A drifting boat

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European Union and immigration policies

A drifting boat?

The death of 73 potential seekers of political asylum on board a drifting boat in the Mediterranean, as reported by some survivors on 20 August, increasingly seems the perverse result of a shift in policies in the field of immigration as implemented both by the European Union and by individual member states. Externalization of frontiers. The fight against clandestine immigration has long been on the agenda of European policy, also because the various countries have failed to reach an agreement on a far-sighted management of legal immigration and because the restrictive measures adopted enjoy the huge support of public opinion. The abolition of internal frontiers has made necessary the reinforcement of external frontiers, thus assigning greater responsibilities to the Mediterranean countries and the new member states of Central and Eastern Europe. The EU has created the FRONTEX agency that coordinates the police forces of member states for the control of frontiers, and allocated huge funds to "seal" the land frontiers to the East and organize more efficient maritime patrols at sea. The process of "externalizing" European frontiers has then been continued by making overtures to and seeking the cooperation of neighbouring countries. Over the last few years bilateral accords for the repatriation of immigrants have been signed with Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Turkey, Ukraine and Belarus, persuading them to take back not only their own citizens but also all the other clandestine immigrants that have passed through their territory. These countries have also received the necessary resources and funds to set up holding centres. According to many testimonies, grave violations of human rights have been ascertained in these camps. Collateral effects. These measures have had disastrous collateral effects, such as the prolongation of the routes with corresponding increase of the dangers - embarked on by migrants, the growth of the profits of the traffickers of human beings and the further erosion of the right to asylum. For years asylum seekers have been forced to pursue the roads of irregular immigration to reach Europe. It is virtually impossible for them to obtain exit visas in their countries of origin. According to the Dublin accord, asylum seekers should present an application for asylum in the first safe European country they reach. The EURODAC database of fingerprints makes it possible to establish whether an asylum-seeker who has arrived in Germany has already made such an application in Greece or in Italy, from whence asylum-seekers are promptly sent back. European legislation has in fact caused the collapse of asylum systems in many small countries such as Malta and Cyprus, with devastating consequences for refugees; it has even contributed to a situation in which Greece has rejected the asylum applications of thousands of immigrants who had a right to some form of protection. It has also produced the effect of exonerating countries from any responsibility or obligation to come to the assistance of boat people at sea. Web of responsibilities. At the present time there is an ever more complicated web of conflicting responsibilities in the Channel of Sicily as regards the rejection of clandestine immigrants or the rescue of migrants at sea, involving Italy, Malta and the FRONTEX Agency. It is to be hoped that the judicial authorities will ascertain whether the deaths of recent days were the victims of a squalid game of passing the buck. Whatever the case, questions need to be asked about a process of closing the doors to immigrants that arises from the lack of an innovative policy of immigration, in the hope that humanitarian and religious organization, far-sighted politicians at the European and national levels and numerous citizens may grasp this latest tragedy as a chance to reverse the process that is leading to the construction of a "Fortress Europe" based on the violation of the human rights of migrants. If that were to happen, the dream of a "space of freedom, security and justice" that accompanies the development of the European Union would be destroyed for us all: a "space" in defence of which the voice of the Catholic Church has also been raised on various occasions. Centre of Studies and Research on Emigration (CSERPE) - Basel

The Archbishop of Malta, the Most Rev. Paolo Cremona, has appealed to the Maltese State "always to take into consideration the ethical dimension in relations with other countries" as particularly regards the phenomenon of immigration. In a statement released on 24 August, he comments on the much-reported case of the failure to come to the rescue of the boat packed with Eritrean immigrants that has led to a diplomatic standoff between Italy and Malta. According to the archbishop, the States involved in the phenomenon of boat people "are called to work together to find just ways of how to accept these people, help them, and with the aid of other States, especially those within Europe, try to provide a home for them also in other countries, so as reduce the burden that would otherwise fall on those where they have disembarked". That's why, Mgr. Cremona continues, "Malta ought to recommend to other States not only to concentrate their efforts on the repatriation of the immigrants who seek asylum, but also discuss with governments how their security can best be safeguarded. Any political solution that would damage the health and safety of these persons is unjust". Entering more directly into the row between Italy and Malta, the archbishop makes the point that "our discussion with neighbouring states on territorial waters ought to focus not on who should or should not provide emergency assistance, but on clear rules on who is responsible for assisting immigrants at sea irrespective of the place where they disembark". This is a decision that "cannot be taken in times of crisis, still less after news of tragedies at sea".

