Editorial — A ‘genocide’ at sea

There are bodies floating in the Mediterranean Sea, bodies that fell from ramshackle boats that capsize almost daily.

The bodies are those of people fleeing war and famine and pestilence in Libya or Syria or any of a number of places on the African continent. The Italian coast guard and navy are rescuing as many people as they can, but the rest of the world?

They’re not doing much, with the exception of the Catholic Church and a few politicians here and there.

Bodies are washing up on shores and governments in the region — particularly Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, as well as Italy — say they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people trying to escape the horrors of their homelands. The Italian minister for European affairs told the French newspaper Le Monde that his nation “is being swamped” by immigrant bodies.

“There’s not even enough space in Sicily’s cemeteries to bury the dead,” he said.

Instead of freedom and a chance for a new life, many of the immigrants, including more than 1,500 in one April week alone, are finding death on the high seas.

Perhaps the numbers are such that governments are indeed paralyzed. Or perhaps, since many of these people are from different cultures, different faiths, just “different” in general, nobody really cares. When you consider that the government of Turkey has scheduled refugee interviews for 2022 — that’s right, 2022 — it’s hard to take the efforts of the locals seriously.

And so the drowning continues.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services sent representatives on a mission trip to Mediterranean states in March and what they learned is daunting.

There have been, through March, more than 3.8 million refugees who have fled their homelands in the war- or famine-torn nations mentioned above.

About half of the Syrian refugees, families trying their best to flee what seems to be a never-ending civil war there, are children. Many of the children are unaccompanied minors who fall through various bureaucratic cracks, according to a report filed by those on the mission trip. As a result, those children “fall prey to exploitative labor and other risky situations.”

The report also said that religious minorities are under threat and danger “from extremist groups operating in the area.”

One Reuters report in April told of Muslim extremists on a refugee boat throwing any Christians they found overboard.

The world may be ignoring this tragedy, but Pope Francis and the Catholic Church aren’t.

Catholic News Service reported that on April 19, just hours after “reports surfaced that more than 700 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe, Pope Francis asked thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for a moment of silence.” The pope then asked those before him to join in reciting a Hail Mary for the victims and survivors.

The pope has repeatedly asked in recent months for the international community to act decisively and quickly to help resolve the refugee crisis. But little has happened.

The European Union has said they will “form a committee in December” — December? — to consider the problem. The same BBC story that announced that “action” also reported that Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said what is happening is “nothing less than a genocide.”

CNN reported in April that anti-immigrant parties are growing more popular in Europe and have more support daily.

That same report said there is a “total absence of policy” to help those trying to take the boats to a better life in Europe.

Doctors Without Borders will begin its own rescue effort because its leader said “as a medical, humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”

Pope Francis feels the same way.

“They are men and women like us, our brothers and sisters who seek a better life; hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of war — they seek a better life,” the pope told those in St. Peter’s square. “They were seeking happiness.”

The rest of us, not just governments and states but individuals too, should help them find it. We should donate to relief organizations such as Catholic Relief Services. And we should pray that the consciences of people everywhere will be moved to help.

Glenn Rutherford
Record Editor Emeritus

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