Hundreds of illegal migrants lost their lives at sea this month crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe, including 339 from Eritrea alone. Authorities from Malta and Italy rescued hundreds more from ramshackle boats heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa, only 70 miles from Africa.
Francesco Rocca, president of the Italian Red Cross, decried the escalating death toll and called for “humanitarian corridors” of escape to allay migrant suffering.
Between 1994 and 2012, at least 6,450 migrants died near Lampedusa. According to UN data, this year Malta and Italy have taken in 30,000 migrants—already twice the 2012 number. Arrivals also swelled during the 2011 Arab Spring.
The media largely reports the European response to the influx as a “war on migrants.” But this view ignores complexities, like the criminal element often involved: “Behind these tragedies, as the dramatic instability of African countries increases, there are human traffickers who are enriching themselves on the backs of people who are fleeing war and hunger,” said Italy’s Integration Minister, Congo-born Cecile Kyenge. She and other politicians advocate increased sea patrols to intercept traffickers.
The increase of illegal immigration has prompted the United Nations and some in the European Union to call for a “comprehensive EU immigration policy” to avert migrant tragedies. But such a policy already exists. A European government agency known as FRONTEX has coordinated EU border, asylum, and immigration policies since 2005.
And EUROSUR, a Europe-wide border surveillance systemfirst planned in 2008, will be fully operational by December. It is a “cooperation mechanism” for locating and protecting people in distress who are attempting to cross maritime and land borders. It also monitors the criminal element in migrant journeys—traffickers—but is hampered by EU data protection laws. EUROSUR cannot report personal data to non-EU states, making it hard to track individuals and trace them to origination points or particular crises.
A look at the predominant nationalities of migrants reveals a stark truth: As Muslim governments in the Middle East and Northern Africa continue to deny human rights and oppress their citizens, people flee to Europe. In 2012, FRONTEX reported 67,000 migrant arrivals in Europe via Eastern and Southern borders, almost exclusively from Muslim-majority countries. According to Reuters,migrants themselves are “mainly Muslim” and bring with them a worldview that has caused much of the misery in their home countries. Ten of the top 13 countries of origin have moderate to extreme persecution of Christians, according to World Watch List. And 10 of them practice some form of Sharia law.
Pope Francis visited Lampedusa in July, the same day a boat with 162 Africans landed and another boat with 120 people was rescued off-shore. He spoke against apathy towards the needy and thanked Lampedusans for their solidarity despite the tensions inherent in receiving 200,000 migrants since 1991. Beyond humanitarian help, migrants who stay in Europe need mercy from Christians helping them to encounter a faith that gives true freedom.