The Apostolic Vicar of the capital diocese of Tripoli, Bishop George Bugeja.

Challenges in Libya: Springboard to Europe

‘To stem the wave of refugees, the problems on the ground would have to be solved’

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Libya has been at war for almost nine years: government versus militias, both supported by foreign powers. The “Berlin Conference” in mid-January wanted to make a breakthrough. But the most important agreements didn’t even last a week. The Apostolic Vicar of the capital diocese of Tripoli, Bishop George Bugeja, gave information in an interview about the current situation in the country, the expectations of the Church in the peace process and the upcoming meeting of the Catholic bishops in the Mediterranean. Tobias Lehner from the worldwide Catholic foundation organization “Aid to the Church in Need” spoke to him.

ACN: The Berlin Conference in mid-January should be a contribution to finally pacify the civil war in Libya that has been going on since 2011. How do you rate the results?

The Conference was a very positive sign in a long process to help Libya reach a situation in which Peace and Reconciliation are finally achieved.  It will not be an easy process to arrive to get to this point since there are profound divisions and the parties in conflict are far apart, even finding it difficult to be at the same table to discuss the situation itself.  Surely the various countries that took part in the Berlin Conference have to continue doing their part in this long process in talking with one voice and putting in practice what has been achieved during the Conference.

The ceasefire to which the warring parties agreed lasted less than a week. The arms embargo is also said to have been broken again. What is the current situation in the capital, Tripoli?

Unfortunately, yes there has been some fighting since the ceasefire agreement. Fighting creates tension. Tripoli airport opens and closes according to the situation but schools, shops and offices are open at least in the central part of the city.

Libya has been at war since the Arab Spring in 2011. Can the continuing wave of refugees to Europe be stopped at all?

I think that the problem of the refugees is not Libya itself. Libya is a springboard to enter to Europe.  Refugees coming from Sub-Saharan countries are escaping from the problems they have in their own countries and trying to find a better future for themselves and their families.  So to stop or diminish the wave of refugees from trying to enter Europe one has to help the countries from where they are leaving to find solutions for the problems that exist there.  Otherwise refugees will continue to travel to Europe even risking their own lives as they are already doing.

Although Christians are a small minority of a few thousand believers, their voice has been heard over and over again in the conflict. What are you doing, socially and politically, to improve the situation of the people?

Politics are not in our way of working.  We are the Pastoral Ministers of the Catholic Church.  We do our best with our limitations to help people first with our presence. I must say that we as the Catholic Church stayed in Libya throughout the conflict even when all others churches and all European embassies left the country. So our presence with our flock has been and is a sign of encouragement to all those who come to the Church.  Apart from this we also have a small Caritas centre from where we give help to those in need, including first aid medical attention with the presence of a doctor and nurses.

At the end of February, Pope Francis invited the Mediterranean bishops to a conference in Bari. Among other things, it should deal with the topics of migration and peace policy. What are your expectations for this meeting?

I will hopefully be attending this meeting in Bari at which Pope Francis will be present on the last day.  I do not think that the bishops present will be those who will find solutions.  I expect that we will be able to discuss and put forward our particular situations, those that each bishop is experiencing in his diocese, and learn and support from each other.

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