An Eritrean priest living in Rome has lamented the “walls” the European Union puts up to migrants and refugees. “Obstacles”, he said, to those fleeing from their countries because of “hunger, war [and] political, ethnic and religious persecutions”.

The priest’s remarks came as the Jesuit Superior General insisted that “those who live in a given territory have no right to turn away migrants”.

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Eritrean priest Mussie Zerai spoke to Spanish news agency ACI Prensa last week and called on the EU “to get to the root of the problem” of forced migration.

Zerai – the man behind a hotline for urgent help for migrants stranded in Mediterranean waters – pleaded with politicians “to solve the causes of this drama that is the exodus of people” and to “seek a long-term solution”.


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If help was focused on migrants’ countries of origin – or on neighbouring nations – “90% of people would stay there, stay where there are opportunities for work, study, decent living conditions”, Zerai said.

But when help at the heart of the problem won’t do, the priest continued, EU countries must open legal and safe channels for migrating to the continent, the so-called “humanitarian corridors”.

If EU states opened these legal channels for migrants “with a much more consistent project, to give legal access to people in need of protection, many people would not feel driven to despair at the hands of traffickers, risking their lives in the desert and in the sea”, Zerai claimed.

The priest, who is also European coordinator for the community of Eritrean Catholics, also denounced that one out of every six of migrants and refugees who try and reach European shores are now dying in the process.

“It is not true that deaths are going down; the dead have increased, but we don’t see them. There are no ships that help in the sea near the Libyan coasts, so no one can tell what is happening”, Zerai warned.

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For the record

Zerai’s comments came as Jesuit head Arturo Sosa claimed in an interview with Italian publication Tempi last week that those who live in a particular territory “have no absolute right to that territory” and therefore cannot turn away migrants and refugees.

“The challenge for a country that receives migrants is not only reception, but integration, which means receiving the contribution that immigrants bring”, Sosa said.

He added that migrants and refugees “come to make a contribution, which is greater than what they receive from the host country”.

“In Europe we must recognize the contribution that migrants make to the societies that receive them and thank them for it”, the Jesuit insisted.

Anticipating criticism for his idea that countries can’t turn away migrants and refugees, Sosa explained that “I do not see a conflict of rights — those of migrants and those of those who already live in the place — but the opportunity for a human dialogue to create a universal fraternity through these movements of populations due to various reasons: wars, persecutions, poverty, the search for a better life”.

“Everyone’s rights are the same. The first is to be recognised as human beings equal to all other human beings”, the Jesuit explained.

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