Lesbos - Turkey - Lampedusa - Rome: In the Footsteps of St. Peter and St. Paul

Versione Italiana


Do not let us focus too much on the twelve Syrian refugees welcomed (in absolute legality) in St. Peter. Pope Francis has not travelled to Lesbos to create media twists. Of course, the coverage of his visit in all the international media was unprecedented (including in BBC, Financial Times, New York Times and Al Jazeera); But what should move us is the profound meaning (ecclesiological, Christological and eschatological) of events in Lesbos. In other words, while the media do their job, the faithful is called to observe and participate in the mission of the Pope inspired and strengthened by the Spirit.

Recognizing the Spirit in the events of recent days also involves asking the reason for what is happening and how Europe is acting on the topic, in particular with regards to what the agreement with Turkey means and the moral implications of such an agreement.

The http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-963_en.htm official website provides a good starting point, at least to realize that sufficient precautions have been taken to ensure that migrants  who are sent back to Turkey may find adequate protection. For example, in the case of minors or members of particular ethnic groups (think of the Kurds or Christians from risky areas), the European authorities will have to demonstrate that the return to Turkey would not endanger the life of the migrant. At the same time, both Turkey and Greece receive substantial assistance to meet the emergency, while the process of rapprochement between Turkey and the European Union (aiming at a possible accession of Turkey to the European Union) is put back on the agenda.

It is easy to criticize the agreement based on the most controversial aspects (particularly the reliability of Turkey as humanitarian and political partner and the resumption of arrivals from Libya). The fact is that the effects of the agreement have quickly been felt, and the flow of migrants from the Lesbos route has already fallen by at least 70%. The European Union is also committed to continue to accommodate asylum seekers who proceed legally (i.e. via consular authorities) and that meet the requirements for refugee status. It is therefore legitimate to assume that the real losers in this case are the ferrymen and economic migrants that will be sent back to Turkey (and from there, where possible, to their countries of origin).

The question we should be asking is, if anything, whether the West is doing enough to address the needs of victims of conflict, i.e. those in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Pakistan or elsewhere, who find themselves living in camps after losing everything and sustained damage of all kinds.

The current opinion is that with all the poor citizens, or at risk of poverty, the cost associated with the reception of refugees is not politically or socially acceptable. What the Pope wants to tell us, I believe, is that similar arguments are not Christian and that our responsibility (in particular institutions and wealthy citizens) is to find solutions to the refugee problem in a spirit of zealous and efficient solidarity.

The Pope's message is not at all abstract. Italy and Greece have made important efforts but it is the whole of Europe that should be able to put the question on the right terms and provide adequate solutions. What are the origins of the problem, how much help we can offer, as how best to provide it?

The non-availability of various European countries to find ambitious and shared solutions (often taking refuge behind a pathetic geo-political isolationism) cannot be condoned, nor should it justify equally short-sighted responses in Italy. As evidenced by the Pope, we are faced with historical events that require out of the ordinary intelligence and hearts.

We, citizens and believers, should rest not only to mobilize ourselves at the level of associations and movements for humanitarian purposes, but also call for effective solutions and solidarity which respect the life and dignity of migrants, especially those who have suffered the effects of war, of violence and hatred.

They look to Europe as a land of rights and prosperity that for centuries has enjoyed economic and political benefits in the areas of origin and often collaborated with the same regimes that currently produce terror and death. Confining the refugee problem to Lesbos and Lampedusa camps or delegate the responsibility to Turkey, Lebanon and other countries hosting refugee camps is not worthy of a continent that believes in peace and aims to play a global role.

The Pope's admonition is unambiguous: the refugees are the Suffering Christ and we will be judged on how we receive them. The newfound communion with the Orthodox Church could not find better soil. This does not mean opening the door to insecurity and lawlessness. Rather the opposite. We must strive to ensure security, legality and efficiency as evidenced by Pope Francis, in Lesbos, in Lampedusa, soon in Turkey, in the footsteps of Saints Peter and Paul. Faith and reason make us believe that the sincere generosity will not be disappointed.  

Massimo De Luca