3rd October: Remembering those lost in the Mediterranean
By Joseph Tulloch
Every year on 3rd October, Italy marks a National Day of Remembrance and Reception in honour of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who have lost their lives on a perilous journey for a better life in Europe.
The day has been chosen to commemorate the 368 migrants who died in a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa exactly nine years ago. Since then, another 22,000 migrants are thought to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach Europe by boat. This number, underlines Cecilia Pani, who is in charge of migration projects for the Community of Sant’Egidio, represents just those who we know of; in all probability, it is much higher.
Sant’Egidio has played an important role in responding to the migration crisis in Italy, organising Humanitarian Corridors to bring refugees safely to Europe. “Sant’Egidio started the programme of humanitarian corridors in 2016 as a response to this tragedy and as a tool to combat trafficking,” says Pani. To date, they have brought 5,000 asylum seekers safely to Europe, “mainly to Italy but also to France and Belgium, from Lebanon and Africa … most of them are Syrian, but there are also Eritreans and citizens from different African countries.”
Pope Francis has spoken frequently of the importance of such corridors, often inviting groups of refugees to Rome, where they are housed by the Vatican or various Catholic organisations. His very first apostolic journey as Pope, back in 2013, was to the island of Lampedusa, where he celebrated Mass for the migrants gathered there and condemned the “global indifference” to their situation.
A positive narrative
Recent elections in Italy are expected to change the political narrative around migration, and immigration policy itself. Pani expresses hope that “the narrative towards migrants and refugees will not change - because of course it’s extremely important that a positive narrative towards these people, who are not a problem for Europe, but are a resource - will not be changed.”
Welcome, protect, promote, and integrate
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for the welcome, protection, promotion, and integration of migrants and refugees and asylum seekers. Inspired by the Pope’s words, Sant’Egidio works, Pani explains, “mainly for integration of foreign citizens, and it’s extremely important to give them the possibility to work regularly and be protected and learn Italian.”
She also highlights the need to push for legislation recognising citizenship for children born in Italy to migrant parents.
“Children who were born in Italy and are attending school in Italy and have spent their whole life in Italy and probably don’t know the home country of their parents should have the right to citizenship earlier than 18 years [of age]. Sant’Egidio is working for that.”