Monday, July 08, 2013
Pope Francis flies to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa on Monday
to honour the hundreds of migrants and refugees who have drowned trying
to reach its shores in perilous crossings of the Mediterranean.
a visit stripped of the usual pomp of papal travel, Francis will cast a
wreath into the sea and hold a mass of mourning with a simple cross
made from the wood of rickety fishing boats that migrants arrive on.
pope will visit the same pier where migrants first set foot on dry land
after landing from Libya or Tunisia in journeys that often begin in
impoverished and war-torn parts of Africa and the Middle East.
pope is going there to cry for the dead," his secretary, Alfred Xuereb,
told reporters ahead of the trip -- the pope's first outside of Rome
since the former archbishop of Buenos Aires was elected in March.
pope is expected to fly into Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa
than to the Italian mainland, at around 0715 GMT and leave at 1045 GMT.
50 migrants -- some of them Muslim -- will meet with the leader of the
world's 1.2 billion Catholics, out of more than 100 currently on the
Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, head of the Vatican's
migrant department, said he hoped the visit would prompt "concrete
concern and solidarity to improve situations that have become inhuman
The pope will also meet with the local
population -- a fishing community of 6,000 people -- on an island of 20
square kilometres (7.8 square miles).
Local mayor Giusi Nicolini
said she wanted more help in dealing with migrant arrivals from "the
rest of the country and Europe", denouncing the deaths at sea as "a
great injustice in the Mediterranean".
One inhabitant has offered
his converted Fiat car to be used as a "popemobile" during a trip in
which the Vatican has insisted that no politicians should accompany the
pope in a break with usual protocol.
There has been an increase in
arrivals on Lampedusa in recent weeks because of improved weather
conditions, with around 4,000 arriving so far this year -- three times
more than during the same period in 2012.
But the numbers are
still far from the peaks reached in 2011 when tens of thousands arrived
in just a few months as maritime border controls disintegrated during
the Arab Spring revolts in North Africa.
Since 1999, more than
200,000 people have arrived on Lampedusa -- making it along with the
Greece-Turkey border one of biggest gateways for undocumented migrants
and refugees into the European Union.
The visit has been praised
by many including Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Catholic charity
Sant'Egidio, who wrote in the Corriere della Sera daily that it meant
"the Church of the poor is looking South".
The centre-right daily Il Giornale, however, commented that it "legitimises illegal immigration".
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 40 people have
died so far in 2013 -- most by drowning -- trying to cross from North
Africa, while around 500 were reported dead or missing in 2012.
campaign group United Against Racism says its calculations show 17,306
people in total have died trying to enter the European Union since 1993.
said the main countries of origin are Eritrea and Somalia, but migrants
also arrive from Afghanistan, Egypt, Gambia, Mali, Pakistan and Syria.
who reach Lampedusa are initially housed in a small refugee centre on
the island, which campaigners complain is often too full and unsanitary.
new arrivals are then taken by ferry to other parts of Italy -- either
to immigrant detention centres ahead of deportation or to more open
refugee centres if they have submitted an asylum request.
Unaccompanied minors are often stuck on the island for months, however, as they await being allocated appropriate accommodation.
charity Save the Children last month said that 985 unaccompanied minors
had arrived on Lampedusa since the beginning of the year.