(Vatican Radio): Over 340 people were rescued on Thursday from a sinking fishing boat off the Island of Cyprus.
A cruise ship that received instructions to change course after Cyprus picked up the boat’s signal of distress reportedly saved hundreds of people, apparently refugees, fleeing Syria.
The Cypriot Defense Ministry said the 345 people, including 52 children, arrived at the country's southern port of Limassol in the evening to be taken to a reception center near the capital Nicosia.
Thousands of migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and northern Africa attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in rickety boats in search of safe havens in Europe, and hundreds have died at sea.
James Stapleton, Director of Communications at Jesuit Refugee Service International, told Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni that this year has seen a dramatic increase in numbers of refugees fleeing conflict…
Listen to the interview:
Stapleton says increasing numbers of refugees appear to be fleeing Lebanon as the situation in that country is getting increasingly difficult with 1/5 of the Lebanese population now being made up of Syrian refugees, and “Europe really needs to do more” he said.
“We really need an effort by the European Union States to take responsibility: we had the ‘Mare Nostrum’ programme by the Italian Government for a year that is coming to an end; we have the ‘Frontex’ by the European Border Security Agency that says it is going to take responsibility, but what we need is European authorities going out into international waters which is where most people are losing their lives trying to reach Europe” he said .
Stapleton says that UNHCR estimates that just this year, 2.,500 thousand people have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
“And we have to remember: there have been 100.000 people saved thanks to the efforts of the Italian Government” Stapleton said. But – he continued “this will all go by the wayside if the EU is unable to launch the same sort of operation the Italians have been working on for the past twelve months”.
He says that many of the southern European nations that receive the migrants for geographical reasons do not have the capacity to offer them adequate reception infrastructures.
Stapleton points out that “The situation is changing very rapidly on the ground” and he says what we really need is a response of the EU: “This is not a problem of Italy, of Spain, of Greece, of Cyprus. This is a problem of the European Union” he said.
He says that a large-scale resettlement in Lebanon is urgently needed because - he warns: “if the situation in Lebanon continues to deteriorate we could see conflict there”.
Stapleton says the situation is extremely tense and dangerous on the ground in many countries so “we need to be preparing for the worse and the EU needs to stop having a “begger-thy-neighbor” type policy towards immigration: we will tighten up our situation and then people will go to your country… it has not worked” he said.
Stapleton points out that asylum numbers are rising because the situation is getting worse: “Policies adopted by European governments are not making any difference. What we need is more positive policies like Mare Nostrum that Italian authorities had for a year: they saved 100,000 lives: many of most of those people wouldn’t have made it” he said.
Stapleton also says we have a tradition and a responsibility of providing asylum: “Within Europe we talk of the European social model, the European democratic model – creating a space of democracy and security – we need to start living out those ideas, we need to start implementing it. It is how we view ourselves” he said.
Concluding, Stapleton points out that “We can’t put all the responsibility on Iraq, on Lebanon, on Jordan… in the European Union we have the capacity. We just need to start thinking in a different way”.