A renewed Stations of the Cross, the way of sorrow, is consumed every day under the feet of millions of desperate people. Like Christ as who walked towards crucifixion on Golgotha to rise again, thus migrants cross deserts and seas, across mountains, in great suffering, to find hope to be reborn to new life, away from the horrors of war, hunger, and murderous fundamentalism. To rediscover the dignity of human beings, they walk and each one of them carries his own cross, a tangible, concrete, and devastating suffering on their shoulders.
According to data collected by the European Agency for Borders, Frontex, the Greek and Italian coasts remain the most important arrival territories, but recently also a route across the Balkans was born. Many Syrians, who are the first group of asylum seekers in Europe, transit Turkey and Bulgaria. There is also the Western Mediterranean route that reaches Spain. And the “falls”, in this terrible modern Stations of the Cross, are represented by hundreds of deaths, including many (too many) cases among children and women.
The first spark for emigration is to be found in the Sahel strip and sub-Saharan Africa, areas that are full of conflict situations, as well as social and economic hardship. Obviously, the biggest obstacle for those who come from the South is Sahara, both because of the extreme weather conditions and because of the difficulty to preserve easy transport routes.
The main routes of West Africa cross (or start from) Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger to reach Algeria and especially Libya. From there (mostly from the Tripoli area), migrants leave for Italy and Europe. The current geopolitical situation makes most of these flows head towards the chaotic Libya, from where the final transit to Europe is easier.
A considerable part of migration flows across the Red Sea or the Straits of Aden, which later pour into the Arabian Peninsula, especially into Yemen, where UNHCR noted in its 2015 report the presence of about 246,000 refugees, 95% of whom are Somalis. These refugees often have no way out afterwards. In particular, Yemen is a closed bottle: people can enter it, but there is no way out of it besides going back where they came from because Saudi Arabia built a barrier in the last few years to prevent migration towards the north.
Thus, the Balkan route represents an alternative route towards Libya, which is in turmoil and where too many migrants suffer torture and imprisonment for months before they can begin their journey across the sea. This new route has definitely shattered Dublin, namely the Treaty on the free movement of people. 2016 greeted the first January with the arrival of more than 46,000 people and about 280 deaths. Despite the extreme weather conditions, with steady temperatures many degrees below zero for days, thousands of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers continue to take the Balkan route in an attempt to reach central and northern Europe. Intense cold and the freezing wind make the journey difficult, especially on the border between Macedonia and Serbia, in an area covered in ice and snow.
What pushes thousands of people to undertake this risky journey despite the freezing cold of the Balkan winter, is fear that the borders – which it is still possible to cross – may soon become impossible to cross, after the main destination countries, such as Sweden, Germany, and Austria had shown strong signals of restrictions on entry procedures.
The journey towards Europe is thus changing more and more, for many people who are on the run to save themselves, in a true Stations of the Cross: every country, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Croatia has its own “stations”, compulsory stops where pain and fatigue are alleviated by an extensive support network.
2015 – as a Caritas report explains well – ended with the opening of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. 2016 continues in its light, representing a holy period of reconciliation for a weary world marked by wars, poverty, and mass migration. A period, as Pope Francis stressed on the occasion of the International Migrants Day celebrated on 17 January, in which to “give hope” to the many migrants and refugees who are all too often plagued by experiences of poverty, oppression, and fear.