Written by Dr. Paolo Naso*
The following article was written in response to the recent tragic loss of the lives of hundreds of refugees and suggests a practical method for saving the lives of thousands of refugees each year.
A few days after the shipwreck off the Libyan coast that resulted in the death of hundreds of people – likely more than 900 men, women and children – our resemblance to Cain is ever harder to deny. Those 900 are gone, and if someone asks us where they are, we are likely to answer, just as Cain did, are we our brother’s and sister’s keeper? We cannot be held responsible for their life or death. We are not responsible because their death “was at the hands of the traffickers who crowded a boat with far more desperate people than it could handle.” We are not responsible because their lives are a ‘European problem’. The European Union or the United Nations or anybody but us should have to solve the problem. Some even say that those responsible for the death of these 900 are “those who help and accept refugees”, and that it would be better to establish a “blockade”. We each have our own way of putting the blame anywhere but at our own doorstop.
Yet the death of these 900 people was a repeat of similar tragedies and so was almost a predictable event. So, who were the killers? This question is raised in Lampedusa and Scicly in the far southeast of Sicily where Mediterranean Hope operates, a project of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI). It is an excruciating and painful question, even for those who are doing their best to shelter, support and care for the injured and the suffering. And there are plenty of us who have tried to do our part to help the desperate men, woman and children who try to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats.
It’s hard to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we have similarities with both Cain and Abel. We bear the mark of the original murderer and we identify with Abel and the victims of this tragic sinking in the waters off Libya. Moreover, we know that in spite of our positive intentions and our good will, we are part of a world that actively avoids finding a solution to this serious problem.
Mediterranean Hope has been supporting one potential solution to this problem and has been telling everyone who will listen that it is ready to make an active and direct contribution:
Mediterranean Hope’s proposal – which has been welcomed by large sectors by many in the faith community and the political elite – is to open corridors for qualified refugees to legal documentation for entering Europe that would make it unnecessary to risk their lives traveling hundreds of miles in rough seas in makeshift boats. If several European countries would open ‘a humanitarian corridor” into their respective countries, it would make it possible for all European countries to deal with refugees on a sustainable and manageable basis. This solution would cut at the very roots of Europe’s refugee problem. A humanitarian corridor would effectively disrupt the traffickers’ plan and disrupt the political or business establishments that produces them.
Neither Italy nor any other European country which is on the front line of Europe’s refugee crisis can solve this crisis on its own. Only a unified European Union can address this emergency successfully. Europe will not be able to count on just its financial stability and legislative bureaucracy to solve its refugee problem. Europe will need to build on its core values of peace and freedom. Unfortunately these values have not yet reached Lampedusa.
Those who really want to help our brothers and sisters who are refugees must join in our struggle for ‘humanitarian corridors.’
*The author, Paolo Naso, has been the director of a ministry with immigrants called Being Church Together for the last several years. Paolo is also currently serving as president of the Study Commission of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy.