45-minute inter-faith funeral service held for migrant shipwreck victims

Malta yesterday honoured the memory of the estimated 800 people who perished in the Mediterranean’s worst migrant disaster with a poignant inter-faith funeral service for 24 of them.

The bodies of the unidentified victims, 20 men and four male teenagers, were taken to Malta after being recovered along with 28 survivors from the waters off Libya where the boat capsized in the early hours of Sunday.

Their wooden coffins were laid out on a red carpet inside a tent erected for the service outside the morgue at the Mater Dei hospital.

The 45-minute inter-faith service was led by the Bishop of Gozo, Mario Grech, and Imam Mohammed El Sadi. At its conclusion, the coffins were carried away by Maltese soldiers for private burials.

“The migrants were escaping from a desperate situation,” Grech told the mourners. “They were trying to find freedom and seek a better life.

“We mourn them, because irrespective of our beliefs, nationality or race, we know that they are our fellow brethren. They are human beings,” he said.

The bishop called for greater compassion in the handling of migrants who may be seeking to enter Europe illegally but often have a legitimate right to be granted refuge from war or persecution.

“We can continue to read out the laws, but that is not enough. The way of the law, the way of justice should open itself to the way of love,” Grech said, citing Pope Francis’s attack, after an October 2013 migrant disaster off Italy, on the “globalisation of indifference.”

Thursday’s service was attended by senior Maltese officials, European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and Greek Solidarity Minister Theano Fotio. Sunday’s  disaster was the latest in a string of migrant boat tragedies which have now resulted in nearly 5,000 deaths since the start of last year.

The scale and horror of the tragedy has forced the European Union to react and the bloc’s leaders were due to meet later on Thursday in Brussels for an emergency summit on the migrant crisis.



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