ROME — Migrants leaving Africa to travel across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe are only looking for “a little well-being,” Pope Francis said Tuesday.
The pope left Rome Tuesday morning on a flight for the Democratic Republic of Congo during which he exchanged a few words with the more than 70 journalists aboard the papal plane to cover the journey.
“Right now we are crossing the Sahara,” the pontiff told the reporters. “Let us offer a thought, in silence, a prayer for all the people who are looking for a little well-being, a little freedom, have crossed it and have not made it.”
“So many suffering people who arrive at the Mediterranean and after crossing the desert are taken to the concentration camps and suffer there,” the pontiff continued. “Let us pray for all those people.”
The pope was referring to Libyan migrant detention centers, which Francis has often compared to “concentration camps.”
In October 2021, for example, Francis said hears the cries of migrants in Libya and appealed for streamlined migration routes as an alternative to repatriation.
“I express my closeness to the thousands of migrants, refugees and others in need of protection in Libya: I never forget you; I hear your cries and pray for you,” the pope said.
Many migrants “are subjected to inhuman violence,” he said, while urging the international community “to keep its promises to seek common, concrete and lasting solutions for the management of migratory flows in Libya and throughout the Mediterranean.”
“How much suffering for those who are turned away!” he continued. “There are some real concentration camps there.”
The pope also called on nations to stop detaining illegal migrants, but to offer “dignified living conditions” instead.
“We must put an end to the return of migrants to unsafe countries and to give priority to the assistance of human lives at sea with rescue operations and predictable disembarkation,” he said, “to guarantee them dignified living conditions, alternatives to detention, regular migration routes, and access to asylum procedures.”
Frontex, the European agency in charge of control of the EU’s borders, has proposed that African migrants often attempt the perilous journey to Europe drawn by promises from human traffickers and stories of welfare benefits for all.
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“Migrants and refugees – encouraged by the stories of those who had successfully made it in the past – attempt the dangerous crossing since they are aware of and rely on humanitarian assistance to reach the EU,” Frontex said in a report released in 2017, at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis.
Frontex criticized NGOs involved in search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean, declaring that they “unintentionally help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost, strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success.”
The ready availability of effective SAR operations has served to stimulate demand for smugglers services, by making migration to Europe more accessible, resulting in what Frontex described as a “pull factor.”
Europe’s open borders during those years also encouraged Africans to set out for Europe even at great personal risk, which resulted in thousands of migrant sea deaths that could have been averted with better border controls.
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