Boat people off the coast of Sicily

Church orgs want end to “criminalisation of solidarity” after “year’s worst Mediterranean tragedy”

Caritas Europa and other Church organisations have renewed their call “to stop the criminalisation of solidarity with migrants in Europe”.

In a joint statement with over one hundred other social organisations on the Old Continent, the European branch of the Catholic Church’s relief, development and social services arm pleaded with EU institutions “to reform the EU Facilitation Directive, which currently allows Member States to criminalise humanitarian aid”.

Driving the news

The joint statement from Caritas and its sister organisations comes just hours after at least 110 migrants died when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya.

Shortly after the shipwreck, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) head Filippo Grandi tweeted “The worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year has just occurred”.

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The big picture

Caritas Europa and other aid organisations including the network of European churches and Christian NGOs Eurodiaconia and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe denounced in their statement that “the criminalisation of solidarity in Europe is soaring”.

The agencies said the number of individuals criminalised for humanitarian activities in Europe “has grown tenfold, from 10 people in 2015 to 104 in 2018”.

“The targets include volunteers, activists, NGOs, crew members of rescue ships, migrants’ family members, and also journalists, mayors and priests”, the NGOs continued.

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“The recent arrest of the Sea Watch 3 captain, Carola Rackete, is just the latest example of how people are being blamed for saving migrants’ lives and providing the humanitarian assistance which Member States are unwilling or unable to provide, despite being obliged to according to international and EU law”.

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Caritas warns “stigmatisation” of help to refugees creates “chilling effect on solidarity”

Why it matters

“Criminalising solidarity also distracts the public from the real issues in EU migration and asylum policies”, the aid agencies said.

Among their concerns they listed a “lack of protected entry and regular migration channels”, “inadequate reception conditions”, and “violations of international obligations in Search and Rescue operations”.

“The EU institutions and Member States must put an end to the criminalisation of people and organisations supporting those in need”, Caritas and its partner organisations pleaded.

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Among other measures, they appealed to EU institutions to “adopt and implement balanced EU migration policies that include safe and regular pathways to Europe, including resettlement schemes, complementary pathways such as humanitarian visas and work permit schemes, and labour migration schemes grounded in the decent work principles and across skills levels that would contribute to the reduction of human smuggling and trafficking”.

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