Pope calls for greater respect for migrants

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis said yesterday that those who "close the door" to refugees seeking a safe haven in Europe should ask God's forgiveness, as tensions rose in the European Union over the migrant crisis.

A day after European interior ministers failed to agree on how to stem the flow of migrants from across the Mediterranean or house the thousands of new arrivals, Pope Francis demanded greater respect for "our brothers and sisters who seek refuge far from their own lands".

"I encourage those who bring them aid and hope that the international community will act in a united and efficient fashion to prevent the causes of forced migration," he said. "And I invite everyone to ask God's pardon for those people and institutions who close the door to those who are seeking a family, who are seeking to be protected."

Italy has threatened a backlash if other EU states refuse to share the burden of asylum seekers. But even so, ministers made no decision to carry out proposals by the European Commission for quotas to redistribute 40,000 refugees.

European leaders swore action after an estimated 800 migrants died in a shipwreck in April - the worst disaster yet in the Mediterranean in a year in which 1,800 have died trying to cross from Africa and the Middle East in flimsy boats.

In one of the largest pledges of help so far, France said yesterday that it would create an additional 10,500 housing places for migrants.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year, 60,000 through Italy alone, according to the EU's border agency Frontex.

But with no sign of agreement, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has warned of a "Plan B" that would "hurt Europe" if it fails to show solidarity with overstretched frontline states like Italy and Greece.

He did not specify what options Italy could use, but Italian media said Rome could start issuing newly arrived migrants with temporary visas giving them the right to travel throughout the Schengen zone.

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano warned on Tuesday that European unity will be at risk if a deal is not reached. "The principle of responsibility and solidarity are at stake," he said. "We are working to prevent Europe from becoming politically bankrupt."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'Pope calls for greater respect for migrants'. Print Edition | Subscribe