Pope Francis on Monday urged countries to greatly improve their welcome to migrants and stop collective expulsions, saying migrants' dignity and right to protection trumps national security concerns.
Francis' politically pointed message was made in view of the Catholic Church's 2018 world refugee day, celebrated Jan. 14. It comes amid mounting anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and beyond following waves of migrant arrivals and Islamic extremist attacks.
In the message, Francis demanded governments welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants, saying Jesus' message of love is rooted in welcoming the "rejected strangers of every age."
He demanded a simplified process of granting humanitarian and temporary visas and rejected arbitrary and collective expulsions as "unsuitable." He said the principle of ensuring each person's dignity "obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security."
Francis has made refugees a priority of his pontificate, making his first trip outside Rome in 2013 to the island of Lampedusa, ground zero in Europe's migration crisis. He has repeatedly spoken out for migrants' rights, demanded countries build "bridges not walls," and personally brought a dozen Syrian refugees back to Rome with him when he visited a Greek refugee camp in 2016.
Ignoring critics who say his calls are unrealistic and naive, Francis insisted in the new message that border guards must be trained to protect migrants and that each new arrival, regardless of legal status, must be guaranteed access to basic services beyond health care.
That extends to guaranteeing access to consulates, the justice system and the ability to open a bank account and survive financially, he said.
Unaccompanied minors, he said, require even greater protection, including guaranteeing them citizenship and access to schooling, as well as foster programs rather than detention centers.
He called for policies that support family reunification, employment opportunities and accelerated citizenship procedures to improve migrants' abilities to integrate.
His call was immediately rejected by the leader of Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League party, which has opposed government proposals to change Italy's law to accelerate citizenship for children born in Italy to non-Italians.
"If you want to do it in the Vatican, go ahead," Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook. "But as a Catholic, I don't think Italy can welcome and support the whole world."
An earthquake with a reported magnitude of 3.6 struck a popular tourist spot near the Ischia volcano in Italy on Monday evening. Images from the area show people being helped out of badly damaged buildings.
A number of people have been injured or are missing, local authorities say.
A local woman has been killed in the earthquake, Giuseppe Silvitelli, deputy mayor of Casamicciola, told Rai News, adding that the body is lying under the rubble and has yet to be retrieved.
Rescuers say the quake may have left more casualties, as it caused multiple buildings to collapse.
Three children have been retrieved from the rubble in Casamicciola Terme amid a massive search and rescue operation, local newspaper Il Dispari reported. Firefighters and rescuers are continuing to search for people presumed buried under collapsed buildings.
Meanwhile, local authorities have dispatched a ferry and helicopters to evacuate people willing to leave the island, La Repubblica reported. Angelo Borrelli, head of the local civil protection department, said another two ferries, capable of transporting up to 650 passengers each, will also be sent to Ischia. Several injured people have already been airlifted to Naples for medical care.
The quake was recorded at about 9pm local time at a depth of 10km off the Italian coast, not far from the city of Naples, local media report.
In its Casamicciola commune, "an inhabited building collapsed in Maio Square," Italian Rai News reported, citing local officials. A church was also destroyed.
"There are several injured and some people are missing," Rai News quoted the Casamicciola deputy mayor as saying.
Dai primi dati il terremoto a #ischia fatto più danni di quanto era sembrato. Crolli e anche di possibili vittime. Gente per strada pic.twitter.com/BuN44Czrhv— Francesco Borrelli (@NotizieFrance) August 21, 2017
Electrical blackouts have been reported in the Naples area, and people have been reportedly evacuated from "many hotels."
Carabinieri, police and firefighters are operating in the affected areas, with local authorities describing the effects of the tremors as "very strong."
#Ischia gli amici inviano foto di #Casamicciola. Tanta paura e tristezza. Noi stiamo bene ma qui comune di #Ischiavia vai sirene 😔😢 pic.twitter.com/jS3HtCnOxy— luisa lore vercillo (@ellellevercillo) August 21, 2017
The volcanic island of Ischia was last hit by a devastating earthquake back in 1883, leaving more than 2,000 people dead. The disaster also destroyed the towns of Casamicciola Terme and Lacco Ameno.