By Monica Sowa,
International News Writer
In light of the Syrian refugee crisis, many migrants have made their way to the Greek Island of Lesbos in search of refuge. According to the UN and Greek police, there are currently 4,142 migrants living on the island, and 3,060 being held in other facilities. Many of these migrants are awaiting deportation because of the European Union’s new policy that requires sending illegal migrants living in Greece back to Turkey.
Since the announcement of this new plan, the number of refugees entering Lesbos has decreased dramatically, however, living conditions of refugee facilities have also deteriorated. Many humanitarian organizations have withdrawn from Greece fearing that their presence will link them to the EU’s decision to deport the migrants.
The Pope addressed the fear remaining refugees have, saying that migrants live in “a climate of angst and fear and uncertainty over the future,” according to CNN.
Pope Francis made his visit with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Christians and Archbishop Iernymos II of Athens. They held a service blessing those who have died en route to Europe. Refugees face difficult trips as they travel across the Mediterranean and many are killed or go missing on the journey to Europe. According to the BBC, Pope Francis prayed for the missing and deceased: “though many of their graves bear no name, to you, each one is known, loved and cherished.”
Pope Francis met many of the migrants and spoke to them spreading the message of hope and empathy. He addressed the crowd with encouragement, assuring them they were not alone.
To show his support, Pope Francis invited three Syrian families back with him to the Vatican. According to a statement released by the Vatican, “the Pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees, accompanying on his plane to Rome three families of refugees from Syria, 12 people in all, including six children. These are all people who were already in camps in Lesbos before the agreement between the European Union and Turkey.”
The families, who are all Syrian Muslims, were chosen randomly in a lottery. Two of the families are from Demascus and one is from Deir Azzor. Together families are made up of engineers, a teacher, a tailor, and six children. All fled there homes and entered Turkey before continuing on to Greece.
The Vatican will be responsible for these families and ensure they are cared for. The Community of Sant’Egidio will give direct services and support to the families. This charity group has been established in Rome since 1968. It is composed of over 60,000 working members
Pope Francis believes that other nations have a responsibility to welcome refugees. His recent gestures of welcome further expressed his view that, “before they are numbers, refugees are first and foremost human beings.”
The Pope’s visit showed great solidarity with the refugees, and there is some speculation that the Pope’s visit can be seen as a veiled criticism of the EU’s deportation policy. However, according to the Guardian, the Vatican has emphasized that “the Pope’s visit was purely humanitarian and religious in nature.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 26th print edition.
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