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Italian bishops accept majority of Eritrean migrants stranded in Sicily

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Ireland and Albania are the only countries to offer help to take in refugees.

The Italian Bishops’ Conference has agreed to take in the majority of the migrants who have been left on an Italian Coast Guard vessel for the last 10 days. Of the migrants, mostly from the small African country, Eritrea, 100 will be taken in by the Italian Catholic Church, 20 will go to Ireland, and 20 to Albania. Previously 50 have been allowed to leave the ship for treatment of medical conditions.

The long wait began on August 16, when the Italian Coast Guard rescued these migrants from a trafficker’s vessel. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to grant them permission to disembark until a plan was in place to distribute the people across the EU, so as to not become a “burden” on the Italian people.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi urged European countries to lend a helping hand, but the only ones to rise to the occasion were Ireland and Albania, who will each accept 20 of these refugees. Washington Post reports, Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi thanked Albania, a country which is not affiliated with the European Union, for the sign of “great solidarity and friendship.”

Minister Salvini indirectly confirmed in a tweet that the Sicilian prosecutor has opened an investigation on his decision to keep the migrants on the ship. He said, “if he wants to interrogate me or even arrest me because I defend the borders and security of my country, I’m proud.”

CNA reports, on August 26, Pope Francis discussed the situation on his in-flight press conference from Dublin to Rome:

“The welcoming of migrants is something as old as the bible. It’s in Deuteronomy, in the Commandments. God commands welcoming the migrant, the foreigner. It’s so old that it is in the spirit of revelation but also in the spirit of Christianity. It’s a moral principle.” He said the imigrants are “going to a better world at Rocca di Papa,” an Italian town near Rome. “They will be welcomed there,” he added.

Pope Francis also decried the practice of sending refugees back to the countries from which they are trying to escape, noting that the consequences are often grave. He went on to illustrate the importance of offering a proper means of integration. As an example, the Pontiff spoke of a migrant girl whome he met when taking 13 Syrian refugees from Lesbos, in 2016. The girl, he says, is now studying at the university level.

“This is the work with migrants. There is an openness of heart for everyone, suffering, then integration as a condition for welcoming and then the prudence of those who govern for doing this,” he said.

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