Migrants Council Affirms Right to Be Helped

Prelate Laments Death of Would-Be Immigrants en Route to Italy

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- There is a human right to be welcomed and helped, says the president of the Vatican’s council on migrants, who lamented the death of several dozen North Africans who died in the Mediterranean as they tried to reach Italy.

Archbishop Antonio Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, spoke Saturday with Vatican Radio about the tragedy of would-be immigrants who never make it to their destinations. He referred to reports from five Eritreans who reached the island of Lampedusa on Thursday, claiming that 73 of their companions died along the way.

The five survivors said they’d been at sea for 20 some days.

The right to be welcomed and aided, the prelate declared, «is accentuated in situations of extreme necessity, for example when one is at the mercy of the waves of the sea.»

Archbishop Vegliò acknowledged that states have a legitimate right to control and regulate migration.

But, he added, one must «harmonize the various legislative bodies with a view to safeguarding the needs and rights of migrants and families and, at the same time, those of the societies where the migrants arrive.»

Ignorance and egotism

The prelate contended that «our so-called civil societies have in reality developed attitudes of rejection in regard to foreigners.»

«These attitudes,» he said, «have originated not only from a lack of knowledge of the other, but also in a sense of egotism on account of which one does not want to share what one has with foreigners.»

Unfortunately, Archbishop Vegliò noted, «the numbers [of deaths] continue to grow: In fact, according to the latest statistics, from 1988 to today, the possible number of shipwrecked migrants or victims on the borders of Europe is over 14,660.»

The Vatican official said his pontifical council «is pained by the continual repetition of these tragedies and reaffirms what the Holy Father said in ‘Caritas in Veritate’: Every migrant is a human person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance.»

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