An Eritrean priest who has helped to save the lives of hundreds of refugees has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Pope Francis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Father Mussie Zerai, who lives in Switzerland, has received hundreds of emergency phone calls from refugees. (His number is written on the wall of a Libyan detention centre.) After receiving the calls, he alerts Italian and Maltese coast guards.

During an interview with the BBC, he urged politicians to find a solution to the “root of the problem”.

“Why [do] these people escape from [their] origin country – because [of] war, because [of] dictator[s], because [of a] lack of justice, freedom and democracy,” he said.

Zerai said that refugees should be “protected from traffickers” and looked after in neighbouring countries until they can be safely resettled.

World Watch Monitor spoke with him in 2013, after a boat of predominantly Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees caught fire, killing at least 232 migrants.

“I look at the list of the survivors and 90 per cent is Christian,” he said. “They are coming from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The situation is very bad because politically in Eritrea there is a dictator and they live without any type of freedom or democracy. Many Christians are persecuted because of their faith. It’s not easy for them to live in Eritrea at this moment.”