Pope homes 12 Lesbos refugees
Pope Francis has put his beds where his words are. Source: Wikimedia
Pope Francis has taken 12 Syrian refugees back with him to the Vatican after visiting a crowded camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.
The three families, including six children, are all Muslim and had their homes bombed during Syria’s civil war.
The Vatican said Francis wanted to “make a gesture of welcome” to the refugees. Francis thanked the Greek people for welcoming migrants as the European Union enforces a complex plan to send them to Turkey.
The Vatican is already hosting two refugee families and the gesture is in keeping with Francis’ call for Europe to open its hearts and borders to migrants. Refugees fell to their knees as Francis approached at the Moria detention camp on the island of Lesbos. Others chanted “Freedom! Freedom!” Francis bent to comfort a young crying girl who was knelt at his feet. A woman told him her husband was in Germany, but that she and her two sons were stranded with her two sons in Lesbos.
“Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories and need to be treated as such,” the pontiff tweeted.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met him at Lesbos airport, along with the head of the world’s Orthodox Christians and the archbishop of Athens. Francis reportedly thanked Tsipras for the “generosity” shown by Greece in welcoming foreigners despite economic hardship. He called for a response to the crisis that respected European and international law, the Vatican said.
Tsipras said he was proud of the Greek response “at a time when some of our partners, even in the name of Christian Europe, were erecting walls and fences to prevent defenceless people from seeking a better life”.
Francis and the two Orthodox leaders were due to pray together and lay a wreath in the sea in memory of those who died in the crossing to show a united Christian response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding.
Just before Pope Francis arrived, the European border patrol agency, Frontex, registered a dinghy carrying 41 Syrians and Iraqis near Lesbos and brought it to shore in the main port of Mytilene.
He threw a wreath into the sea at the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013 after more than 10 migrants died in the crossing from Libya. He laid a bouquet of flowers next to a large crucifix at the Ciudad Juarez border crossing between Mexico and the USA in memory of migrants who died trying to cross.
The Vatican’s migration spokesman, Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, said the EU-Turkey plan to address the migrant crisis treated refugees as merchandise to be traded back and did not recognise their human dignity.
Under the March 18 deal anyone arriving illegally on Greek islands will be returned to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. For every Syrian sent back, the EU will take another Syrian migrant directly from Turkey for resettlement in Europe. In return, Turkey was granted concessions, including billions of euros to accommodate the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees within its borders and for membership talks with the EU to be restarted.