Pope Francis yesterday monday July 8th 2013 took his first trip outside the vatican since his election to the Italian migrant Island of Lampedusa to show solidairty for migrants, most from Africa whose story is never in the spotlight, till they die on the high seas while trying to sail to Europe. The migrants are mostly fleeing conflicts and economic hardship in Africa. Some are also from Asia.
Thousands of migrants arrive the Island each year while hundreds die on the high seas as people smugglers pack them in rickety boats for a fee ostensibly to take them to a better life in Europe.
A migrant himself (The Popes family emigrated from Italy to Argentica) Pope Francis has a close affinity with suffering African migrants. A boat with 166 Erithreans arrived the Island while the Pope was there and he greeted them. Situated some 80 miles from Tunisia, the Italian Island of Lampedusa is one of the nearest gateways to Europe.
So why do African still get on these rickety boats and don’t stop even though hundreds die on the way? Ebai George Is a human rights activists and has been helping some of the migrants through his African Movement Organization
Francis Ngwa spoke to him on the line to Rome in Italy shortly after the pope left the Island.
Q The pope yesterday made his first visit out of the vatican following his elections to the small migrant Island of Lampedusa. Why did he chose that destination first?
I think he went there to have a first hand and eywitness account of what happens to thousands of migrants, most of them Africans who arrive in Lampedusa in ill equiped boats. Some three boats arrived while the Pope was there and he assured them that everything will be done to help them
Immigration is a big politicalk and social issue in Italy. The Catholic church is one of the organizations that takes care of refugees in Italy
Q If the pope met up to three boats yesterday, are we to assume these boats arrive the Island daily?
Botas arrive the island at regular intervals and their frequency actually depend a lot from what is happening from where they came from so when things are unstable in particular countries, you get more boat people than when things are settled. When there was war in Libya, you obviously had more boats coming from there. You must remember even the situation in Libya now is still unstable. This is a mafia business carried out by people smugglers who are in the business of transporting people as frequently as possible.
Q If the Italian government knows there are gangs of people smuggling migrants there, why haven’t they stopped it?
I think that ios one of the reasons why former Libyan leader Muamar Ghadaffi was killed. When Libya and Italy signed an agreement to control the inflow of migrants, the Italian government had to pay the Libyans money to make sure stopped migrants from setting up camp in their country for people smugglers to infiltrate and help the smuggling ring. Libya also presurized the Italian government to pay them colonial indemnities or compensation. The italian government did comply with some of the demands of the Libyans but apparently wee not hapy with that so wanted Ghadaafi killed..
Q Well that is an allegation you are making. Talk about what happened when the Pope visited Lampedusa yesterday?
A lot of migrants arrived while the pope was there. People dont only come from Africa . There were migrants from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan. These Asians first travel to North Africa so that they could easily travel to Italy and Europe. The boats that arrived while the pope was there was a mixtures of Africans and Asian.
Q Are we to assume the somewhat lucky migrants who arrived the island while the opoe was there, will their treatment be different?
The pope gave assurances that the children who arrived on the boats will be well protected. He asked for their parents while he was there.
Q How Many children are we talking about here?
There was a Malian couple with their two children.
Q You said earlier that the Catholic church helps some migranmts when they get to Italian shores. What type of aid does the church provide,
The Catholic church does a little of everything from housing some of the most vulnerable migrants . The church also helps with legal support, their health, intergration etc.
Q You have been involved with helping some of this migrants through your organization African Movement, why do you think Italy is such a magnet for these migrants?. Why do they keep struggling to come there though hundreds die on the hiigh seas?
The established route from Libya and North Africa is to Italy. Italy is interestingly the safest way into europe even though it is dangerous on the high seas. Migrants could also go to Spain but it is musch more dangerous using that route so most come to Italy. In Italy at least, migrants are received and they look into their issues unlike Spain where more than 90 percent of people who go to Spain are sent back.Q Few people get papers from Italy though the country does accept to take in migrants
That is why we are saying that Italy like most European countries, does not respect European Union directives on the protection of immigrants not to talk of refugees and asylum seekers. The European commission has sanctioned Italy a number of times for not respecting the directives. However, compared to countries like Malta and Spain, the immigration policy of Italy is a bit more flexible which is why most migrants come here
Q Very briefly, what happens to the migrants when they land in Lampedusa?
They are received the Italian coastal guards, they are oriented and sent to identification and detention centres,. There, their cases are studied individually and those who qualify are given official documentation. Most applications are rejected and the migrants need to start making long appeal cases. Just to illustarte, most Libyans who came into Italy during the fighting in their country were given one year transitional documentation with travelling documents. Most moved to other countries like France but there, they cannot extend their papers since they were delivered in Italy. That appeared like Italy just wanted to sent the migrant problems away to other countries.