ROME – One week ahead of Pope Francis’s Sept. 22-23 overnight trip to Marseille for a conference on the Mediterranean region, during which migration is expected to be a key issue, one of Europe’s top prelates has condemned recent anti-migrant moves by France and Germany.
“The current challenges in managing the flow of migrations must not obfuscate the necessary fraternity in the face of migrants in vulnerable situations, nor weaken the bonds of solidarity among member states of the EU,” said Italian Bishop Mariano Crociata.
Head of the Diocese of Latina-Terracina-Sezze-Priverno and president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), Crociata spoke to SIR, the official news agency of the Italian bishops.
“It is fundamental to establish a structured coordination mechanism between European states that can guarantee fair solutions on migration and asylum, involving the cooperation of third states and the international community,” he said.
Such a mechanism, Crociata said, ought to “improve the European approach in welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees in our societies. It would also be a tangible sign of concrete solidarity between the member states of the European Union.”
In just the past few days, France has ordered the number of soldiers at its border with Italy to be doubled, going from 60 to 120, in a bid to crack down on illegal crossings during a year when Italy has registered a massive increase in migrant arrivals by sea from North Africa.
Likewise, Germany has also decided to suspend a voluntary agreement with Italy to take in migrants, accusing the Italian government of failing to live up to its obligations under the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which outlined criteria for which EU states are responsible for examining an asylum request.
As part of an EU frame know as the “voluntary solidarity mechanism,” which, launched in June, provides for the relocation of asylum seekers to pledging member-states for one year, Germany had agreed to take in 3,500 asylum seekers from countries whose borders have been hardest hit by the most recent migrant influx.
Germany has so far accepted over 1,700, however, they have accused Italy of failing to honor its obligations under the Dublin rules, which stipulate that a migrant’s asylum application be assessed in the European country where they first arrived, not where they end up.
Italian officials and critics have said the rules put undue pressure on Italy and other Mediterranean countries on the frontlines of the migrant crisis.
Italy itself has logged more than 123,800 irregular migrants and asylum seekers who have arrived by boat so far this year, compared to roughly 65,500 by the same time last year.
This surge has happened despite the pledges of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni after she came to power last year to crack down on incoming migrants, even with the imposition of a naval blockade.
Meloni has consistently appealed to other EU member states to do their part in sharing some of the burden of accommodating so many arrivals, however, this has caused friction with some EU governments, including France.
Last year Italy and France were caught in a diplomatic spat over Italy’s refusal to allow a French charity vessel carrying 234 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to dock, with the passengers eventually disembarking in France.
Migration is expected to be among the most prominent issues discussed during Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to Marseille.
He will travel to the French city from Sept. 22-23 to attend the “Mediterranean Meetings,” a summit that will draw 60 representatives of churches from the five shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and around 60 young people from the same areas to discuss the current political, economic, and environmental challenges of the Mediterranean region.
This will mark the third edition of the meetings, after similar summits were held in Bari and in Florence, each of which discussed the migration issue at length.
Pope Francis in his decade-long reign has made advocacy for migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy and has been repeatedly outspoken about the issue during visits to European countries, especially those which are the main points of arrival.
The pope will be met by French President Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival at the International Airport of Marseille, though the two are not scheduled to hold a private meeting, as is customary, since this is not, as Pope Francis has repeatedly insisted, a formal state visit to France.
Yet even without a formal sit-down, the presence of the pope as a champion of migrants arriving to attend a meeting in which the care and welcome of migrants and refugees will be a major talking point, is a message in itself.
In his remarks to SIR, Crociata made an appeal to the EU on behalf of his fellow European prelates to speed up efforts in securing a common position on the migration issue.
“As European bishops, we reiterate our invitation to the European Union and to its member chancelleries to accelerate negotiations on the European Pact on Migration and Asylum, with the hope of seeing concrete results by the end of the European legislature in mid-2024,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen