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Red Cross’ Francesco Rocca at the UN on Migrants: Bringing Humanity into Politics

The President of the International Red Cross held a press conference at the United Nations headquarters on the migrants issue.

Press Briefing by Mr. Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who is in New York for the final negotiations on the Global Compact for Migration. He will discuss an IFRC report on how restrictive immigration policies are turning migration into a humanitarian crisis. (Photo UN / Eskinder Debebe)

“They are saving a life, they are not making any politics, it’s not a political statement. It’s an humanitarian act, it’s what we have been doing since the beginning.”

Today at the United Nation’s headquarters, Francesco Rocca, the President of the Internal Federation of the Red Cross, held a press conference about the state of migrants and the organization’s stance on the matter, with particular focus on the Mediterranean and Libya.

This week at the United Nations in New York City there is a conference  called “Global Compact on Migration”, which is why Mr. Rocca was at the UN. Migration is one of the most relevant topics of conversation at the moment, and in his speech in front of journalists Rocca focused on humanity, mutual respect, and cooperation between all countries and organizations in order to ensure the safety of these immigrants. Rocca was asked questions about Syria, Libya, Nigeria, the United States and, of course, the state of the Mediterranean.

Mr. Rocca made very clear, from the very beginning of his statement, that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is: “determined to assist people in need that are part of the migration trial from their country of origin, transit, and destination.” In their new report “New Walled Order: How barriers to basic services turn migration into a humanitarian crisis”, the Red Cross calls on governments to remove barriers that prevent vulnerable migrants from accessing basic services. “People, regardless of their immigration status, should have access to basic services and humanitarian assistance,” said Mr. Rocca, at the beginning of his speech. “Denying immigrants any of these services, or to not inform them of their rights is unacceptable.” He calls for migrants to be treated with dignity and respect.

Francesco Rocca, Tommaso Della Longa (Senior Communication Advisor Red Cross), Richard Blewitt (Red Cross Representative at the UN)

Mr. Rocca said that he has been in touch with the representatives of the countries from which these migrants come from, and that the conversation focused heavily on these countries’ need for economic support. The conversation must not only be about security, but also about economic growth and welfare, so that such security can be ensured.

Mr. Rocca used a very poignant metaphor to explain how the migrants should be treated, by pointing out that firefighters don’t ask for someone’s criminal record before trying to rescue someone’s life. “They are saving a life, they are not making any politics, it’s not a political statement.” the Red Cross President pointed out. “It’s an humanitarian act, it’s what we have been doing since the beginning.”

As reporters started asking questions, the very first one was focused on the status of immigrant families being separated at the border in the United States of America. Rocca made very clear that the International Federation of Red Cross is vehemently against the detainment of children: “Family separation is unacceptable. Children must never be separated from their families,” said Mr. Rocca. “I hope that this is only a sad moment in this approach, and that there will be changes very soon.” He specified that even if the Red Cross is not involved in politics, as they only focus on the humanitarian factor, the separation of families by the USA government is still “a matter of concern”. He stated that the organization is completely unsatisfied about the current state of events regarding the matter.

Stefano Vaccara, the editor in chief of “La Voce di New York” asked Mr. Rocca specifically whether a country that closes its ports to ONG ships respects the International Law, considering that there are most often casualties when those rafts carrying the migrants aren’t rescued at sea, and if said issue is being discussed at the UN. Mr. Rocca answered the question by presenting a second one, specifically whether or not it is legal to bring the migrants back to Libya and whether the African country is a safe port for migrants.

“Ships carrying migrants should have access to the closest and safest port,” explained Mr. Rocca. “So the EU, and the UN, or someone, should tell us which one is the safest and closest port.” Whether or not International Law is violated resides in this information. He pointed out that it’s not demanded by the International Law that migrants must go to Italy, or Malta, or Tunisia, but simply to the closest and safest port. “To bring them back to Libya is unsafe,” said the Red Cross President very clearly. “The biggest concern is that they would be brought back to a country that isn’t safe, not which country specifically should take them in.” According to the Red Cross President, the International community is accepting something which he deems unacceptable. And illegal. “For me it is illegal to bring them back to Libya,” concluded Mr. Rocca. “Because this country is not a safe place.”

When we asked Mr. Rocca what he thought about Secretary General Guterres’ statements on the issue, he expressed sympathy towards the SG, calling him “a true humanitarian”, and stating he is sure he is doing his very best to fix the migrant issue. “A lot of it depends on the capacity of the UN itself to intervene,” continued Mr. Rocca. “Not on Guterres himself.”

Mr. Rocca concluded by pointing out that the migrant situation has not been dealt with appropriately since its very beginning. “For example, I started volunteering in Rome 30 years ago,” said Mr. Rocca, as he shared his personal experience. “We used to receive migrants from the horn of Africa. Today we are still receiving migrants from areas such as Eritrea and Somalia. This shows that the situation has been dealt with poorly. There has been no improvement.”

He reminded the audience that the Red Cross doesn’t wish to interfere with politics, it doesn’t have this ambition. “Our mission, however, is to bring the humanitarian factor into politics.”


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