To all my French friends, Happy Bastille Day!


(Vatican Radio) Caritas Europa and its local partners have called on the French and Italian governments to take action to respect the human dignity and fundamental rights of migrants stuck in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia. Caritas says more than a thousand migrants are stranded in “dire conditions” in Ventimiglia, having being denied entry into France by border police. The standoff has escalated tensions between the two neighbouring countries over the free movement of migrants to northern Europe. Marie Tempesta is the Policy and Advocacy Officer for Caritas Europa and she spoke to Susy Hodges about this issue.

Stranded in Ventimiglia with no proper reception centre, Tempesta said most of the migrants are having to sleep out in the open in what she described as “almost disastrous conditions” and they include pregnant women, children and babies.  The fortunate ones are being housed in a local Catholic Church which has some showers in its basement but it’s not nearly enough to cater for the needs of all those stranded in the border town. Most of the migrants were from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia but Tempesta said they include some asylum seekers from Syria. She described how the local Caritas partners were helping to distribute hygiene kits containing the bare essentials.


EU seeks to “externalise” migrant crisis

Asked about the attitude of European Union nations towards the migrants and asylum seekers and how to solve the issue, Tempesta said showing “solidarity” towards these vulnerable people is the only “effective, long-term solution” for tackling this crisis. She criticized what she called moves to “externalize” the migrant crisis in Europe by persuading third party countries to take in the migrants and prevent them from coming to the EU in the first place.

Following is a press release from Caritas Europa on its appeal for Italy and France to take action on this issue:

“Caritas Europa, together with its members Secours Catholique-Caritas France and Caritas Italy, calls on the EU and in particular on the French and Italian governments to take action to respect the human dignity and fundamental rights of migrants stuck in Ventimiglia, Italy.

On 24 June, at Caritas Ventimiglia-San Remo’s 25th anniversary celebrations, the youngest person in the audience was Sharifa Maria, a baby girl only a few days old. She is the first baby born in the “camp” opened by Caritas Ventimiglia-San Remo to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in Ventimiglia. But she will certainly not be the last one as several pregnant women live in the camp.

Migrants, mostly Sudanese, Eritreans and Ethiopians, arrived in Ventimiglia from Sicily with the hope of continuing their journey to France and northern Europe. However, they were blocked at the border between Italy and France. Stuck in Ventimiglia, with no access to any type of services or any proper reception centres, the families, pregnant women, children and babies are forced to sleep outside.

On 31 May, Mons. Suetta opened the church Sant’Antonio to provide a safe haven for 5,000 exhausted migrants, a place of respite for the people before they reattempt to cross the border. To further ease their suffering, Caritas Ventimiglia-San Remo, with the support of the Nice delegation of Secours Catholique-Caritas France, Caritas Monaco and other Christian and Islamic organisations, is distributing food, hygiene kits and clothes. The migrants also have access to a few showers in the basement of the church. In addition, Caritas has successfully advocated for the reopening of the reception centre in order to cover the basic needs and ensure respect for the human dignity of the migrants. The centre will finally open in a few days.

Yet, the situation remains dire and requires immediate action. Caritas Europa, Caritas Italy and Secours Catholique-Caritas France urge the EU and the Italian and French authorities to:

  • Provide for the basic needs of migrants, including those in transit, to guarantee their human dignity and refrain from using arbitrary detention or arrest;
  • Guarantee solidarity and responsibility-sharing among EU Member States and between the EU and non-EU countries; Italian and French governments must agree on a common response to the situation, respecting the fundamental rights of migrants;
  • Give priority to protecting people instead of protecting borders, with particular attention to women and children;
  • Open more safe and legal paths to come to Europe