Stefan Heße, the Archbishop of Hamburg and the president of the German Bishops’ commission on migration, has reiterated his support for the German ship captain Carola Rackete after her arrest and subsequent release for docking a migrant rescue ship without authorisation on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

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Where it stands

“One must save drowning people, no ifs or buts. It fits very well with the Gospel. The person who, like the captain, saves a human life, is following Jesus”, said Heße in an interview Thursday with the German website

“A state must prevent anyone from realizing and upholding the standards of humanity. When people threaten to drown, it is clear that the ethical imperative is to save them”, insisted the bishop.

Rackete “acted out of a clear humanitarian emergency”, explained Heße. “I rate that as a very sound decision rather than an arbitrary breach of law. When I look at the whole situation in the Mediterranean, it becomes clear that we need a common European or international refugee and migration policy. Sea rescue is just one element. As long as the states seem to be unable to agree on such a common solution – or even refuse it – I consider a privately organized maritime rescue necessary”.

What’s next

“There must be safe and legal ways to Europe”, opined Heße. “Asylum procedures must be clearly regulated; they must be conducted reliably and transparently. We still have a lot to do in Europe. In addition, every state must fulfill its responsibilities. This responsibility must be shared in solidarity between the states of Europe and the world, rather than passing it off to others”.

“You have to try everything so that people do not endanger their lives. As the Pope says, the Mediterranean should not become the largest cemetery in the world”, said the German prelate, adding that “the current situation shows that the policy of closed borders, closed harbors and walls does not solve the problem”.

One level deeper

Italian Archbishop Giovanni Ricchiuti of Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Font has also backed Rackete in her stand-off with anti-migrant Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, blasting the politician and his extreme right-wing base for the “perversity” of their obstinance to accept refugees into Italy.

“The migration phenomenon cannot be tackled that way”, said Ricchiuti, of Salvini’s insistent refusal to embrace dialogue, humanity and understanding.

Ricchiuti hit out especially at those Catholics who support Salvini’s policies.

“It hurts me, and I do not understand that feeling men and women can share the views of the Interior Minister,” said the archbishop, calling it “scandalous” that a part of the Catholic world shares Salvini’s “hate speech”.

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