Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

Pope Francis calls for safe port for migrants on two rescue ships

Some 49 migrants are "seeking a safe port where they can disembark," the Pope said

Pope Francis leads the Epiphany mass at the Vatican. AFP
Pope Francis leads the Epiphany mass at the Vatican. AFP

Pope Francis urged European leaders on Sunday to stop bickering over the fate of 49 migrants blocked aboard two humanitarian rescue ships on the Mediterranean and give them a safe port of call.

With his comments at his address to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square at the end marking the feast of the Epiphany, Francis jumped into a diplomatic fracas between Italy and Malta.

"I make a heartfelt appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity for these people," Pope Francis said.

They were "seeking a safe port where they can disembark," he said.

Thirty-two people are aboard the Sea-Watch 3, a vessel run by a German humanitarian group, which plucked them from an unsafe boat off the coast of Libya on December 22. They include three small children and four teenagers. Another ship run by the German humanitarian group, Sea-Eye, carries 17 people rescued on December 29 on board its ship.

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Last week, nearly two dozen humanitarian groups, including Amnesty International and the United Nations' International Organization for Migration, called on the European Union to offer a safe port to both vessels.

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the 5-Star Movement, has said Italy would take in women and children if Malta allowed the ships to dock. But Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-immigrant League party and has closed ports to rescue ships, opposes this.

Pope Francis will visit the UAE in February in a landmark moment for interfaith relations and the first visit of a Pope to the Arabian Gulf.

Updated: January 6, 2019 03:38 PM

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