Italian coast guard ship Bruno Gregoretti

Italian Church comes to rescue of migrants as European Bishops call for end to “push backs”

The Italian Catholic Church, along with a number of European countries, has pledged to provide “hospitality, welcome and even legal assistance” to migrants on a rescue ship that had been blocked by controversial Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.

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The Italian Church announced Wednesday afternoon that about fifty migrants would be welcomed at the “Mondo Migliore” facility in the small town of Rocca di Papa just out of Rome.

Salvini had prohibited the 131 migrants aboard the Italian coast guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti from disembarking until a deal with the Church, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal broke the deadlock.

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But Italian media are reporting that a new stand-off threatens the equilibrium brokered by the Church.

Reports said Salvini has blocked another rescue ship – the Alan Kurdi, operated by the German NGO Sea-Eye – from entering Italian waters.

The Alan Kurdi has 40 migrants aboard.

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The ship’s captain wants to dock on Lampedusa, the closest port.

But Salvini says it should dock in Libya as ordered by that country’s coast guard.

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For the record

The back-and-forth between Salvini and the rescue ships comes just a day after Italian Bishops’ President Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti lamented the “divisive way” the issue of immigration is being addressed in Italy.

Bassetti, Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, said that migration “risks becoming the scapegoat for fears and insecurities, for a social malaise that has very different causes”.

Thursday the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community also weighed into the migration debate.

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The COMECE called in a press release for an end to “collective expulsions and ‘push backs'” of migrants in the context of the ongoing conversations around the reform of the EU return directive.

The Bishops’ body said it advocated for “human-centered policies including the fundamental rights protection of irregular migrants at all stages of their return, the implementation of alternatives to detention, the full respect of the principle of non-refoulement and the prioritisation of voluntary return”.

The COMECE also insisted on “the need to pay special attention to the needs of the most vulnerable people (victims of human trafficking, seriously-ill or disable people, children, pregnant women and elderly) and to the safeguarding of the family unity in the return process”.

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