Italy wants EU to lead migrants rescue - Pope appeals for help to refugees

Italy wants EU to lead migrants rescue - Pope appeals for help to refugees

Malta received 18,956 migrants since 2001

Italy will ask the European Union next week to take over responsibility for rescuing migrants crossing the Mediterranean in crowded boats from North Africa, a task that is costing its navy €9 million a month.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wants EU border agency Frontex to lead the mission, known as Mare Nostrum or "Our Sea", which has rescued about 50,000 migrants this year.

Malta has received 18,956 migrants since 2001, Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia said in Parliament yesterday.  14,517 were men, 2,361 women, and 1,686 children.

At a June 26-27 EU summit in Brussels, "Prime Minister Renzi will present a plan to transform Frontex to take on the duties of the Mare Nostrum mission", Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said in a radio interview.

Mare Nostrum began last October after 366 people fleeing African countries drowned when their boat capsized a mile from Sicily. The tragedy focused world attention on the desperate risks taken by many migrants, whose plight has been highlighted by human rights groups and Pope Francis.

Italy has repeatedly called for more EU involvement in recent months as the number of sea-borne migrants, most of them seeking asylum, has surged to levels last seen during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

"Faced with this situation, one must decide not to let people - children and mothers - die at sea," Pinotti said.

She defended the mission from critics including the anti-immigrant Northern League party, which says the migrants board dangerous vessels at their own risk and argues that Mare Nostrum should be abandoned.

Because immigration centres are groaning under the number of new arrivals, Italy would also like the EU to help manage the huge number of refugees, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Domenico Manzione told Reuters separately.

The Dublin Regulation requires the country where an asylum seeker first arrives to handle their application, putting extra pressure on countries on the EU's outer edge, like Italy or Malta, to take them in.


Meanwhile, Pope Francis this morning appealed to institutions to offer concrete help to refugees who continue to flee conflict and persecution in their homelands.

“Millions of refugee families from different nations and of every religious faith live through dramatic stories and carry deep wounds that will be hard to heal” he said at the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square

And the Pope appealed to the faithful "to be close to these people, sharing their fears and their uncertainty for the future, and alleviating their pain with concrete measures".

“May the Lord sustain those people and institutions” – Francis prayed – “who work with generosity to assure a welcome to refugees, recognise their dignity and give them reasons for hope”.

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