Malta, Slovenia, Ireland Malta: boat people, priority to save human lives

Slovenia: no rehabilitation of Communism

On April 2nd, the European Parliament asked to "proclaim August 23rd as the European Memorial Day for the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, to commemorate them in a dignified and unbiased way". So the Justice and Peace Commission of the Slovenian Bishops Conference invited the Slovenian public opinion to celebrate, on 23 August, the European Memorial Day for the Slovenian Victims of Totalitarian and Dictatorial Regimes: first and foremost, the victims of the Nazi and Fascist occupation, then the revolution carried out by the Communist Party. "We Slovenians - reads the document signed by mgr. Anton Stres, archbishop coadjutor of Maribor and president of the Justice and Peace Commission - are one of those European peoples that have been hit hardest by the fascist, Nazi and communist terror and violence. In Slovenian public opinion, Nazism and fascism are appropriately rated and rejected, while for the totalitarian communist regime we are still waiting for an unequivocal condemnation". "The reasons - the text reads - are varied. One can be found in the fact communism stayed in power for a long time in Slovenia, hiding its real face". "In recent times - the document underlines - there are some who try even to 'rehabilitate' our Communist past and its authorities, diminishing the crimes committed by the leaders of the regime. Renaming the main street of Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, in honour of Tito and continuing to maintain the names of streets and squares that commemorate leaders of the Communist regime is completely in opposition to the letter and spirit of the aforesaid Declaration of the European Parliament and Resolution No. 1481 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of 26 January 2006 on the need for international condemnation of the crimes of Communist totalitarian regimes". "The ultimate aim of these commemorations - points out the document - must be the reconciliation of the Slovenian people, because real and lasting reconciliation can only be based on the truth". The Justice and Peace Commission of the Slovenian Bishops' Conference "once again appeals for an impartial search for the truth and acts of love of truth and reconciliation".

Ireland: gay unions, "yes" to conscientious objection

"Alarming": this is how card. Sean Brady, Primate of all Ireland, commented on the choice of the new legislation on civil unions not to protect the right to conscientious objection of those officers who refuse to preside over gay marriages. The rejection of the new regulations, which will be discussed by the Irish Parliament soon, was submitted on 23 August to the meeting of the "European Society for Catholic Theology". The new act should equate same-sax unions to marriage in terms of taxes and subsidies and would grant people who have cohabited for a short period the same status as married people. "What the Government is planning to do will change the concept of family - the cardinal stated -, but marriage between man and women will always be the ideal environment to raise children, and any government who, jeopardises it cannot promote the common good. So it is important for the State to protect the traditional family, the fundamental cell of society, as the Pope has repeated over and over again".

"Too many young people are being unjustly detained in prison", says Danny Curtin, national President of the movement of young Christian workers in Britain, commenting to SIR on the report recently published by the charity

England, Greece, Scotland, Spain England: too many young people in prison

Barnardo's, according to which over a third of children aged between 12 and 14 sentenced by the courts are being wrongly imprisoned in England and Wales, breaking the government guidelines. The guidelines that ought to be followed by the courts clearly state, on the contrary, that children aged 14 and under should not be locked up unless they have committed a grave offence and are deemed to be persistent offenders. According to the charity, this situation is "a tragedy" and a "waste of public money": in the space of a year it is calculated that 170 children in England and Wales will unjustly end up in prison cells, whereas up to ten years ago it would have been illegal to send a child of this age to prison unless he/she had committed a grave crime. "We must help children who break the law", says Curtin. He points out that "in Great Britain a 'youth worker' exists in every city whose job it is to protect children and promote effective projects to improve relations within the local community. We need to help the young to understand the consequences of their actions, for example, by enabling them to meet elderly prison inmates who can explain to them the consequences that the crimes they committed had on their life".

