Anti-mafia priest Father Luigi Ciotti, founder the association Libera (Free), has urged Italy to welcome migrants.
Father Luigi Ciotti, an activist who founded the anti-mafia association Libera (Free), told ANSA on Tuesday (April 4) that "poverty must not be criminalized" and that Europe needs to "seriously deal with the problem of immigration" while Italy "must continue to play its part" in hosting migrants and refugees.
Father Ciotti was speaking about 500 migrants on an overcrowded boat that departed from Libya, which was in distress in rough seas in the central Mediterranean on Tuesday.
The Alarm Phone hotline for people in distress at sea, which was first alerted on Monday (April 3), said "European authorities must immediately launch a rescue operation."
"Sea conditions are highly critical," noted the hotline on Tuesday, saying that it managed to re-establish contact with the boat, which is in the Maltese search and rescue (SAR) zone.
"We have repeatedly contacted the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre. During the last call, they suggested that we contact the Maltese coordination centre which they said is 'the authority in charge," the hotline claimed, asking "all authorities to take responsibility and to intervene without delay."
Ciotti defends NGOs, appeals to Europe
"It is necessary to urgently find a way to deal with this issue because it is not possible to continue to push back, it is not possible to actually criminalize NGOs," said Father Ciotti.
"We have the duty to ask ourselves what we can do," the activist continued, calling for "helpful solutions" for migrants, who should be aided "if possible in their environments" or, "if this isn't possible," who should be "welcomed in other contexts."
"Italy has always been very generous," he said.
"All of Europe should reflect greatly on this," said Father Ciotti, who arrived in the northern Italian city of Aosta on Tuesday at the invitation of the regional president of Libera, Donatella Corti, to meet students who were unable to attend the annual day of remembrance for the innocent victims of the mafia, celebrated on March 21 in Milan.
'Increasing number of migrants due to climate crisis, war'
"We must feel the duty to welcome, to rescue lives," the priest said.
Father Ciotti also called for an "international political commitment to deal with the problem of migration which is not an emergency, but a long-term issue that will continue, because an increasing number of people will leave their homes due to climate events as well as conflict and war."
He highlighted that there are currently "59 ongoing wars" globally and "millions of people have nowhere to go."
"They are fleeing violence, poverty, environmental crises and conflicts," he concluded.