Catholic charity: Migrant arrivals by sea tripled in Italy in 2020

Survivors and family members of migrants who perished in an Oct 3 2013 shipwreck near Lampedusa leave an audience with the Pope Oct 1 2014 Credit Daniel Ib  ez CNA CNA 10 1 14 Survivors and family members of African migrants who perished in a 2013 shipwreck near Lampedusa in the Mediterranean sea leave an audience with the Pope, Oct. 1, 2014. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Refugees and migrants who worked in the restaurant and hotel industries were hit hard by job losses in 2020 due to the lockdown restrictions in Italy, according to a Catholic charity that works to provide social services to migrants.

Centro Astalli, the Italian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service, reported April 20 that many refugees who have lived in Italy for years in total autonomy returned to the charity with worries about unemployment, paying bills, monthly rent, and schooling for their children.

At the same time, the number of migrants arriving in Italy by sea tripled last year, with more than 34,000 migrants arriving by sea in 2020, up from 11,000 arrivals the previous year, while the number of legal asylum applications in Italy decreased to 28,000 applicants.

Fr. Camillo Ripamonti, the president of the organization, said that while the migrants it serves have faced hardships in Italy, these are often not the worst that they have endured.

“The pandemic for many people is not the worst of the evils, but just one of the many that have plagued their lives, such as being held by traffickers, surviving detention centers like the ones in Libya, or being taken back to an unsafe port,” Ripamonti said at a virtual event for the launch of the organization’s annual report.

Ripamonti pointed out that in addition to the increased number of arrivals by sea -- mostly on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa -- another 11,000 people were intercepted in the Mediterranean and brought back to Libya, and 1,400 people died trying to make the crossing in 2020.

During the peak of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, 168 countries officially closed their borders and 90 of them denied access to refugees.

“Although it was necessary to reshape our services, we never stopped accompanying the refugees most in difficulty,” Ripamonti said.

“Social distancing is not synonymous with indifference and it is not the opposite of closeness,” the Jesuit priest added.

Centro Astalli supported more than 17,000 people across Italy in 2020, providing meals at its soup kitchens, as well as food deliveries, medicine, and shelter. In Rome, the charity provided 54,417 meals.

Cardinal Antonio Tagle commended the charitable efforts of Centro Astalli and called its annual report “a testimony of humanity, of active love, of compassion.”

“We can see and touch their pains when they decided to leave their homeland due to violence, poverty, and ecological disasters. They can almost hear the cries of the families who separated themselves as they tried to escape from the dangers,” the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said.

“The pandemic has worsened their situation, but thanks to the warmth, respect, and support provided by Centro Astalli, their dark journey has been bathed with light.”

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