Greece: Catholic cemetery profaned in Crete

"Respect the memory of the dead": this is the warning that the archbishop of Syros, Santorini and Crete, mgr. Francesco Papamanolis, sends to the unknown authors of the vandalism committed a few days ago in the Catholic cemetery of Chanià, in Crete. It is the fourth time that graves are profaned, crosses are broken up, and inscriptions on graves are destroyed in that graveyard. In the past (2005 and 2007), the prelate states, "the damage was assumed to have been committed by unknown drug-addicts, but it seems it must have been committed, instead, by people who would like to remove or make the Catholic cemetery disappear from Chanià. To all of them, we say: respect the memory of the dead". "Two years ago - Papamanolis adds -, something similar had happened in the Orthodox cemetery of Constantinople and our Government had turned it into a national problem. But when the two previous times our cemetery of Chanià was damaged by sacrilegious people, none of the authorities did anything, they hushed up the problem and did nothing to fix the outrage to the memory of the dead, and they did not even help us repair the damage. Don't the bones of the Catholic Christians deserve the same respect as the bones of the Orthodox brothers?" "We ask the Ministries of Justice and Public Order to protect us, because the injustice we suffer as a Catholic Church, especially in Crete, is rising all the time".

Scotland: act of compassion for al-Megrahi

The archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, took part in the debate on the release of the author of the Lockerbie attack that aroused lots of controversy, stating that "he praised the decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds". "I and many others in the Catholic community - the prelate states in a message - have praised the decision to release him on compassionate grounds, that is after all one of the inspiring principles of the Scottish Parliament, on the basis of which the government should work". "Showing compassion in any circumstance is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, in this predicament, under such pressure and in such circumstances, it seemed to me to be a clear sign of strength", Conti writes. "Although there are voices to the contrary, I firmly believe it is a decision that will be a source of satisfaction for many Scots and that will be respected in the international community". "I have been impressed at the expressions of sympathy from Jim Swire and other relatives who lost family members on the Pan Am flight - he concludes - who acknowledged it is a fair compassionate gesture and admitted they doubt the sentence was a fair decision back then".

Spain: Congress of European Jesuits

The "Congresso Eurojess" 2009 opened at Granada (Spain) on 25 August. Promoted by European Jesuits involved in social issues, this year's congress is focused on the theme "Moslem populations in European societies". The meeting is just one of a series of initiatives taken by European Jesuits to come to terms with the growth in the number of Muslims in the Old Continent. The choice of the conference venue is not casual: Granada, the heart of the last Muslim kingdom in Western Europe, was re-conquered by the Catholic kings in 1492. The presence of those of Islamic faith in Granada, and more generally in Andalusia, is of ancient origins, and continues today, not least as a result of the more recent phenomenon of immigration. The congress provides a forum for reflection, debate, meetings and also cultural visits to Granada and Córdoba. On the first day, the reports tackled the central theme from the demographic point of view, supplemented with the testimonies of those with experience of working among the Muslims present in Europe and in Andalusia. The Congress will continue on 27 August with a debate on the impact of European democracies on Muslim communities; national and local policies for the integration of Islamic groups will also be presented. On 28 August the delegates will discuss what opportunities for action exist for Jesuit institutions and review projects now underway from which some signs of hope for dialogue and friendship between Catholics and Muslims are emerging.

