Rome, August 16, 2018 – Aquarius is news again: it is once again drifting in the middle of the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. The ship belongs to the French NGO SOS Mediterranee, but it displays the flag of Gibraltar (British territory at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula). After four other ships had denied relief to small boats and in precarious navigation conditions, Aquarius rescued last weekend (9 and 10 August) 141 migrants from Tunisia, 60 of whom are minors. Now it calls the countries of Europe, but they all close their eyes and ears, refusing to receive them. The ship remains in the vicinity of Malta!
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini affirmed that the ship “can go anywhere, except for Italy, why does it not go to France or England, where the flag that it brings belongs to?” Since January/2018 until now more than 60,000 migrants from Africa disembark in Europe, unlike in previous years, however, a large part of these landings occurred in Spanish territory (about 27,000) and not so much in Italy or Greece as it often has been. In July/2018, while arrival in Italy decreased by 81%, in Spain it increased by 100%, with the new Italian government taking over, and its anti-migration policy, the ports willing to welcome them moved. Almost a week later, Spain reached an agreement with another 5 countries in Europe willing to receive the migrants.
Faced with what the authorities, public opinion and the mass media call “migration crisis” or “humanitarian crisis”, the members of the European Union remain indifferent, divided and armored. They do not know what to do. Or better, each country is regulated according to its own interests. Pressured by a good part of the population – which insists on nationalist, intolerant and racist attitudes – the nations hide behind a series of reticence. The old continent ignores at the same time three cornerstones that are at the base of its historical and cultural building. The first of these is the value of lodging and welcome, which can be re-harvested in the ancient world (for example, Homer, Virgil, Abraham), as well as in the origins of Christianity (community = oikos = house). According to historians, in the century from 1820 to 1920, due to the turbulence of the Industrial Revolution, between 60 and 70 million workers, first migrants who came from the countryside to the urban area, then emigrants in the journey through the oceans, left Europe. Only from the Italian Peninsula, more than 27 million people left. These emigrants were received in the United States and Canada, in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, in Australia, and New Zealand… where, in addition to making their fortune, they contributed decisively to the destiny of those countries.
The second cornerstone of Europe represents the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It represents the right to life, to health, to school, to work, to a family and a protective roof. It represents the right to come and go, corresponding to the right to stay, the right to be constituted as a citizen of a country. The right of expression and organization, the right of rest and leisure, but also the right to combine with other people, adding and multiplying knowledge, in view of a humankind always richer and more plural in its cultural and religious heritage. Hence the natural tendency that comes to exchange technique, progress, various products and various forms of development. The exchange that can lead to conflicts, without a doubt, but that brings the possibility of world peace.
The third cornerstone, although it involves a series of ambiguities and contradictions, cannot be left aside. It is about the natural riches of the former colonies, over which the European countries have exercised their domination for decades or centuries. Not only wood, minerals, fruits, spices, and other products of the earth, but also human beings as slave labor. Thousands and millions crossed the Atlantic to work in the lands of the new continent. And among those who left the African coasts, how many did reach the other side and how many were forever buried in the waters of the great ocean! If today the Mediterranean is considered as a cemetery for migrants, centuries ago the Atlantic was considered a slave cemetery. Migrants and slaves, slaves and migrants – it’s binomial that history insists on combining in the same key.
Fr. Alfredo J. Gonçalves, cs