Commemorate Persons who lost their lives on their way to seek safety
Recommended date: 21 June 2015
The tragedy off the Libyan coast in April 2015 has once more brought the fate of persons crossing the Mediterranean Sea and seeking safety to the attention of European societies and governments. Yet, many more tragedies occur almost daily at the Southern European borders: this year has already seen tragedies at Rhodes, Greece, several incidents at the fence between Morocco and the Spanish exclave of Ceuta and Melilla in addition to Lampedusa, Italy, and Malta, a number of disasters off the Libyan coast.
Policy discussions offer little hope that the EU’s policy will soon begin to address the root causes of disasters in the Mediterranean.
The civil war in Syria has already displaced millions of people: The number of Syrian refugees registered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is now close to 4 million persons. The majority lives in neighbouring countries Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In Europe, Sweden and Germany have the highest numbers of Syrian refugees. The situation in Eritrea, particularly the forced and lengthy conscription into the armed forces, leads many young persons to flee the country. Fighting and conflict in Libya adds hardship to already complicated flight routes.
Due to strict border controls at the EU external borders and hardly any legal option to enter, refugees and migrants are forced to opt for extremely high risks and resort to smugglers hoping to find a way towards safety. Since the end of the Italian Mare Nostrum operation end of 2014, it has taken several months – and more than 1.500 lost lives in the first 4 months of 2015 alone – to enhance and undertake some search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea between Italy, Malta and Libya.
Between 2000 and 2014 more than 22.400 people are reported to have lost their lives on their way to Europe, drowning in the sea or in rivers, suffocated in containers on trucks or ships. Due to higher numbers of arrivals, the media attention currently focuses on Italy.
The situation at the Greek and Spanish borders however requires attention, too. These countries and their people face immense challenges following the financial crisis. At the same time, as the Syrian conflict is in the neighbourhood, Greece remains an important entry point for refugees and asylum applicants. While with great efforts reception and asylum capacity have improved and further improvements are expected, the asylum and refugee system in Greece is still not meeting protection needs. In the first months of 2015, the number of arrivals in Greece has rapidly increased.
Churches in Europe have responded to the ongoing loss of life in the Mediterranean by offering practical solidarity, but also by arguing for safe and legal ways for refugees and migrants to enter Europe. To this effect, CCME together with partners has launched the “Safe Passage” project.
The Assembly of the Conference of European Churches held in Budapest in July 2013 has renewed the call on churches to “to commemorate those who have died on their journey to find a dignified life in Europe through an annual day of prayer.” In the past years, many churches and parishes across Europe have taken up this call and held commemoration services around the 20 June, International Refugee Day. This year we wish to recommend holding services of commemoration on 21 June, the Sunday after the International Refugee Day 20 June. In some countries, other dates in the course of the year may be appropriate.
We are pleased to note that the African Union Commission will hold an official commemoration service on 27 May 2015 in Addis Ababa.
We would like to reiterate the call of the CEC Assembly and thus call on churches across Europe to commemorate the persons who have lost their lives on their way to Europe.
Let us jointly remember the documented as well as the undocumented persons who have died at European borders, let us share our sorrow in prayer.