Joint Statement of the bishops 70 years after outbreak of World War II
"Europe needs a witness of reconciliation", said Mgr. Wiktor Skworc, promoter of the Joint Statement of the Presidents of the Polish and German Bishops' Conferences, on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War on 1st September (1/09/1939). The document was published on 25 August, five days after the official celebrations held in Gdansk, in Poland, with the participation of the Polish President and Premier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Healing the wounds. "Even if the steps towards reconciliation have yielded good fruits in recent decades, the experiences of the war and of the following years still have a considerable impact on relations between our peoples", write the bishops of Poland and Germany in their joint statement. This new gesture of reconciliation assumes particular value since "some tendencies present in civil society or in the political world have revealed a temptation to make propagandist use of the injuries inflicted, with the aim of stirring up resentments through one-sided historical interpretations". The bishops emphasize that "the Church, in a constant and determined manner, intends to oppose such a flouting of historical truth. Instead, she urges a stepping up of dialogue, which must always include a willingness to listen to the points of view of the other side." In their documents the bishops also recognize the need to heal the wounds not only of the Poles (among the most numerous victims of the war, during which, according to recent estimates, some 5.5 millions died), but also of all those "who still suffer due to the traumatic experiences suffered as a result of the war". Equal sufferings. The document asserts that "following Soviet expansionist plans, aimed at introducing a new order into the territories of Eastern and Central Europe, and as a consequence of the decisions taken by the victorious powers, many Germans equally suffered both at the end of the war and subsequently, as refugees and deportees". Though the statement of the bishops does not mention the Ribbentrop - Molotov Pact (signed in Moscow in August 1939) which sanctioned a de facto coalition between Stalin and Hitler and as a consequence of which the Soviet Union, as an ally of Nazi Germany, invaded Eastern Poland in mid-September 1939 - proceeding to the mass deportation of Poles resident in the territories of what are now Ukraine and Belarus, and of those who had fled before the rapid advance of the Wehrmacht - the words dedicated to the victims on both sides are unequivocal: it commemorates the millions of "victims of wartime events and of the occupation of the country by foreign troops and equally the victims of the forced deportations consequent on the military operations both of Nazi Germany and of the Soviet Union". Importance of memory. These words should also be interpreted in the light of the recent dispute (for the time being only at the media level) between Poland and Russia, regarding the interpretation of wartime events. And perhaps it was the reciprocal accusations made against each other regarding the alliances with Nazi Germany, whether real (Ribbentrop - Molotov Pact) or presumed (as in Poland's case), that induced the bishops to declare: "the memory of the war is now placed in a new context. The generation of the survivors of the Second World War of the eyewitnesses of those years - is disappearing. The generation of those who had the courage to pronounce words of repentance and forgiveness is also disappearing". So, today it is more important than ever "to ensure that the new generations acquire and preserve an undistorted knowledge of the Second World War. We need underlines the document - an honest acknowledgement of the atrocities of the past, but we also need to renounce the stereotypes that make an exact understanding of those times more problematic". "Together, we German and Polish bishops condemn the crimes of war. We are also united in our condemnation of the forced deportations, though without forgetting the intrinsic nexus of the sequence of events". A gift for European unity. The document ends with words of hope: "the reconciliation between our peoples is a gift we can bring to the history of united Europe. Despite the tensions and misunderstandings that here and there do not spare this family of nations, we must not forget the fundamental progress of history that has been achieved through European integration. We cannot let slip the chance of a peace that springs from the unification of the peoples of Europe. We appeal to everyone never to cease, whether through prayer or through action, to contribute to the promotion of European unity. Only thus shall we continue to enjoy the benefits of peace".

Europe: peace in unity


Interview with Cardinal Lubomyr Husar

The history of a people

"Our people have been hunted, beaten, pillaged and oppressed, but they're alive and have a future", said Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in a long interview given to Pavlo Vyshkovkyy, SirEurope's correspondent in Ukraine in which he spoke about the Ukrainian people and the challenges that face the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church today: we excerpt his remarks on three different themes. At what point is the process undertaken by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in her bid to receive the status of Patriarchate? "The idea of the Patriarchate is not new. Its origins go back to the early seventeenth century. This idea was further developed thereafter, especially in the later nineteenth century and down to the 1930s. Its implementation was made possible thanks to the Blessed Josyp Slipyi. He gave a huge impetus to this movement. We are involved in this process; it's part of our life. Our Church is not present in Ukraine alone, but also in other countries. That's why it's important for us to safeguard our internal unity; in other words each Christian needs to perceive that he needs others to be himself. There's also an external factor, in as much as it is the Apostolic See or the Ecumenical Council that gives or that recognizes this status. At the present time there's no prospect of a Council of the Catholic Church being held. So it's obvious that this decision is up to the Apostolic See, to the Holy Father. I mean to say that both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have clearly stated: the moment will come when this desire will become a reality. The process however is not so simple. It's not just a question of signing a decree. These things need 'changes of view'. They require spiritual deepening, and a clear understanding. So recognition by the Apostolic See cannot be a dry formality, a merely administrative act, but must be the realization of an ecclesiological relation". In Ukraine, as in the rest of Europe, a certain disinterest of the young in religion is being registered… "Two years ago our Church held a Patriarchal Synod and dedicated it to the question of youth. This question is of deep concern to us. We would like the young to really understand that solid spiritual foundations are an essential prerequisite for the development of their future. I agree that after initial enthusiasm a certain apathy has set in. That's why we must all work together. In the first place we adults: we must give an example to the young. Speaking is all very well, but young people react better when they see an example, when they see people with solid moral principles. The young are very critical; they are quick to perceive what's false and what's true. We must educate by our example. It's not easy, but only in this way can we achieve good results". What can you tell us about the efforts being made in terms of the introduction of "Christian ethics" in the curriculum of secondary schools? "This school subject is the history of our culture. When a child is able to look at the history of our people, which is over two millennia old, and to review all the historical events that have shaped it, he/she will be all the more surprised to see that we have survived all this and have not disappeared from the face of the earth. This is the content of the course of Christian ethics: it means enabling children, as future citizens of Ukraine, to understand that Christianity is something powerful, that it gives strength to the State and to the people. This is what they will learn from the course of Christian ethics. It's not catechism. It's not the study of a religion or a course of prayer. It's a cultural subject. Our people have been hunted, beaten, pillaged, and oppressed, but they're alive and have a future. It's a sad fact, moreover, that our authorities do not permit the Church to run its own schools. I dream that in time the situation may change. But just to enable children to understand through this course what Christianity has done for our people would be in itself a great step forward. I was present in Lviv when the programme for this course was drawn up; the representatives of various Churches defined it together: they discussed its contents, and tried to formulate the Christian tradition in a more inclusive way. This is an excellent example of the kind of cooperation that there must be between the Churches".

