State of Safi detention centre leaves bishops shocked

President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants left with ‘bad impression’ of detention centres, ‘nothing more than a prison’.

Bishops and delegates from Europe's Bishops Conference were left "shocked" by the situation at the Safi detention centre, insisting that it was "nothing more than a prison".

The Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) organised a seminar for bishops and delegates with responsibility for the pastoral care of migrants in Malta. Yesterday, the group of around 40 participants visited the detention centre in Safi and the open centre in Balzan, which is managed by the Church.

Addressing a news conference, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò said the detention centre left him "with a bad impression".

"It's nothing more than a prison. It's dirty and the migrants are in a disastrous state. What's worse is they have nothing to do all day along... maybe some of them play football," he said.

"It's upsetting to see how these centres - and not only in Malta - take away the life and enthusiasm of these young men."

Pope Francis, who in September urged countries to welcome and respect migrants and refugees and not treat them as "pawns on the chessboard of humanity", said there should be a change in attitude on the part of host countries.

"They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more," the Pontiff had said.

Today, Vegliò told the conference discussing integration and inclusion, that migrants were not numbers.

"They are human beings who have to be treated with dignity and respect. That is their inalienable fundamental right," he said.

He said that one had to understand the migrants' suffering, who in a family's dream of a better life, they split up in the hope of reuniting again one day.

The bishops said that financial assistance was not enough for migrants. "Financial aid is important... but not everything. Solidarity does not stop at forking out money but making a migrant feel part of the community."

He said that the Church preached about community work because its mission was to see that the vulnerable were not to be alienated.

Pre-empting journalists' questions, Vegliò said there was a lot that the Church did to help and support the migrants: "We do give a lot of support to the communities and our role is very important. The Pope wants us to get out of our comfort zone, take the initiative, to be the first to approach the needy rather than them coming to us."

The Cardinal, like the Pope, insisted that the issue of migration and the deaths at sea were not the responsibility of only one country, but the whole of Europe.

"No country can do this on its own. Malta is not the migrants' final destination country... but a country of transit. Migrants want to go upwards towards Europe. And these countries must come together in an understanding that these individuals are not a burden."

But as much as member states such as Malta, Italy and Greece have called for burden sharing - now referred to as responsibility sharing - many member states, especially those in the North, are reluctant to budge.

Most crucial, border countries seek changes to the Dublin II regulations. According to these regulations, countries taking in irregular migrants are responsible from processing their claims for asylum.

When 130 migrants died in a shipwreck off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Pope Francis had labelled the tragedy "a disgrace" and had accused world leaders of "global indifference".

"It's time for the European community to listen. Something is being done, but there is an element of coldness aw well. How the law is framed, makes it easier for countries to take their distance," Vegliò said.

While the Church had its social role to carry out, its focal point was pastoral care and it therefore could not replace NGOs, according to Cardinal Josip Bozanić, the Archbishop of Zagreb who is chairing the meeting.

"The Church cannot be compared with other organisation. It has a specific pastoral mission which cannot substitute NGOs," Bozanić said.

The Archbishop insisted that as a Church, priests had to guide individuals in the way of the Lord.

This year, Pope Francis turned to the Archdioceses of the world, urging them to open up their buildings and places and welcome the most vulnerable.

In Malta, the Maltese Archdiocese had long been taking an active approach in supporting migrants. Today, the Church caters for around 400 beds in different localities around the island.

Mgr Alfred Vella, director of the Malta Emigrants Commission, said the Archdiocese was now in the process of refurbishing one of its centres to take in more migrants families.

Plans were also in the pipeline to open a day centre, allowing mothers to find a job and be in a position to provide for their children.

"We were on the right track and did the right thing when the Maltese Church took an active role and opened its doors to support migrants," Vella said.

"But if the problem keeps on getting bigger, it doesn't mean we have to give up. It means that we must continue doing our utmost."

He said that the Maltese Archdiocese always cooperated with civil society to ensure solidarity and a collective approach to a complex problem.

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Detenetion Centre is another word for prison. If you come to a place without telling who you are and where you come from, then it means that we do not know if you are a criminal or not. How can we treat you as a prince especially if you're a criminal? Regularise yourself or just wait, the time will pass .. and keep tidy.
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Maybe they should take the migrants with them to other European destinations and WILL DO THEM AND US A FAVOUR! They said nothing which we did not already know... they just came over for a break..... and they certainly not staying in a "detention centre" for their break but in some five star accommodation! Their HOLIER THAN THOU attitude is just not credible !
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Maybe they should take the migrants with them to other European destinations and WILL DO THEM AND US A FAVOUR!
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Fir Gods' sake it is a DETENTION centre and a DETENTION centre is not supposed to be a 7* hotel. What did the Bishops expect?
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mhux kekk mr vella if the problem keeps getting bigger nitielqu ahna ifmuha hawn mawx post zghir wisq il problema mhux taghna imma tal gvernijiet taghhom dan kollu inkwiet zejjed bizzejjed ghandna problemi
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Same rhetoric all over again. The church does a lot of talking but very slow in doing the walking. If the church, especially the Jesuits are so concerned about the state of the detention camps why doesn't the church open their properties, which are plenty and accommodate the illegal immigrants on these properties? The Jesuits alone have an estate at Naxxar that can accommodate quite a few families if they choose to. The church owns more real estate in Malta and Gozo than the government does. Why not put their money where their mouths are and practice what they preach. How about that piece of empty real estate at Marfa,where those three pedophile priests used to defile children?
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joseph mercieca
Now they are talking. For 25 years they kept their mouth shut. Being so alarmed why don't they lend a couple of empty convents or some of the many empty buildings they own. As the Italian say PAROLE SI FATTI NO. Doctors heal thyselves
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what do the bishops want ??? open our detention centres ???? so they are selling citizenship to attract high net worth people and then they do want ILLEGAL immigrant running freely "opened its doors to support migrants" - how...open the curia doors?