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Pro-Life series: Life and Death on Lampedusa

This is the 10th post in our "What Being Pro-Life Means to Me" series! What does being pro-life mean to you? Over this fall, we'll hear various writers respond to that question. Learn more and subscribe for weekly email updates. 

Lampedusa, Italy. October 3, 2013. A fishing boat 66 feet long filled with over 500 people—mostly Africans from Eritrea, Somalia, and Ghana—catches on fire a quarter mile off the coast of Lampedusa, resulting in 368 deaths, 155 survivors, and a wake-up call to the world that the world’s deadliest migration route had claimed even more lives.

Lampedusa, Italy. October 3, 2015. A crowd of approximately 250 people (including me) gather for an interfaith ceremony entitled, “Commemoration between Sea and Sky.” It was a ceremony organized by several entities including Mediterranean Hope (my colleagues in providing services to migrants and refugees in Italy) and the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy. It was designed to commemorate migrants and refugees who have died at sea or on land and to publicly proclaim our continued commitment to advocating for the rights of migrants and refugees worldwide, especially those trying to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East.

It was indeed a moving ceremony, attended by representatives of various religious communities (Protestant, Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, and Mormon), citizens of Lampedusa, survivors and family members of those who died in 2013, and other people like myself who are working to protect the rights of people seeking refuge worldwide, including the right to life. It was haunting to hear the stories of those who died (and the circumstances that led up to their deaths). It was an honor to meet some of the survivors—and family members of the deceased—as well as those who helped with rescue efforts. It was also hopeful to hear this group of people “commit ourselves and the communities of believers to which we belong and from which we pray for peace and justice, to acceptance and solidarity in the context of global migration, environmental crisis, poverty, and the question of peace and security.”[1]

This ongoing commitment is needed now more than ever, as, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, over 2,900 additional people have died in attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Africa and the Middle East to Italy, and approximately 131,000 have been rescued or arrived safely in 2015.[2]  The top five countries of origin for new arrivals in Italy this year are Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria.  

Those who arrive in Italy safely continue to face intense obstacles, as they are sorted into two groups: those who will get to stay in Europe and those who will be “refouled” (returned to their country of origin). They stay in institutionalized reception centers as their legal fates are determined, often by inaccurate or incomplete information.  They struggle to access basic services, such as medical care, food, clothing, housing, and a legal source of income. They are at great risk of continued violence and exploitation. And they often feel as though the world has forgotten about them. In the words of a 16-year old girl I met from Nigeria, “I feel as though the world does not want me to exist. Why do people not care about me?”

To be pro-life means accepting migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East as our neighbors, and loving these neighbors as ourselves. It means saying no to global indifference to their deaths and incredible struggles to live lives free from violence, war, persecution, deadly illnesses, environmental disasters, and poverty, and saying yes to humane ideas, actions, systems, and laws that protect lives worldwide. And it means tearing down humanitarian caste systems—which are man-made and reside outside of the love, grace, and mercy of God—that promote the idea that some groups of people (based on race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, gender, age, education, etc.) are worthy of refuge while others are not. For as we read in Deuteronomy 10: 17-19, ”For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

[1] Taken from the liturgy of the Interfaith Commemoration Service on Lampedusa, October 3, 2015


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