Italian churches are coming together to set up offices in Morocco and Lebanon to provide migrants with airline tickets, accommodation, assistance with asylum applications and Italian language courses. Their ‘safe passage’ initiative aims to bypass dangerous sea crossings, bringing hundreds of migrants directly to Italy.
The scheme, organised by a coalition of Protestant and Catholic churches, is going ahead with the blessing of the Italian government, who have agreed to provide the migrants with humanitarian visas, on the condition they remain within Italy.
The first arrivals under the scheme are expected to arrive in Italy at the end of January. A third centre in Ethiopia may be added to the scheme at a later date, Anglican News has reported.
The launch of the scheme in Rome came as churches across the world announced their support for migrants to mark International Migrants Day. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and All Members of Their Families, but a number of church organisations have demanded that more be done to ratify the agreement.
A statement released by three churches – the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants reads: “The Convention was adopted 25 years ago today and provides the most comprehensive and coherent international instrument to protect the rights of migrants and their families. Yet it remains poorly ratified, particularly by migrant-receiving countries in Europe.”
The CEC’s general secretary, Guy Liagre, added: “For years, churches across Europe have called on European governments and EU institutions to ratify this important convention. Yet no EU Member State has taken this step.”
The Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, said: “This is very significant for future stability for both vulnerable people and societies as a whole. Our cooperation with the International Labour Organisation on the rights of workers is an important part of this work for social justice.”
However, it also comes as the International Organisation for Migration announced that one million migrants had entered Europe by land or sea this year, more than four times as many as arrived in 2014.
Some 4,300 people arrived on Greek islands last Wednesday alone, despite winter sea conditions making this a particularly dangerous time of the year to cross.
However, the headline figure may be a significant underestimate, as Germany claims by itself to have registered one million new asylum seekers on its computer system this year.