Churches address refugee flight from Libyan chaos

April 11, 2011

The World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches
and the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe have expressed
concern over the humanitarian situation in Libya after reports that 250
migrants fleeing the chaos were missing after their boat sank off the
Italian coast.

In a joint statement released shortly after the
April 6 tragedy, the ecumenical groups praised governments and aid
agencies giving assistance but said the response needed widening "to
provide aid and protection to refugees, migrant workers and other people
at risk, and to enhance efforts to find peaceful and just solutions to
the crisis in Libya."

Specific needs cited include protection and
assistance for those who cannot return to their homes and keeping
borders open for those fleeing from conflict, the church bodies said.

News
reports and a UN refugee commission said the boat was carrying about
300 people and capsized on its way to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
UN commissioner António Guterres said, "These people were refugees
twice. They fled war and persecution in their own countries and now, in
their attempt to seek safety in Italy, they tragically lost their
lives."

The UN and other humanitarian organizations have been on
the lookout for refugees in distress, Guterres said. Thousands of people
from nations such as Somalia, Nigeria and Ivory Coast who had been
working in Libya are fleeing the country by land or sea as warfare
between dictator Muammar Qaddafi and opposition forces escalated.
Guterres estimated on April 5 that 439,000 people have fled Libya.

Faith
coalitions such as ACT Alliance have provided relief at border camps
such as the Ras Adjir crossing between Libya and Tunisia. The ACT
team—staffed by ACT member bodies, including Norwegian Church Aid,
Finn­ChurchAid, the Lutheran World Fed­eration and the Church of
Sweden—have coordinated work with UN units. The team is made up of
experts in water and sanitation, emergency response and psychosocial
activities.  —ENInews