MUNICH — Lutheran Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, president of the Protestant Church in Germany, has called for greater political recognition of maritime rescue efforts of refugees in the Mediterranean.
“It is quite clear that the criminalization of civilian maritime rescuers must stop, because they are the only ones still saving human lives there,” Bishop Bedford-Strohm told broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk Aug. 24. The German Catholic news agency KNA reported the bishop said he expected the German government “to try to make sure that when people have been rescued there, there will be no more wrangling for weeks on end.”
The bishop also said the rescue mission of the vessel Sea-Watch 4, initiated by the church, was necessary. Responding to criticism that the church was intervening in refugee policy with its support for the boat, he said: “Yes, of course it is a government task. The countries of Europe should not just be watching. But they are just watching. They’re doing nothing.”
Therefore, it was naturally a duty of the church to let itself be touched by the suffering of the people, said the theologian, who joined the Social Democratic Party years ago but suspended his membership when he became a bishop. “One cannot pray and overlook the suffering of your neighbor.”
At a July 8 Mass marking the seventh anniversary of his visit to refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa, Pope Francis said that when looking at “journeys of hope, rescue operations and cases of rejection,” Christians must remember that Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
At his Angelus address Aug. 23, Pope Francis said: “The Lord will hold us to account for all of the migrants who have fallen on their journey of hope. They were victims of the throwaway culture.”
“Sea-Watch 4” said it rescued around 100 migrants from boats in the Mediterranean the weekend of Aug. 22-23 after they had reached international waters off the coast of Libya. On Aug. 24, after its third rescue, it had more than 200 people on board.
It is unclear where the migrants will be taken. Representatives of the rescue mission said returning them to Libya was out of the question because of the human rights situation there.
Nello Musumeci, president of Italy’s Sicily region, called Aug. 23 for the closure of all the migrant reception centers on the island, complaining that overcrowding and a lack of cooperation by the migrants themselves made it impossible to stop the spread of the coronavirus at the centers.
The Italian internal affairs ministry responded by saying that the centers are run by the national government, not the region, and Musumeci has no authority to close them.
Sea-Watch 4 is a former research vessel that was purchased in a project initiated by the Protestant Church in Germany. It is financed by the United4Rescue group, consisting of 550 organizations and individuals. The ship is operated by the Sea-Watch organization.