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Pope Francis praises DW InfoMigrants news service as Austria moves to control border

Pope Francis has sent a message to the InfoMigrants.net portal, a joint project of DW, Italy's ANSA and France's Media Monde. His encouragement came as Austria threatened to activate border controls to block migrants.

In a message from the Vatican on Tuesday, Pope Francis praised the work of the news service for migrants, a partnership between three major European media outlets including Deutsche Welle.

"I am close with affection and encouragement to those institutions, associations and individuals who open up wisely to the migratory phenomenon with interventions of support, bearing witness to the human and Christian values that are the base of European civilization," Pope Francis said.

The Infomigrants portal , co-financed by the European Union, is published in French, Arabic and English and is aimed at migrants "to counter misinformation at every point of their journey," and provide "verified and balanced information" to help them avoid being tricked by people smugglers.

Risky journeys

More than 100,000 migrants have made a sea crossing to Europe this year alone, the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday. Nearly 2,250 have died in the attempt.

Responding to the papal message, DW Director General Peter Limbourg said: "We are pleased to receive the encouragement of the Holy Father," and added: "We can not be indifferent to the fate of millions of refugees and migrants."

Limbourg emphasized that InfoMigrants was not a refugee aid project but a channel for news and factual information: "With InfoMigrants we have succeeded in launching a European media project across national borders," Limbourg said. "We want to help people but also to educate them about the dangers and indicate the route to legal migration."

Migrants arriving by boat in Salerno, Italy

Migrants arriving by boat in Salerno, Italy

Migration as opportunity

Speaking about Infomigrants.net, Pope Francis said "I wish to express my sincere appreciation for this important initiative and I hope that, on one hand, it helps the integration of these people with a dutiful respect of the laws of the countries that receive them, and, on the other, that it raises within society renewed commitment for an authentic culture of reception and solidarity."

In his message, Pope Francis said that migration was an opportunity, not just a problem. 

"The presence of so many brothers and sisters who experience the tragedy of immigration is an opportunity for human growth, for encounter and for dialogue between cultures, in view of the promotion and peace and fraternity between peoples," Pope Francis said. 

Rescued migrants on board the rescue vessel Golfo Azzurro

Rescued migrants on board the rescue vessel Golfo Azzurro

Pressure on Italy

The papal message came the same day that the Austrian defense minister said the country was ready to deploy up to 750 troops at its Brenner Pass border with Italy "very soon" until the flow of migrants from its southern neighbor declined. Four Austrian military Pandur armored vehicles have reportedly been taken to the Brenner Pass.

"I think that border controls will be activated very soon and an army deployment will be necessary," Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said on Tuesday. 

The Austrian ambassador in Rome was summoned by the Italian foreign ministry on Tuesday to explain the announcement: "Following the declarations of the Austrian government concerning the deployment of troops to the Brenner Pass" on the border, "the secretary general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry this morning (...) summoned the ambassador of Austria in Rome."

The Brenner Pass border between Austria and Italy

The Brenner Pass border between Austria and Italy

UN reports 100,000 migrants

The UN figures released Tuesday showed 85,000 migrants have landed in Italy since January. Most of them are sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.

"The reception of rescued migrants cannot be seen as an issue only for Italy, but a matter for Europe as a whole," IOM chief William Lacy Swing said. More than 9,000 migrants have landed in Greece, 6,500 in Spain and 270 in Cyprus in the first six months of the year, according to the UN.

"This is not sustainable. We need to have other countries joining Italy and sharing that responsibility," Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the central Mediterranean said on Tuesday.

EU interior ministers are due to meet in Estonia on Thursday to discuss the migration crisis. Only 20,000 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece under the EU scheme set up in 2015 to distribute about 160,000 asylum seekers across EU countries. 

jm/se (Reuters, AFP)

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