The Common Good

Flood of Refugees from Libya Pose New Opportunities for Welcoming the Stranger

As the world is watching Libya, I am keeping close watch and prayers over the sea. A recent headline made my stomach sink: "The collapse of Colonel Gaddafi's regime could result in a tidal wave of refugees and illegal immigrants pouring into Europe, EU ministers have been warned."

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A few years ago I visited the horrendous immigrant and refugee detention centers on the small Mediterranean island of Malta. I was part of a humanitarian delegation from the U.S.-Mexico border visiting the European Union (EU) as an exchange to learn about faith-based responses with immigrant communities. We were horrified by the conditions and the blatant denial of human dignity and rights by an EU member state. For many of the detained migrants, enduring indefinite detention in Malta was more than the human spirit could bear after the dangerous trek through the Saharan desert and suffering abuse in Libya, before the risk of crossing the sea.

One man exclaimed to me, "They have locked up our prayers for freedom, not even God can hear our suffering now."

Even more disillusioning was the reality that the deterrence-by-death strategy employed as border policy in the United States was shockingly similar to the situation of thousands of migrants dying and disappearing in the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Northern Africa. You see, according to EU strategy, the asylum seekers were not supposed to make it to the shores of Europe in the first place; indeed, many do not because of a Gaddafi's use of imprisonment and violence to deter potential immigrants from leaving the shores of Libya.

Essentially, EU states have collaborated with Gaddafi in recent years to keep the undesirables of Europe at bay, turning a blind eye to how exactly he would do so. Another headline that caught my eye depicts this hypocrisy: "Libya warns Europe it will 'suspend cooperation' against illegal immigrants if EU doesn't stop encouraging pro-democracy protests."

Indeed, the uprisings of the Arab world have revealed the double-standard of Europe and the United States when it comes to the promotion of democracy and human rights. It is apparent that at this time, we (of the Western world) also have a responsibility to join the uprising and hold our own governments accountable to these same standards. After all, if the Italian Foreign Minister is right in expecting an immigrant wave from Libya of "biblical proportions," then we have an opportunity to respond with the biblical magnitude of hospitality and compassion to those in exodus.

I hope you will join me in watching the sea, to hold the United States and ally governments in Europe accountable to the true integrity of democracy by the people and upholding human dignity -- not only when it is politically convenient, but for all.

Maryada Vallet works with No More Deaths, a humanitarian initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border, which promotes faith-based principles for immigration reform.

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