Pope Francis visits migrants at the Lesbos . refugee camp

LESBOS, GREECE – Pope Francis returned to the Greek island of Lesbos on Sunday to comfort migrants at a refugee camp and denounced what he said was apathy and self-interest displayed in Europe. “condemn those on the fringes to death.”

“Please, let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!” At the Mavrovouni camp, Francis said, a cluster of white UN containers on the edge of the sea is lined with barbed wire and equipped with laundry hanging from ropes.

Arriving at the camp, a maskless Francis spent time walking along the fence, patting children and babies on the head and posing for selfies. He gave a “thumbs up” after being sang a welcome song by African women.

This is Francis’ second trip to Lesbos in five years and he laments that little has changed since 2016, when Lesbos was the epicenter of a large wave of migration to Europe and Francis brought 12 people. Syrian Muslim refugee returned home with him on the Pope’s plane.

That particular gesture of solidarity has raised hope for the current residents of the Lesbos camp, many of whom gave birth here while their asylum applications are being processed and have seen during a visit to Germany. Francis has a chance to go out.

“It is a grace for us that the pope is here,” said Enice Kiaku from Congo. We had a lot of trouble as refugees here, a lot of suffering.” But like little Guilain, she had no identification and was trapped.

“The pope’s presence here makes us feel lucky because we hope the pope will take us with us because we are suffering here,” Kiaku said as she waited in the tent for the pope to arrive. .

But no papal transfers have been announced this time around, although during the first leg of Francis’ visit to Cyprus, the Vatican announced that 12 migrants had crossed from the north. Turkish breakaway Cyprus will be moved to Italy in the coming weeks. Cypriot officials said a total of 50 people would eventually be sent.

Pope Francis’ five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece has been dominated by the issue of migrants and Francis urged European countries to stop building walls, sowing fear and stopping “those with greater need is knocking at our door.”

“I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the paralysis of fear, the murderous indifference, the cynical contempt that coldly condemns to death those who are outside. edge!” he say. “Let’s stop ignoring reality, stop constantly transferring responsibility, stop handing the issue of migration to someone else, as if it doesn’t matter to anyone and is just a meaningless burden when someone carries the burden.” carry!”

He denounced that the Mediterranean Sea, “the cradle of so many civilizations”, had become a vast graveyard, where smuggling boats full of desperate people sank. “Let us not let our sea (mare nostrum) be turned into a desolate dead sea (mare mortuum).

Seated before him in a tent at the water’s edge were Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, EU Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas and would-be refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Congo, among other countries.

Addressing the pope, Sakellaropoulou strongly defended Greece’s response to the needs of migrants and thanked Pope Francis for showing support in his presence.

“It is a powerful message of hope and responsibility conveyed from Lesbos to the international community,” she said.

The camp, where the tents were only recently replaced by containers, is actually a temporary detention center pending construction on the island of a “closed controlled facility,” essentially. The village is a detention camp. These new camps, funded by the European Union, are operating on three other Greek islands, Samos, Leros and Kos.

Francis listened attentively as one of the camp’s residents, Christian Tango Mukaya, a Congolese father of three, thanked him for his show of solidarity and called on Europe to let the refugees in. . Mukaya has lost track of his wife and third child during the journey and is hoping his visibility to the pope can reunite them.

“We always had hope that one day we could all be together again. The family could be together again,” he told The Associated Press the night before Francis arrived. .

“We hope that the next pope can bring about change. Change,” he said. “About our situation, we want a better life. We ask the Pope to help us, to speak to Europe on our behalf, to help us.”

Francis’ visit to Lesbos was the highlight of his five-day trip, recalling his 2016 visit to the Orthodox leadership when he wept over the plight of asylum seekers being herded into a terminal camp. burned down last year.

More than a 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. The flow may have subsided in Lesbos, but it hasn’t stopped yet and anti-migrant sentiment in Greece and beyond only hardened in the ensuing years, with the latest emphasis on the border with EU’s Lan with Belarus.

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 brief deportations of migrants arriving in Greek territory but human rights groups say many such protests have occurred.

Before Francis stopped 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 in order to illegally deprive asylum seekers of their freedom. France.”

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

Greece’s Migration Affairs Minister Notis Mitarachi defended Greece’s response in a statement on Sunday, saying it had responded “altruistically” to the 2015 crisis and was continuing. provides protection to asylum seekers. But it requires the EU to do more to help frontline states such as Greece carry a disproportionate burden while “the exploiters of their kind are rewarded.”


Gatopoulos contributions from Athens, Greece.


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