Pope condemns Europe’s treatment of migrants during visit to Greek refugee camp

Pope Francis visited the Mavrovouni refugee camp on Lesbos to offer support to asylum-seekers

Ella Glover
Sunday 05 December 2021 22:15

Pope Francis condemned Europe’s “indifference” towards migrants and refugees on his first visit to Greece.

Visiting the Mavrovouni refugee camp on Lesbos Sunday, the Pope spoke with refugees awaiting the approval of their asylum status.

His five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece has been dominated by the topic of migration and Francis’ call for European countries to show greater solidarity with those in need.

He insisted that Europe must stop building walls, stoking fears and shutting out "those in greater need who knock at our door”.

"Please, let us stop this shipwreck of civilisation," he said at the camp, which stands pending the construction of a "closed controlled facility," funded by the EU.

Such camps are already running on the Greek islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, and have been accused of violating Athens’ commitments to provide international protection to those in need.

Amnesty International said: "Under international and EU law, asylum-seekers should only be detained as a matter of last resort.

"As we feared, Greek authorities are hiding behind the legally ambiguous concept of so-called closed-controlled centres to illegally deprive asylum-seekers of their liberty."

The rights group asked Greece "to urgently withdraw this decision and lift the restrictions."

Pope Francis said: “I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes.

“Let us stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibility, stop passing off the issue of migration to others, as if it mattered to no one and was only a pointless burden to be shouldered by somebody else.”

He warned the Mediterranean Sea must not “transformed into a desolate sea of death”.

Refugees at the camp awaiting Pope Francis’ visit in the hope he would help some go over to Italy as he had done during his 2016 visit to the camp.

Enice Kiaku from Congo, whose two-year-old son on her lap was born on Lesbos, said: "It is a grace for us that the pope is coming here.

“We have a lot of problems here as refugees, a lot of suffering.

"The arrival of the pope here makes us feel blessed, because we hope the pope will take us with him because here we suffer.”

As of yet, no refugees were taken out of the camp by Francis on Sunday, the Associated Press reported, and he returns to the Vatican on Monday.

However, during the Pope’s visit to Cyprus, the Vatican announced that 12 migrants who had crossed over from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north would be relocated to Italy in the coming weeks.

Cypriot officials, who insist the European Union island nation cannot accept more migrants, said a total of 50 would eventually be sent.

Addressing Francis, Greek president Katerina Sakellaropoulou defended Greece’s response to the migrant crisis.

"It is the strong message of hope and responsibility that is conveyed from Lesbos to the international community," she said.

Greek migration affairs minister Notis Mitarachi also defended Greece’s response Sunday, saying it had "selflessly" responded to the crisis in 2015 and was continuing to provide asylum-seekers with protection.

He demanded the EU do more to help front-line countries like Greece.

Addition reporting by AP

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