain control over their lives. Let us be also part of their dream for a kinder gentler world.
Francis Barnes, M.Afr.
1er General Assistant