Pope berates Europe and comforts migrants on their return to Lesvos

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Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with members of the religious community at St. Dionysius Cathedral in Athens, Greece, Saturday, December 4, 2021. Pope Francis warned on Saturday that the “easy answers” of populism and the Authoritarianism threatens democracy in Europe and called for a new dedication to the promotion of the common good. (Costas Baltas / Pool via AP)

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Pope Francis returned to the Greek island of Lesvos on Sunday to offer comfort to migrants in a refugee camp and detonate what he called indifference and self-interest from Europe “which condemns to death the marginalized ”.

“Please stop this sinking of civilization!” Francis told the Mavrovouni camp, a group of white UN containers by the sea lined with barbed wire fences and draped in air-drying laundry.

An unmasked Francis took his time walking around the camp on Sunday, patting children and babies on the head and posing for selfies. He gave a “thumbs up” after being rocked by African women singing a welcome song.

It was Francis’ second trip to Lesbos in five years. He lamented that not much has changed since 2016, when Lesvos was at the heart of a massive wave of migration to Europe and when Francis brought home 12 Syrian Muslim refugees from the island aboard the papal plane. .

This concrete gesture of solidarity had raised hopes among the current residents of the Lesvos camp, some of whom gave birth there while waiting for their asylum application to be processed. But there was no papal airlift on Sunday and Francis returns to the Vatican on Monday.

“It is a grace for us that the Pope comes here. We have a lot of problems here as refugees, a lot of suffering, ”said Enice Kiaku from Congo, whose 2-year-old son on her lap was born in Lesbos. But like little Guilain, she has no identity papers and is stuck.

“The arrival of the Pope here makes us feel blessed, because we hope the Pope will take us with him because here we are suffering,” Kiaku said as she waited in a tent for the Pope to arrive.

Francis ‘five day trip to Cyprus and Greece was dominated by the topic of migration and Francis’ call to European countries to show greater solidarity with those in need. He insisted on Sunday that Europe must stop building walls, stir up fears and exclude “those who need it most who knock on our door”.

During the first leg of Francis’ trip to Cyprus, the Vatican announced that 12 migrants who had crossed over from the separatist Turkish Cypriot north would be relocated to Italy in the coming weeks. Cypriot officials, who say the European Union island nation cannot accept more migrants, said a total of 50 would eventually be sent.

“I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical contempt that nonchalantly condemns marginalized people to death!” François said Sunday. “Let’s stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibilities, stop passing the issue of migration to others, as if it doesn’t matter to anyone and is just an unnecessary burden. wear by someone else!

He denounces that the Mediterranean Sea, “the cradle of so many civilizations”, has become a vast cemetery where too often smuggle boats full of desperate people sink.

“Let us not let our sea (mare nostrum) turn into a desolate sea of ​​death (mare mortuum),” he said.

Sitting in front of him in a tent by the water were Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas and potential refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and the Congo, among other countries.

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

“This is the strong message of hope and responsibility that is transmitted from Lesvos to the international community,” she said.

The camp, where the tents were only recently replaced with containers, is actually a temporary detention center that replaced another camp that burned down last year. It was built pending the construction on the island of a “closed controlled facility”, essentially a detention camp. These new camps, funded by the EU but which have clashed with human rights organizations, are already operating on three other Greek islands, Samos, Leros and Kos.

François listened attentively to a resident of the camp, Christian Tango Mukaya, a Congolese father of three, thanking him for his solidarity and his appeal to Europe to let the refugees enter. Mukaya lost track of his wife and their third child during their trip and is hoping that his visibility with the Pope can reunite them.

“We still have this hope that one day we can all be together again,” he told The Associated Press on the eve of Francis’ arrival.

“We hope that the coming of the Pope can bring about changes,” he said. “We would like a better life. We implore the Pope to help us, to speak on our behalf to Europe.

More than a million people, many fleeing the war in Iraq and Syria, moved from Turkey to Greece in 2015 and 2016, with Lesvos being the most frequented Greek crossing point. The flow may have ebbed back to Lesvos, but it did not stop and anti-migrant sentiment in Greece and beyond only hardened in the years that followed, with the last point d lightning on the Polish EU border with Belarus.

Greece recently built a steel wall along a section of the Greek-Turkish land border and is intercepting boats carrying migrants on the Turkish side. He denies claims that he is carrying out summary deportations of migrants reaching Greek territory, but human rights groups say there have been many such refoulements.

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

“Under international and EU law, asylum seekers should only be detained as a last resort,” Amnesty said. “As we feared, the Greek authorities are hiding behind the legally ambiguous concept of so-called closed and controlled centers to illegally deprive asylum seekers of their liberty.

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

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi defended Greece’s response on Sunday, saying it responded “altruistically” to the crisis in 2015 and continued to provide protection to asylum seekers. He called on the EU to do more to help frontline countries like Greece.

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Gatopoulos contributed from Athens, Greece.

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Follow all of AP’s stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.


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