A candlelight gathering was held on the Sliema seafront yesterday evening in solidarity with refugees forced to flee their homes to save themselves and their loved ones.

Wedeb Desira, a half-Eritrean, half-Ethiopian former refugee who is now a Maltese citizen, told this newspaper that she wished she could thank each and every person for showing their support and solidarity.

The peaceful event was part of an international call for action in favour of refugees, with similar events being held in 27 European countries, the US and Australia, propelled by the slogan #RefugeesWelcome.

“It means so much to me,” said the 29-year-old Ms Desira . “I wish to see a greater sense of understanding of what refugees go through – it is not about people coming to take the locals’ jobs.

I experienced this at a young age. We come on a broken boat, not knowing what to expect and what will happen to us. You only do that when you are left with no choice.”

We come on a broken boat, not knowing what to expect and what will happen to us

The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on Europe’s doorstep was brought home by images of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on Turkey’s shores earlier this month.

His death galvanised public opinion and put pressure on European governments – who are to meet today – to tackle the crisis.

The biggest mass migration since World War II has divided Europe, with Germany pushing for compulsory quotas within the EU but eastern European nations snubbing the proposal.

Lighting candles in solidarity on the Sliema front.Lighting candles in solidarity on the Sliema front.

One of the gathering’s organisers, Erika Borg, said the message was that refugees were welcome in Malta and she called upon EU member states to live up to their international obligations and to provide legal, safe and dignified ways of seeking refuge.

Another one of the organisers, Maria Pisani, said that for more than a decade, people have watched an immigration system that made no sense slowly implode: “People have looked on as the fortification of the external borders of the EU contributed to the needless deaths of thousands of refugees and other forced migrants. The message is one of solidarity with persecuted people, people who have lost their lives and their families.”

“We will reach out. Let us open our hearts and open our borders and reach out to them. If we can’t do this, what do we stand for as humans?” Dr Pisani said.

The International Organisation for Migration has said more than 430,000 people had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, with 2,748 dying or going missing en route.

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