Pope hailed for efforts for migrants

Pope Francis has been lauded for his efforts on behalf of migrants by the head of the world’s leading inter-governmental organisation working on their behalf.

During an audience with the Pontiff this week, William Lacy Swing, director general of the International Organisation for Migration paid tribute to “the first Pope to visit Lampedusa” and hailed his “continued engagements on behalf of migrants and other vulnerable people”.

Taking place on Monday, the papal audience came just two days after the latest tragedy for migrants attempting the perilous crossing from North Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa. When their boat capsized, at least 33 migrants drowned before rescuers could reach them. Only days before, major international media attention was drawn to the plight of migrants when, in a similar tragedy, more than 300 people, including children and pregnant women drowned when their boat sank.

Following that prominent sinking, Pope Francis arranged for the survivors to receive international calling cards so frantic relatives could be contacted and reassured.

Even before the sinkings, Pope Francis had travelled to Lampedusa – in July – to raise awareness of the migrant situation there, and criticised the global “indifference” to migrants.

“I certainly share his view,” said Mr Swing after the papal audience and as he prepared for his own trip to Lampedusa on Wednesday. “He was very critical of all of us in the international community and I confessed that we haven’t done enough. I said to him that I thought his criticism was well placed and would be useful to all of us as we look at what we’re doing.”

With Italy increasing its maritime patrols in an attempt to prevent further loss of life on the Mediterranean, and calling for wider European cooperation in this task, Mr Swing stressed: “The top priority now has to be saving life.”