IFRC


President of the Italian Red Cross and vice president of the IFRC, Francesco Rocca, Remarks to the press, Catania, Sicily, 21 April 2015

Published: 23 April 2015

As is often the case, we need to report hundreds of deaths to draw attention to an issue which has affected our country and Europe for more than 20 years. An issue to which European institutions have never responded in a coordinated manner. We continue to say ‘emergency’ for something that, in reality, has been an uninterrupted phenomenon for years.

We, the Red Cross, can say we are slightly offended to have to call this an emergency and to have to take emergency actions to respond to an issue which has been present for a long time.

The work done by the Red Cross so far has been terrific. Our response has involved more than 1,000 volunteers since the beginning of this year. These 1,000 people have provided assistance voluntarily and unconditionally to migrants as they arrive. Italy and Europe should thank these volunteers – together with other institutions such as the Coastguard. Our volunteers have constantly provided not just basic assistance but also other services; they have helped to reunite families by connecting with other national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, a service that has helped people around the world who were desperately looking for some information about a family member, a relative or a friend.

What can we do now? Surely, the Italian Red Cross wants to underline how Triton is not the right answer to this issue. Mare Nostrum, the former Italian answer to the issue, has been replaced by this European action which now costs one third of the funds originally allocated to Mare Nostrum, and which has a totally different mission, which is not the ‘search and rescue’.

As underlined by our Prime Minister (Matteo Renzi NDR), this tragedy might not have been avoided with Mare Nostrum – especially if true that the two boats collided. But how many capsized boats do we never hear about now? Lives which, thanks to a mission such as Mare Nostrum, could be saved?

In an unclear international situation such as this, can bombing the traffickers boats be the only answer? We know this phenomenon has not stopped for 20 years. Humanitarian action needs to take a central role. We shouldn’t only focus on the security theme – though stopping criminality is vital.

Without humanitarian action in Libya, we simply look away from the problem and pretend people are not escaping wars and conflicts. These people will inevitably find different routes to flee their countries. We can close one route, but as yesterday’s tragedy in Rhodes shows, there are other ways that people will find to reach Europe.

We can’t display signs with ‘Bring back our girls’ messages when we see what is happening in Nigeria and then pretend that a mother does not have right to flee that country to find better life conditions for her children elsewhere.

We can’t pretend that migration from the Horn of Africa will stop only because we are sinking the traffickers boats. These boats will be replaced by others.

The Red Cross calls on institutions for a response that will put human beings back at the centre of the issue. If we don’t manage to give concrete answers to those fleeing war, we would not only have lost 800 lives, but also our European citizen’s consciences.

Let’s stop calling human beings ‘clandestine’ and ‘illegal’. We have a committee to verify their conditions which we trust as we have signed international conventions.

Let’s put human beings back at the centre of our response, our governments’ and the international community’s action. Because the other themes and issues that seem to prevail do not respect their dignity.

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