Archbishop defies clampdown, visits migrant rescue vessel stuck in Malta

Archbishop defies clampdown, visits migrant rescue vessel stuck in Malta

The Archbishop on board the MV Lifeline. Photo: Curia

Updated at 9.50pm with association of social workers statement

Archbishop Charles Scicluna visited a migrant rescue vessel currently impounded in Malta on Saturday to express solidarity with NGOs’ mission to save lives at sea, in defiance of a political clampdown. 

Mgr Scicluna visited the MV Lifeline, the German NGO’s vessel caught up in a legal quandary after saving migrants from the sea last June. 

Read: Activists dress as dogs, with life vests, in migrant ship protest

His visit coincides with the 14th day since a group of migrants were saved off Libya by the Sea-Watch NGO but 49 people remain stranded just three miles off Malta, sparking diplomatic spats at EU level over who should assume responsibility for them.

Italian deputy prime minister Luigo di Maio said late on Friday that Italy would welcome the children and women stranded on rescue ships, blaming the Maltese for their predicament. But the impasse persisted on Saturday.

A mother and a child on board the stranded Sea Watch 3, off Malta's shores. Photo: Chris GrodotzkiA mother and a child on board the stranded Sea Watch 3, off Malta’s shores. Photo: Chris Grodotzki

The Archbishop appealed to EU leaders to take in the stranded migrants, urging them to show solidarity with the most vulnerable. 

The migration phenomenon needed a European solution, but it was an injustice that people ended up as victims to the negotiations, Mgr Scicluna said. 

“People’s lives are priceless and negotiations should never take place at the expense of the suffering,” he said.

His statement echoed that made hours earlier by the NGO Mission Lifeline: “They are hosting 49 desperate and vulnerable rescued persons, cruelly held on the fringes of Europe’s border while the political machine allows such disregard for maritime and humanitarian legal customs.”

Mission Lifeline said it knows all too well the dire humanitarian consequences that result from governments playing “port roulette” with the lives of others.

“We stand in fierce, unshakeable solidarity with our co-defenders of human rights at sea… While we recognise the challenges of migration policy, we will not allow this legitimate conversation to be conflated with a desire to devalue human life.”

The NGO said that as long as people continue to flee in search of freedom and safety, it will continue to extend its help, in strict adherence to international maritime and human rights obligations.

Echoing a previous bishops’ statement, they said: “What’s the point of being a Christian who recalls the birth of a child but then refusing to save our brothers? What’s the point of promoting life and then choosing to leave people out at sea facing death?”

Later on Saturday, the Maltese Association of Social Workers called on all politicians “and people of good will” to show solidarity with those stuck at sea. 

“The Maltese government has rightfully highlighted the political responsibility,” the MASW said, referring to the government highlighting on Friday how Italy bore responsibility for 49 migrants stuck at sea. 

“However now it is time to save those who are risking their lives as we speak,” MASW continued. “While it is paramount that an urgent solution needs to be found, the number one priority should be to save people’s lives”. 

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