“Misery, suffering and despair do not have a nationality. And faith, hope and love do not have a nationality.” Four months after their joint Palermo Appeal, Leoluca Orland, mayor of Palermo, and Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), have again launched an urgent appeal to the European Commission and to the governments and parliaments of European Union member states. The appeal calls for the release of all confiscated search and rescue ships.
“The criminalisation and prevention of civil search and rescue operations must stop,” Orlando and Bedford-Strohm declare in the document published today in Palermo. At the same time they call for the resumption of government search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. “Saving lives at sea is a public responsibility that must be assumed by European governments.” The EU governments have so far no clear vision of a solution of the humanitarian disaster that has been playing out for years now in the Mediterranean.
The renewed appeal underlines the Palermo Appeal of June this year, in which Palermo’s mayor and the EKD Council chair called for a European distribution mechanism for boat refugees. The appeal drew support from many mayors of cities and municipalities, along with representatives of churches and civil society all over Europe.
The appeal was published today parallel to the event at which EKD Council Chair Bedford-Strohm was awarded the honorary citizenship of the City of Palermo. At the ceremony in the town hall, Mayor Leoluca stated: “I got the idea of awarding honorary citizenship to Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm because we share many ideas relating to immigration policy, a culture of welcome, asylum law and rescue from distress at sea.” Like Palermo, the mayor added, the Evangelical Church in Germany and the bishop, in particular, were committed to finding a solution to an epoch-making phenomenon, in order to assist people fleeing from war, terror and persecution in search of a better life.
Bedford-Strohm replied: “I thank the people of Palermo and its mayor Leoluca Orlando for showing that politics with a human face is possible. That a city of openness and solidarity is a better place for everyone - for those who have been at home here for a long time and for those who are just beginning to be at home here. (…) I can proudly say today that I am a Palermitan.”
The bishop added that he was also glad of the appreciation shown to the countless volunteers in churches and in civil society organisations who were associated with this award.
“I accept this honour in their place: those who care for people in need – be it through the integration of refugees, be it through rescuing people from the sea, or supporting development projects or disaster relief – they all make an invaluable contribution to a world in which one day, every human being can live in dignity.”
The Palermo declaration reads as follows:
“The new European Parliament has begun its work. The new European Commission will most probably do the same on 1 November. Yet in Europe there are still strong tensions, populist and extremist tendencies, intolerance and racism. And the European governments continue to have no clear vision of a solution to the humanitarian disaster that has been playing out for years in the Mediterranean.
People are still trying to cross first the desert and then the Mediterranean to flee war, terror and persecution and seek a more dignified life in Europe. And that although the southern external border of our continent is still the deadliest border in the world: at least 994 people have drowned in the Mediterranean so far in 2019 and the unknown figures of victims is estimated at many times more.
Meeting in Malta in September, the interior ministers of several European states expressed the wish to find a sustainable political solution for the rescue and distribution of boat refugees. We hope that this will rapidly lead to a broader coalition of European states showing solidarity and assuming the responsibility for those people rescued in the Mediterranean. In addition, a long-term, Europe-wide solution is required for the humane reception of refugees and agreement on reforms to the Common European Asylum System.
Together with mayors of cities and municipalities, churches and civil society all over Europe, we therefore direct our renewed appeal to the governments, parliaments and the Commission of the European Union:
- Make the right to life and saving lives at sea a moral and legal obligation! Saving lives at sea is a public responsibility that must be assumed by European governments. We therefore call for the immediate resumption of government search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
- End the criminalisation and prevention of civil search and rescue operations! In view of the urgency of saving human lives at sea we call for the release of all confiscated or detained rescue vessels.
- Continue to take effective steps towards creating a functioning and humane asylum system with high reception standards at the European level, including a fair sharing of responsibility. Refugees need security, protection and a perspective for the future. Hence we hope for a policy that will respect the human dignity and human rights of refugees and migrants instead of relying on deterrence and closed borders.”
Hanover/Palermo, 4 October 2019
EKD Press Office