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Migrants: the Campaign “Free to leave, free to remain”: “land belongs to everyone”

Many people may consider it obvious, however, not everyone enjoys the right to be free: especially those forced to migrate because they do not lead a peaceful life in their home countries, because of persecution, wars, terrorism, poverty, hunger, environmental degradation. Or simply because there are no opportunities. In order to grant everyone the right to leave or to remain, the Italian Bishops’ Conference – CEI – launched a three-year Campaign with a budget of 30 million Euros for projects in the Countries of departure, transit and reception of migrant people. The project will be coordinated by the Charitable Interventions Service for Third World Countries, Caritas Italy, the Missio and Migrantes Foundations

“Nobody should be forced to live in places where they cannot lead dignified lives or where there is violence. At the same time, everyone should enjoy the right to freedom of movement because the planet belongs to everyone. We would like the concept envisaging the freedom to leave and to emigrate, to be applied in full.” Fr Leonardo Di Mauro, Director of the Charitable Intervention Service for Third World Countries explained the meaning of the CEI Campaign “Free to leave, free to remain”, presented on the occasion of the CEI General assembly and officially launched upon the conclusion of the autumn session of the Permanent Bishops’ Council (September 28 2017). The Italian Bishops decided to fund this extraordinary initiative with 30 million Euros from the eight-per-thousand tax devolution fund over a three-year period, given the geographic extension and the timeframe of the proposal. Concrete aspects of the project will be followed by the Charitable Intervention Services for Third World Countries, Caritas and Missio. The purpose of the Campaign is to raise national awareness and promote initiatives in migrants’ countries of departure, transit and reception. The central theme is the right to be free, that is fundamental to the establishment of peace and justice. Many people are forced to flee for a set of different reasons: lack of food, water, employment, extreme poverty, wars, natural disasters, climate change, environmental degradation. Privileged recipients include children and their families, the victims of trafficking and the weaker brackets. Areas of intervention include education and vocational training, ensuring information on the risks of migration along with healthcare and social programs for vulnerable persons, projects for the promotion of job opportunities and accompaniment to those returning to their home countries, reconciliation programs.

“Ensuring a dignified life to all.” Fr Leonardo Di Mauro explained: “the project does not entail fund-collection initiatives. In fact it will be financed with 30 million euro from the eight-per-thousand tax devolvement fund.” For Di Mauro, stating that “they should be helped in their home countries”, “only serves to pass the bucket.” For Fr Francesco Soddu, Director of Caritas Italy, this campaign “has an educational value that fully complies with our statutory mandate of ensuring the educational function of community animation for charitable purposes.” The initiative “encompasses the themes of acceptance, solidarity, sharing – noted Fr Soddu – but the central element of the proposal is to reiterate the importance of networking at educational level within a framework made of relationships, affectivity, educational responsibility, testimony, so that everyone, and especially younger migrants, may be free to choose the direction of their own life project.” In  other words,

“it is necessary to guarantee a dignified life to all to enable everyone to decide whether to remain in their home countries or emigrate and be welcomed into other Countries.”

Moreover, “enabling those who suffer to remain in their homeland – added the director of Caritas Italy – means focusing on integral human development, removing the causes of unbalance which often represent the cause of migrants’ departure and flight.” In his opinion, the primary commitment is to “feel and rediscover ourselves as a part of this Church made of communion and active communities, engaged and responsible, who meet, promote relations and build together, sensitive to even the smallest details while being able to extend our gaze over the horizon, reaching out to the world’s most remote places.”

Missionaries and those working with migrants. For 8 thousand priests, religious and lay missionaries who “dedicate their lives to the peoples so they may know the Gospel”, 400 of whom are Italian fidei donum, “support to those who decide to leave is crucial”: “the freedom and dignity of every person must be reaffirmed – pointed out Fr Michele Autuoro, director of Missio – so that the Gospel may usher in liberation, fulfilling hopes of dignity and of a full existence.”  “The condition of those who fled from their homelands and live in expectation is one of major uncertainty – he said –. The project envisages interventions also in transit countries like Libya, where living conditions in refugee camps are inhuman.” For Fr Gianni De Robertis, general director of Migrantes, who quoted Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, “the first freedom must be the freedom of not being forced to leave one’s country”: “Every tear is a form of suffering, nobody leaves their home country with a light heart .” As envisaged by the Campaign, which will also finance projects in countries of origin, “a certain circularity in migration is important so that persons may return and transform their experience in a form of wealth.”

Four funded projects. To date 4 projects have been financed in Italy, including a two-year training program of volunteer guardians of foreign unaccompanied minors in Catania, Ragusa, Agrigento, Mazara del Vallo and Messina. Courses and initiatives will be aimed at raising public awareness on volunteer guardianship as provided for in Law 47/2017. Approximately 20thousand minors who landed on Italian shores live in reception centres. Also in Morocco, a transit Country where migrants trying to reach Spain live in inhuman conditions – many of them sleep in large cement pipes and have nothing to eat – CEI will finance a program to help unaccompanied minors integrate into the life of the Country.

Landings and victims: the numbers. Over 500 thousand people from over 80 different countries – mostly African – arrived into Italy in the past three years. As a result of the recent agreements between Italy and Libya, 102 migrants have landed in Italy to date, amounting to 21% less compared to 2016. In the meantime they are dying by the thousands (5thousand only in 2016) in the attempt to cross the Channel of Sicily: the most dangerous and mortal stretch of sea in the world. Figures released by the UNHCR show that at least 2 thousand more people have died in 2017 compared to 2016. The latest shipwreck, with approximately one hundred displaced, stranded persons, left without relief, occurred on September 21 off Libyan coasts.

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