Maltese and Italian Catholics have ripped the closure of ports in the two countries to refugees rescued in the Mediterranean, calling the government measures “unjustifiable”.

– Archbishop Scicluna of Malta: Saving lives in Mediterranean “a moral imperative”

“All persons in distress within Malta’s [search and rescue] zone should be rescued and their safety should always be guaranteed”, Archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna said in an April 12 tweet.

“Saving lives and ensuring their disembarkation at a safe place is a fundamental legal obligation and also a moral imperative that can in no way be negotiated or renounced”, the prelate continued.

Scicluna was responding to the drama of the 292 people picked up in recent days by two refugee rescue ships in the Mediterranean.

According to Spanish NGO Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario, those refugees – 149 aboard the Alan Kurdi and 43 aboard the Aita Mari – are still waiting this Tuesday for safe haven after days at sea.

That’s after both the Maltese and the Italian authorities last week declared their ports “unsafe” due to the coronavirus threat and closed those facilities to comply with lockdown regulations.

Bishop Scicluna later wrote a follow-up tweet April 13, in which he promised that “as the Church in Malta has been doing for years, it will continue to offer its resources to welcome migrants in distress saved at sea”.

“This is another test for our cherished humanity and traditional hospitality. Let us not fail it. “MALTA” means ‘safe haven’: our proud destiny!”

– Italian National Asylum Board: “The concept of a safe port is under attack”

In the meantime, associations belonging to the Italian Tavolo Asilo Nazionale (National Asylum Board) expressed April 8 their “considerable concern” at a governmental decree “that for the entire period of the national health emergency Italian ports will not meet the necessary requirements for classification and definition as a Place of Safety”.

The Tablo Asilo Nazionale called the decree “inappropriate and unjustifiable in that, with an administrative instrument in the form of secondary legislation, international law, at a higher level, is suspended, thereby evading overriding responsibilities towards those whose lives are in danger”.

“Once again, the international concept of a Safe Port, confirmation of which can be found in judgments of our own judiciary, is under attack”, the Italian National Asylum Board denounced.

The Board continued by stating that while it was conscious of the “difficult” coincidence of the refugee influx and the coronavirus crisis, “it is important to guarantee respect for principles of solidarity and rescue, which should not be denied on the basis of questionable arguments as to the competency of sea rescue and the place to which people whose lives are at risk should be transported”.

The Tavolo Asilo Nazionale highlighted the fact that “even at this moment of difficulty for Italy” due to the coronavirus pandemic, “Libya is a country at war” and migrants adrift in the Mediterranean “are victims of torture and slavery”.

“The Alan Kurdi is at the edge of our international waters waiting to be assigned a Safe Port by our Authority”, the Tavolo warned, urging the government to grant the refugee rescue ship safe haven “without delay”.

More on Novena from the Mediterranean:

Francis thanks Mediterranean refugee rescuers: “I’m always available to lend a hand. Count on me”

Special to Novena from Rome contributor Daniele Palmer: After the Bari ‘synod’… what’s the Church’s vision for the Mediterranean?

“When people drown, we have to help”: German Churches christen Mediterranean refugee rescue ship

“No excuses or prudent caution”: From Bari, Pope urges Christians to “extremism of love”

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