Damian Jackson is programme officer at the Irish Council of Churches and co-led the team of young men on CTBI’s recent visit to refugee projects on Sicily and Lampedusa.
He writes today on the Irish Council of Churches’ blog about the visit whose purpose was “to gain an understanding of the situation faced by people whose circumstances are so desperate that they decide to leave home to seek a better life in Europe”. The delegation also had the aim “to bring our learning home to raise awareness amongst churches and seek to facilitate their engagement with these issues here”.
He relates some of the first-hand accounts he heard.
… he experiences of sub–Saharans passing through Libya were appalling, reminiscent of a dystopian end–of–times novel. I personally spoke to 6 people who had been kidnapped and sold into forced (construction or sexual) labour in order to repay their “owner”. The situation at the moment in Western Libya is completely lawless – I spoke to one young man whose friend had been summarily executed for sport, in a “William Tell” game, by a Libyan child. It seems that no value is placed on human life there.
European governments, and therefore we, as citizens, bear a great deal of responsibility here. The overthrow of Gaddafi was not followed up with efforts necessary to create the conditions required for a functioning state. Subsequently agreements have been made with the EU–backed “government” (which only controls a small part of Libyan territory) that effectively facilitate the arbitrary detention of migrants and do nothing to hold the authorities accountable. Competing governing authorities are supported by Russian and other foreign governments. In other words, substantial responsibility for this chaos and suffering lies uncomfortably close to home.
While ”hearing all of this could lead one to despair”, Damian witnessed much that gave him cause for great hope during the trip.
The Mediterranean Hope team, though small, has a huge impact. Their work is innovative and well targeted, the result of careful and prayerful analysis of need and capacity.
He explains their “creative approach to addressing the extreme danger faced by people fleeing poverty and oppression” through the Humanitarian Corridors initiative, an ecumenical collaboration between Catholics and Protestants: the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy (FCEI), and the Union of Methodist and Waldensian Churches in Italy.
In December 2015 they signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior to receive 1000 of the most vulnerable refugees in Lebanon (mainly from Syria), Morocco (from sub–Saharan Africa) and Ethiopia (mainly from Eritrea).
Damian lists how humanitarian corridors address many of the problems currently evident in Mediterranean migration:
- the most vulnerable (not just the best–resourced) people are enabled to travel;
- they travel legally on a humanitarian visa;
- they are safely transported;
- they do not face the dehumanisation of arriving with nothing as they can take their belongings with them;
- all of the participating people are vetted by the state authorities;
- it combats human trafficking and smuggling;
- they are welcomed and provided with legal assistance, hospitality, economic support (provided by the churches), integration assistance and training for one year after arrival.
The pilot project was designed to be replicated in other countries. A recent church agreement with the French government will bring 500 people from Lebanon under a safe and legal humanitarian corridor. So far, over 700 refugees have been received in Italy.
I believe we can be encouraged and grow in hope as not only did we witness how much our individual contacts meant to the migrants we met, but we also saw that a small number of committed people, prepared to follow Christ wholeheartedly, can make a potentially transformative difference to the most intractable of problems.