Immediately following that tragedy, a small craft carrying about 80 migrants ran aground off the coast of Rhodes in Greece with at least three people reported dead.
UNHCR estimates that so far in 2015, more than 36 000 refugees and migrants have arrived in southern Europe by boat and – if the numbers from the latest disaster are confirmed – over 1600 have died. In 2014, around 219 000 people crossed the Mediterranean, and 3500 lives were lost.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has said: “This disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe. Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea, but it also points to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to this tragic end. I hope the European Union will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies.”
The Anglican Alliance calls on churches worldwide to pray for the refugees and migrants who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean boat disasters and for solutions to the issues of poverty and conflict that drive so many to make the perilous sea crossings in search of another life.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has spoken to the BBC about what coordinated action the international community can take to end the humanitarian crises in the Mediterranean – you can watch the interview here
Around the Anglican Communion, churches are responding to the situation with prayer and where possible with practical action. One remarkable response is found in Rome, Italy, where an Episcopal Church hosts an initiative for refugees. Over recent years they have seen a rapid rise in the number of refugees registering for assistance.
Located at St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church, the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center (JNRC) is a day center for refugees in the heart of Rome. The center welcomes over 200 guests each weekday, from 8:30 to 14:00. They currently register about 350 new guests per month at the JNRC.
The scope of services offered in the the center range from basic assistance to settlement services, and aims to address the needs of the whole person. For example, on a typical day in the JNRC, a light breakfast is served. Basic items such as razors, toothbrushes, socks and second hand clothing are distributed. English, Italian, and French classes challenge guests to learn and improve critical language skills. Guests enjoy foozball, ping pong, and watch movies or news bulletins from around the world, but also address spiritual needs through prayer in an interfaith prayer space.
Staff and volunteers accompany guests in their struggle to rebuild their lives through ongoing art and psychotherapy programs and legal support. This spectrum of services aims to address the immediate and urgent needs of newly arrived guests, as well as the needs of guests who (due to the Dublin Regulation) will seek to rebuild their lives in Italy.
On the evening of Friday 24 April, JNRC will be holding a vigil “recognising and honouring the lives of all migrants who seek safer and more peaceful lives”. They will be constructing a giant peace flag to fly from the church tower to symbolise their commitment to ‘welcome the stranger’ and to honour those whose lives have been lost.
JNRC needs volunteers and support to continue its inspiring work to offer “radical hospitality to refugees in the heart of Rome”. To find out how to support JNRC click here.
In the picture: Maltese emergency workers in Senglea responding to the 18-19 April Mediterranean boat disaster ©UNHCR/F.Ellul