Report of the European Commission on education in 31 States

What's the situation of schools?

Demographic transformations are influencing primary education; the percentage of young people attending higher schools and universities is growing; the scope for autonomy of individual schools is growing. These are some of the findings that emerge from the recent Report on education in the European Union drawn up by the Commission.

Formation and social cohesion. The Report, conducted in the 27 member states of the EU plus Turkey, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, is based on 121 key indicators. In presenting the research, EU Commissioner for Education Jan Figel emphasized "the challenges we will have to tackle in the future", including the possible reduction of the number of children of school age due to the ageing of the population and, at the same time, the predictable and "massive" pensioning off of ageing school teachers. Figel added on the other hand: "Adult education is becoming an ever more important reality and represents an essential factor of social cohesion" and an instrument geared to economic development. Less children in the classroom? The first finding that emerges from the Report, drawn up in collaboration with the Eurydice network (www.Eurydice.org), is linked to the projections of the demographic data, which "indicate a contraction of the school population" in nursery and primary schools in conjunction with a possible shortage of teachers as a result of all those due to retire in the next few years having reached pensionable age. A reflection follows from this: "Though these trends pose a challenge to educational systems, they represent at the same time an opportunity to modernize and update these systems, making them more effective and focused on the quality" of the service. Higher education is growing. The second finding is linked to "the prolongation of compulsory schooling". This "will require an increase of classes in higher education". Today "compulsory schooling lasts 9 or 10 years in the majority of countries"; but a child aged five today will presumably remain at school for up to 17 years. And the average trend is growing". In some countries, stresses the Report, "reforms have been carried out that tend to reduce the rate with which children abandon school", as in the Netherlands. In general, "the number of students in higher education has constantly grown since 1998 and now exceeds 18 million, equivalent to a growth of 25%" in recent years. This will require an upgrading of the service currently provided. Greater autonomy and higher quality. The third point to be borne in mind in the future of education in the 27 member states of the EU concerns the fact that schools are being given - albeit with considerable differences from one country to the next - growing margins of autonomy, while pari passu measures are being taken systematically to assess curricula, results and teaching staff. "It can be asserted - says the EU Report - that ever since 2000, mentalities have evolved in the field of European education as far as quality is concerned", but "differences remain in policies and practices relating to the publication of the results of studies". The Report makes a series of other observations on various other aspects of education: variety of the educational offer; what countries spend more per capita for schooling; how many hours of work teachers are contractually bound to perform in each nation; and what are the rates of university matriculation in each country. European Union, on-line education. "Welcome to the teachers' corner, the portal that presents a rich sample of educational material on Europe". On its portal europa.eu or on the website www.europa.eu/teachers-corner the EU is offering an internet space entirely dedicated to teachers in schools of every grade and kind. The educational material on offer is produced by various European institutions "to inform youth about the European Union and its policies". Various brochures, books, maps, images and posters are made available (all downloadable free of charge); all of them explain "what the EU is and what it does: various issues and problems of contemporary society are tackled, for example what we can do to protect the environment, or how to live together in a peaceful world". The documents are intended to help teachers prepare their lessons or to provide specific information on European history or citizenship or on other specific topics. For example, a brochure called "Unity in diversity" is available for children up to the age of 9; it presents the diversity and variety of the EU (cultures, peoples, artistic heritage, nature, currency…). The EU furnishes other sources and materials on-line in the educational field. For teachers and children the website europa.eu/europago is available. For teenagers, on the other hand, a great deal of useful information on what you need to study in another country can be found on the website europa.eu/youth. The EU programme that deals with education, from nursery schools to universities, is called Comenius. Information on European projects for education can be found on the website http://ec.europa.eu/education.

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