Pope Benedict XVI urged Europeans facing an influx of immigrants from war-torn North Africa to “continue their valued commitment to solidarity with our brother migrants.”
The Pope welcomed pilgrims from the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa to St Peter’s Square for his weekly Wednesday audience April 27. Although a part of Italy, the tiny isle is closer to the coast of Tunisia and has been the first port of call for those fleeing the fighting in northern Africa.
“I greet the faithful of Lampedusa,” said the pontiff, “and encourage them to continue their valued commitment to solidarity with our brother migrants, who find in their island a host of first asylum, at the same time I hope that the competent bodies to continue the necessary action to protect the social interests of every citizen.”
The Pope’s comments come only a day after the leaders of Italy and France met to discuss the recent rise in North African migration to Europe. About 25,000 migrants have arrived in southern Italy so far during 2011. Many have been fleeing the unrest caused by conflict in Libya.
Italy has long complained to other European Union countries that it is left to cope with the influx. Meanwhile, France worries that open-border policies within the European Union mean that it has become the final destination for most of the migrants. Earlier this month both countries agreed to join sea and air patrols to try and stop migrants reaching Europe.
Now both President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy have written to senior officials at the European Union asking for the institution’s open-borders policy, known as the Schengen Treaty, to be reformed. The agreement allows legal residents of most EU countries, plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland to travel across the zone with only minimal border checks.