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Pope: Don't Send Migrants Back to Libya10/24 13:24


   VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis on Sunday made an impassioned plea to end 
the practice of returning migrants rescued at sea to Libya and other unsafe 
countries where they suffer "inhumane violence."

   Francis also waded into a highly contentious political debate in Europe, 
calling on the international community to find concrete ways to manage the 
"migratory flows" in the Mediterranean.

   "I express my closeness to the thousands of migrants, refugees and others in 
need of protection in Libya,'' Francis said. "I never forget you, I hear your 
cries and I pray for you."

   Even as the pontiff appealed for changes of migrant policy and of heart in 
his remarks to the public in St. Peter's Square, hundreds of migrants were 
either at sea in the central Mediterranean awaiting a port after rescue or 
recently coming ashore in Sicily or the Italian mainland after setting sail 
from Libya or Turkey, according to authorities.

   "So many of these men, women and children are subject to inhumane 
violence,'' he added. "Yet again I ask the international community to keep the 
promises to search for common, concrete and lasting solutions to manage the 
migratory flows in Libya and in all the Mediterranean."

   "How they suffer, those who are sent back" after rescue at sea, the pope 
said. Detention facilities in Libya, he said "are true concentration camps."

   "We need to stop sending back (migrants) to unsafe countries and to give 
priority to the saving of human lives at sea with protocols of rescue and 
predictable disembarking, to guarantee them dignified conditions of life, 
alternatives to detention, regular paths of migration and access to asylum 
procedures," Francis said.

   U.N. refugee agency officials and human rights organizations have long 
denounced the conditions of detention centers for migrants in Libya, citing 
practices of beatings, rape and other forms of torture and insufficient food. 
Migrants endure weeks and months of those conditions, awaiting passage in 
unseaworthy rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats arranged by human 

   Hours after the pope's appeal, the humanitarian organization Doctors Without 
Borders said that its rescue ship, Geo Barents, reached a rubber boat that was 
taking on water, with the sea buffeted by strong winds and waves up to three 
meters (10 feet) high. It tweeted that "we managed to rescue all the 71 people 
on board."

   The group thanked the charity group Alarm Phone for signaling that the boat 
crowded with migrants was in distressed.

   Earlier, Geo Barents, then with 296 migrants aboard its rescue ship, was 
awaiting permission in waters off Malta to disembark. Six migrants tested 
positive for COVID-19, but because of the crowded conditions aboard, it was 
difficult to keep them sufficiently distant from the others, Doctors Without 
Borders said.

   In Sicily, a ship operated by the German charity Sea-Watch, with 406 rescued 
migrants aboard, was granted permission to enter port. But Sea-Watch said that 
a rescue vessel operated by a Spanish charity, with 105 migrants aboard, has 
been awaiting a port assignment to disembark them for four days.

   While hundreds of thousands of migrants have departed in traffickers' boats 
for European shores in recent years and set foot on Sicily or nearby Italian 
islands, many reach the Italian mainland.

   Red Cross officials in Roccella Ionica, a town on the coast of the "toe" of 
the Italian peninsula said on Sunday that about 700 migrants, some of them from 
Afghanistan, reached the Calabrian coast in recent days on boats that 
apparently departed from Turkey.

   Authorities said so far this year, about 3,400 migrants had reached Roccella 
Ionica, a town of 6,000 people, compared to 480 in all of 2019. The migrants 
who arrived in the last several days were being housed in tent shelters, RAI 
state television said.

   Italy and Malta have come under criticism by human rights advocates for 
leaving migrants aboard crowded rescue boats before assigning them a safe port.

   The Libyan coast guard, which has been trained and equipped by Italy, has 
also been criticized for rescuing migrants in Libyan waters and then returning 
them to land where the detention centers awaited them.

   On Friday, Doctors Without Borders tweeted that crew aboard the Geo Barents 
had "witnessed an interception" by the Libyan coast guard and that the migrants 
""will be forcibly taken to dangerous detention facilities and exposed to 
violence and exploitation."

   With rising popularity of right-wing, anti-migrant parties in Italy in 
recent years, the Italian government has been under increasing domestic 
political pressure to crack down on illegal immigration.

   Italy and Malta have lobbied theirs European Union partner countries, mainly 
in vain, to take in some of those rescued at sea.

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