Pope Francis denounces the migrant crisis in Europe as a “shipwreck of civilization” – POLITICO

LESBOS, Greece – During a visit aimed at stinging the conscience of Europe, Pope Francis returned on Sunday to Lesbos, the Greek island that has become the symbol of the continent’s migration crisis.

“We are in the era of walls and barbed wire,” the Pope said in a tent set up in the Mavrovouni refugee camp by the water, a group of white containers surrounded by barbed wire. “Let’s stop this sinking of civilization! “

The 84-year-old pontiff visited the island as part of a trip to Greece and Cyprus that highlighted the plight of asylum seekers as European countries take a tougher line on prevent a new influx of migrants.

“It is heartbreaking to hear proposals that common funds should be used to build walls and barbed wire as a solution,” he said in a speech to camp residents and visiting dignitaries. “The problems are not solved, and coexistence improved by building higher walls, but by joining forces to care for others according to the concrete possibilities of each and in respect of the law.”

Since 2015, Lesvos has been one of the main entry points into the European Union for migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The number of arrivals to the island has declined dramatically since the EU struck an agreement with Turkey in 2016 to manage refugee flows, but migrants continue to try to reach Europe by boat across the Mediterranean, often with fatal results.

“The Mediterranean, which for millennia has brought together different peoples and distant lands, is becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones,” said Pope Francis. “This great pool of water, cradle of so many civilizations, now looks like a mirror of death.”

Her audience included Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas and Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi, as well as dozens of camp residents mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Central Africa. .

Pope Francis first visited Lesvos in 2016, helping to bring international attention to the island amid the crisis sparked by refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.

“At that time, the situation was a humanitarian emergency, with over a million new arrivals in Greece between 2015 and 2016,” said Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “The situation has changed dramatically since then, and although it is no longer an emergency, shared responsibility, humanity and solidarity are needed more than ever. “

Sunday’s papal visit “is an opportunity to focus and reflect on shared values ​​of solidarity, humanity and respect for human life and dignity,” Donovan added.

In a moving meeting with migrants in Cyprus on Friday, the Pope stepped back from a prepared speech, insisting he had a responsibility to tell the truth about the refugees’ suffering and comparing their conditions to those from the Nazi and Soviet camps.

“We are appalled when we read stories about the concentration camps of the last century, those of the Nazis or those of Stalin,” he said. “We say, ‘How could this have happened? Brothers and sisters, this is happening today, on the neighboring coasts.

Earlier this year, Greek authorities and the European Commission inaugurated three new refugee centers on the Greek islands of Samos, Kos and Leros. Although the EU-funded facilities are widely considered to be of a higher standard than previous camps, critics complain that they are remote and heavily guarded.

Amnesty International said the new detention camps violated Athens’ commitments to provide international protection to those in need and urged authorities to lift restrictions on residents. Last week, the rights group accused the Greek authorities of illegally detaining asylum seekers in the Samos camp.

Some 2,200 people still live in the Mavrovouni detention center, which was built as a temporary solution after a fire destroyed a notoriously overcrowded camp in neighboring Moria.

A new center to replace containers in Mavrovouni was supposed to be operational before last winter, but was delayed by local authorities contesting any permanent construction. North Aegean regional governor Kostas Moutzouris said he hoped the pope’s appeal did not drag more migrants to the Greek islands.

“We welcome the Pope’s second visit and hope that it will mark the rapid departure of all migrants from our islands,” he told POLITICO after the Pope left. “We hope that this will not lead to the start of migratory movements towards Lesbos. We will not allow any permanent construction on the island.

Asylum seeker Kamille Mobaki, from Congo, also hoped the papal visit would help him leave the island.

“I am excited for his visit and I am stressed,” said Mobaki, 31, as he waited in a tent for the pope to arrive. “Maybe he will take us to Italy, maybe that will be a solution for us.”

Mobaki has been stranded in Lesvos for almost two years and his asylum claims have been rejected twice.

On his first visit to Lesvos, Pope Francis brought a number of Syrians back with him to Rome, and to Cyprus last week, the Vatican announced that 12 migrants who had crossed the separatist Turkish Cypriot border north of the island would soon be transferred to Italy. Cypriot officials later said a total of 50 people would be sent.

Among them, two Cameroonian students stranded for six months in the no man’s land which divides the island.

The Greek media are teeming with rumors that the Pope is taking 300 more people with him from Lesvos, but none of these plans were announced as he left the island after the two-hour visit.

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