A migrant boat in the Mediterranean Sea in June 2021 A migrant boat in the Mediterranean Sea in June 2021 

JRS Malta: ‘Pope’s visit a chance to renew hospitality for migrants’

As Pope Francis travels to Malta for a 2-day Apostolic Visit, a counsellor with Jesuit Refugee Services says the visit will be an opportunity to reflect on the reality of migration while renewing hope on the island nation.

By Devin Watkins

“The Pope’s visit is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves that, beyond the complexity of the issue of migration, it is always essential to treat people with dignity and in a way that does not violate their rights.”

Sara Zingariello, a counsellor with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta, offered that assessment of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to the EU nation on Saturday and Sunday.

Speaking to Vatican News’ Delphine Allaire, Ms. Zingariello said the issue of migration can instill fear and concern in residents of host countries, but that people’s rights must be respected no matter what country they come from.

“Pope Francis’ visit is an opportunity to reflect on the reality of migration but especially our local reality. I think it is a visit that definitely brings hope, because the Pope has spoken consistently on the issue.”

Accompanying people, not numbers

Lying at the crossroads between Libya and Italy, Malta has seen a steady stream of irregular migrants and asylum seekers enter the European Union from Northern Africa.

In 2019, over 3,400 migrants arrived in Malta by sea, a record number according to UNHCR. However, migrant arrivals have dropped off since then with around 2,300 arriving in 2020 and 830 in 2021.

JRS Malta focuses its efforts on asylum seekers and other beneficiaries of protection, according to Ms. Zingariello.

When a person first arrives, JRS offers practical assistance, including help with applying for asylum. In the longer-term, the Church-run organization provides legal services and psycho-social services, as well as help with other more practical issues, like applying for a bus pass or assistance in preparing a resume or job applications.

“Accompaniment is really at the heart of what we do: accompanying people, not numbers.”

Hospitality part of Malta’s identity

Ms. Zingariello pointed out that Malta—even in its brief mention in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 28) when Paul was shipwrecked on the island—has always been known as a hospitable place.

“The Maltese people are welcoming. It is a big part of our identity and who we are.”

She admitted that immigrant policies in recent years have run contrary to the tradition of welcoming people, as the EU has worked with Northern African countries to keep people from making the Mediterranean crossing and some countries have even pushed migrant boats back.

Migrants, she said, often come from places of conflict, and their countries of origin have varied over the decades. Most arrive from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, but Syrians also came in greater numbers when the civil war there was at its height.

Respecting people’s rights

Ms. Zingariello noted that many migrants who arrive in Malta had no intention of arriving on the island, and many prefer to move on to other EU nations if possible.

Since Malta is part of the European Union, she believes that a common approach is required.

“We need to come up with solutions by working together,” concluded Ms. Zingariello, “to become countries that are more hospitable, that defend the rights of people no matter where they are from.”

Listen to the full interview
01 April 2022, 18:48