Hope breaking out in the face of overwhelming odds
July 25, 2021
On Oct. 3, 2013, the world watched in horror as photos emerged of a boat full of migrants from the horn of Africa, seeking refuge on the Italian island of Lampedusa, sank, killing more than 350 people.
Paolo Naso, a layperson in the Waldensian Church and national coordinator for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) global partner Mediterranean Hope’s Refugee and Migrant Program, was one of those people. Mediterranean Hope had been active in welcoming and walking alongside migrants and refugees in Italy and advocating for just policies. In an instant the organization knew it was not enough.
Naso was one of the speakers at a recent webinar offered by the Office of Public Witness (OPW), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and Presbyterian World Mission on the migration crisis in Southern Europe, moderated by Luciano Kovacs, coordinator of World Mission’s Office of the Middle East and Europe.
“History and current global polices in the Global North are hugely responsible for causing people to forcibly leave their countries,” he said when introducing the speakers. “A study by Brown University in 2020 analyzed data related to forced migrations from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Somalia and the Philippines, following the U.S.-led war on terror from 2001-2019. These conflicts have caused 36,869,026 refugees and internally displaced people. Many of these forced migrants reached the coasts of Italy and Greece. Today we will learn what churches and [nongovernmental organizations] in those countries are doing to alleviate the suffering of so many people.”
Mediterranean Hope knew it must develop a creative strategy to facilitate a legal and sustainable process of migration, especially for those who are most vulnerable.
In their research they discovered a forgotten, never-implemented article in the Italian Constitution and offered a proposal to the government to open humanitarian corridors from some North African countries. Article 10 said, “A foreign national, who is denied — in his or her country — the enjoyment of the democratic freedoms established by this Constitution shall be entitled to the right of asylum in the Republic under such conditions as shall be established by law.”
With a plan and support, they would arrive in Italy welcomed by churches, and begin a process of integration.
The Italian government experimented with an Italian humanitarian corridor and succeeded in accommodating thousands of people who arrived legally and with dignity.
More recently France, Germany and Belgium have adopted similar policies. The humanitarian corridors became the model to offer a safe passage to safe countries and facilitate the process of integration.
He paraphrased a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as motivation for their actions. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe no politic nor popular, but one must take the position because conscience tells us it is right. It is important to our faith.”
Also speaking from Mediterranean Hope was Ibrahim Diabate, born in Ivory Coast, who, thanks to a scholarship, became an intercultural mediator and legal operative on behalf of migrants. For the last two years, he has been on Mediterranean Hope’s staff as a cultural ambassador in Calabria, Italy.
Diabate said Calabria is an area of poverty and social discrimination, organized crime and exploited people. It is a lush area of the country where citrus is grown. Migrants become laborers who cannot afford to buy even necessities.
“There are not poor countries and rich countries in the world, but we are all part of the world together,” he said. “We are all children of God. The same blood runs in all our veins. How can I live when you deny me my rights? How can I live when you treat me as a slave? How can I live when you consider me less?”
The final speaker was human rights activist Efi Latsoudi, one of the founders of Lesvos Solidarity, a grassroots organization based on Lesvos Island in Greece. Lesvos Solidarity runs educational, psychosocial and medical programs for refugees and has a strong advocacy program for refugees’ rights. Latsoudi is the founder of the open refugee camp Pikpa, an autonomous and self-run camp for vulnerable refugees, which was forcibly closed by the Greek authorities in October 2020.
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, July 25, 2021, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Today’s Focus: Mediterranean refugees
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Thank you, great God and Father, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us. To you be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all the world and all generations. Amen.