Jerusalem, March 20, 2012

The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land expresses its deep concern about the horrific situation of African asylum seekers who are being held hostage in the Sinai and calls for an immediate end to human trafficking.On December 5, 2010, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI already drew the attention of the international community to “the victims of traffickers and criminals, such as the drama of the hostages, Eritreans and of other nationalities, in the Sinai desert”. Since that time the situation of these victims has only worsened.

We, the heads of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, urge the civil authorities in Egypt and in Israel as well as the international community to intensify their efforts to fight the ongoing trafficking in human beings in Sinai, their abuse, humiliation, torture, rape and murder. Those fleeing their countries of origin because of war and violence must be protected from criminal abuse at the hands of those who seek to take advantage of them. We are particularly horrified to learn of the appalling fate of the women and children.

We remind the civil authorities in Egypt and in Israel of their obligations to respect international human rights law provisions and standards regarding the treatment, the protection of dignity and physical and psychological integrity, and the right to due process and fair trial of asylum seekers and migrants.

We congratulate those activists in Egyptian and Israeli human rights organizations who provide help to the victims of human traffickers and assure them of our moral support and prayers.

In communion with the organizations seeking to draw attention to the plight of these people and to help them, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land:

– calls for greater awareness regarding the plight of those being imprisoned, held for ransom, tortured and abused in Sinai;

– calls on the civil authorities in Egypt and Israel to act decisively against the traffickers, closing their bases of activities, prosecuting the criminal elements involved in these crimes on both sides of the Egyptian-Israeli border, assisting their victims and providing refuge for them as well as protecting these populations from the traffickers;

– calls for support of those organizations and individuals engaged in advocacy, assistance to and counseling of the victims.

Furthermore, the Catholic Ordinaries commit themselves to the spiritual care of the Catholics among the asylum seekers and ask the Israeli authorities to permit chaplains and their assistants access to those asylum seekers imprisoned in confinement facilities in Israel in order to offer them the spiritual solace they might seek from the Church.

« For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. » (Matthew 25:35-36)

+  Fouad TWAL
Patriarch of Jerusalem for Latins
President Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries
+  Giacinto-Boulos MARCUZZO
Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel
+  Michel SABBAH
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem emeritus
President Ep.Comm. Justice and Peace
+  William SHOMALI
Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem, Palestine
+ Antonio FRANCO
Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine
Apostolic Nuncio for Israel and Cyprus
+  Kamal-Hanna BATHISH
Latin Auxiliary Bishop emeritus
+ Giorgio LINGUA
Apostolic Nuncio for Jordan
+  Selim SAYEGH
Latin Auxiliary Bishop emeritus
+  Elias CHACOUR
Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Akka
Msgr Joseph KELEKIAN
Armenian Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem
+  Yaser Al-AYYASH
Melkite Cath. Archb. Petra&Philadelphia
Fr. Pierbattista PIZZABALLA, O.F.M.
Custos of the Holy Land
+  Boutros MOUALLEM
Melkite Cath. Archbishop of Akka emeritus
Fr. David NEUHAUS, S.J.
Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew speaking Catholics
+  Gregoire Pierre MELKI
Syrian Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem
Fr. Evencio HERRERA DIAZ, O.F.M.
Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Cyprus
+  Joseph Jules ZEREY
Melkite Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem
Msgr.  George SHIHAN
Maronite Patriarchal Administrator
+ Maroun LAHHAM
Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan
Fr. Raymond MOUSSALLI
Patriarchal Vicar in Jordan for ChaldeansFr. Pietro FELET, scj
Secretary General
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