Pope returns to Greek island at the center of Europe’s migrant debate

Pope Francis Sunday returns Lesbos NS Greek the island at the center of the great migration wave in Europe Six years ago, after sharply criticizing European governments for their current handling of migrants and refugees during a visit to two hard-hit countries.

The 84-year-old Francis will spend just two hours on the island, visiting a new center for migrants and asylum seekers and presiding over a short prayer service. During his previous visit in 2016, Francis brought back 12 Syrian Muslim refugees with him on the Pope’s plane.

The Pope is on a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece, which are dominated by the theme of migration. In Cyprus on Friday, he denounced the “culture of indifference” displayed towards migrants and refugees. Athens on Saturday, he called on European governments to take in migrants “in proportion to each country’s means.”

“Europe continues to stagnate, falling prey to forms of national self-interest rather than an engine of solidarity. At times, it proved faltering and uncoordinated,” he said. “In the past, ideological conflicts prevented the construction of bridges between Eastern and Western Europe. Today, the issue of migration also leads to a violation between the south and the north. “

Pope Francis said migrants and refugees today are living in a “terrible modern Odyssey”, referring to the ancient Greek epic poem.

More than 1 million people, many fleeing wars in Iraq and Syria, crossed from Turkey to Greece in 2015 and 2016, with Lesbos being Greece’s busiest crossing point. An overcrowded refugee camp at Moria on the island the pope visited in 2016, was destroyed by fire last year.

Pope Francis will meet migrants on Sunday with migrants at a replacement camp, preside over a prayer service and also spend some time with families in their makeshift home.

The Vatican has made no secret of whether anyone will be leaving the island with Francis around this time. The Vatican confirmed on Saturday that, as part of Pope Francis’ visit, 12 migrants currently living in Cyprus will be transferred to Italy in the coming weeks and cared for by a Catholic charity in Rome. .

Among those invited to take the stage with Pope Francis on Sunday was Christian Tango Mukaya, a Congolese father of three who had lost his wife on their journey and was hoping his presence with the pope would have can reunite them.

“We always had hope that one day we could all be together again. That the family can be together again,” he said the night before Francis arrived.

Greece recently built a steel wall along part of the Greek-Turkish land border and is blocking migrant boats from the Turkish side. It denies allegations that it is carrying out a brief deportation of migrants to Greek territory but human rights groups say many such protests have occurred.

Before Pope Francis’ stopover on Sunday, human rights groups had stepped up their criticism of Greece’s treatment of migrants and tougher migration policies towards the EU’s 27 members.

Amnesty International said the new EU-funded detention camps on the Greek islands breached Athens’ commitments to provide international protection to those in need.

Amnesty said: “According to international and EU law, asylum seekers should be detained only as a last resort. “As we fear, the Greek authorities are concealing the legally ambiguous concept of so-called closed centers to illegally deprive asylum seekers of their freedom. France.”

The human rights group asked Greece to “urgently withdraw this decision and lift restrictions.”


Gatopoulos contributions from Athens, Greece.

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