The Libya-Tunisia border, where thousands are fleeing to escape the violence in Libya. Photo:ACT/Church of Sweden/Sarah Harrison
The World Council of Churches, Conference of European Churches and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe on April 6 expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in Libya after reports that 250 migrants fleeing the chaos were missing after their boat sank off the Italian coast.
In a joint statement, the three groups expressed appreciation for the various governments and aid agencies providing assistance, but added that the response needs to be broadened "to provide aid and protection to refugees, migrant workers and other people at risk, and to enhance efforts to find peaceful and just solutions to the crisis in Libya."
The church groups said the specific needs to be addressed immediately involve protection and assistance for those who cannot return to their homes, and keeping borders open so people can flee from conflict areas.
According to news reports and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the boat was carrying about 300 people and capsized on 6 April on its way to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The high commissioner, Antonio Guterres, said, "These people were refugees twice. They fled war and persecution in their own countries and now, in their attempt to seek safety in Italy, they tragically lost their lives."
It was particularly disturbing, Guterres said, at a time when UNHCR and other organizations are providing humanitarian aid and refugee protection to people fleeing across the land borders of Libya. "I appeal to all those patrolling the Mediterranean Sea to do everything they can to help vessels in distress," he said, according to the UNHCR website. Thousands of people from nations such as Somalia, Nigeria and Ivory Coast who had been working in Libya are fleeing the country by land or sea as warfare between dictator Moammar Gadhafi and opposition forces has escalated. Guterres estimated on 5 April that 439,000 people have fled Libya.
Faith coalitions such as ACT Alliance have been providing relief at border camps such as the Ras Adjir crossing between Libya and Tunisia. The ACT team, which comprises staff of ACT member organisations Norwegian Church Aid, FInnChurchAid, the Lutheran World Federation and the Church of Sweden, have coordinated work with U.N. units. The team is made up of experts in water and sanitation, emergency response, and psychosocial activities.
The full text of the church groups’ statement is available at http://www.oikoumene.org