Pope Francis Calls Migrants’ Negligence the ‘Shipwreck of Civilization’ on His Visit to Lesbos
Pope Francis returned to the island of Lesbos on Sunday, the height of the migration he first visited in 2016, calling the neglect of the migrants the “wreck of civilization.”
The pope has long championed the cause of migrants and his visit comes a day after he launched a harsh rebuke to Europe, which he said was “torn by nationalist selfishness.”
“In Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as an issue that does not concern them,” the Pope said while spending about two hours in the Mavrovouni camp on Lesbos, where about 2,200 asylum seekers live.
On the second day of her visit to Greece, she encountered dozens of asylum-seeking children and family members behind metal barriers and stopped to hug a boy named Mustafa.
Later, the people gathered in a tent to sing songs and psalms to the pontiff.
Pope Francis warned that the Mediterranean “is turning into a gloomy cemetery without tombstones” and that “after all this time, we see that little has changed in the world regarding the issue of migration.”
He said that the root causes “must be confronted, not the poor who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda.”
The European Union has been embroiled in a dispute with Belarus over the influx of immigrants traveling through the former Soviet state seeking to enter Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in recent months.
Britain and France have traded criticism about the growing number of migrants crossing the deadly channel to the UK in the wake of the massive drowning on November 24 that claimed 27 lives.
“Your visit is a blessing,” said Rosette Leo, a Congolese asylum seeker at the scene.
‘Terrible modern odyssey’
The Mavrovouni temporary tent camp was hastily erected after the sprawling Moria camp, the largest such site in Europe at the time, caught fire last year.
Greek authorities blamed a group of young Afghans for the incident and security improved substantially during the pontiff’s visit.
The Pope’s trip to Lesbos was shorter than the previous one; was scheduled to celebrate a mass for about 2,500 people at the Megaron Athens Concert Hall on Sunday afternoon.
In Cyprus, where the pope visited Greece earlier this week, authorities said 50 immigrants will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.
Greek officials did not rule out the possibility that some immigrants from Mavrovouni could accompany him back to Italy.
He took 12 Syrian refugees with him during his last visit to Lesbos in 2016.
No to the ‘easy answers’ of populism
At the beginning of his visit to Athens on Saturday, Francisco “today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a decline in democracy”, warning against the “easy answers” of populism.
In 2016, Francis visited Moria with Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Archbishop Ieronymos II, head of the Church of Greece.
The Mavrovouni camp currently houses 2,193 people and has a capacity of 8,000, an official at the facility said this week.
Authorities insist that asylum procedures and processing times are now faster.
With EU funding, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on the Greek islands with barbed wire fences, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that close at night.
Three of these camps have been opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, and Lesbos and Chios will follow next year.
Once migrants are granted asylum, they are no longer eligible to stay in the camps and many are unable to find accommodation or work, drawing criticism from NGOs and aid agencies.
The groups have also raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted, as well as claiming that Greek border agents have turned the migrants away.
Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting that its coast guard saves lives at sea.
The pope is scheduled to return to Rome on Monday.