Pope Francis, who was on a visit to Greece to take stock of the European migrant crisis, has in an unprecedented move brought 12 Muslim refugees from Syria – to Rome on the Papal plane. The 12 refugees include six children belonging to three different families who were lodged in a detention center in Greece.
According to The New York Times, the refugees taken to Rome by Pope Francis consisted of three families who have all been affected by the war in Syria. The Vatican has issued an official press release announcing the development. The announcement came just after Pope Francis departed from the Greek island of Lesbos following his one-day trip to the country. All the 12 families would be cared for in Rome, the statement confirmed.
The statement read the following.
“Pope Francis 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 Pope’s initiative was brought to fruition through negotiations carried out by the Secretariat of State with the competent Greek and Italian authorities.”
“All the members of the three families are Muslims. Two families come from Damascus, and one from Deir Azzor, in the area occupied by Daesh. Their homes had been bombed.”
“The Vatican will take responsibility for bringing in and maintaining the three families. The initial hospitality will be taken care of by the Sant’Egidio Community.”
Pope Francis also paid a visit to the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos accompanied by several leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. In an announcement made there, Pope Francis said the following.
“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution. As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf. We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”
Apart from Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians who also was accompanying him, also spoke at the refugee camp. In a blunt reminder to the European Union, he told the European people and their leaders that Christians and others are judged on how they treat the weak and powerless.
“The world will be judged by the way it has treated you. And we will all be accountable for the way we respond to the crisis and conflict in the regions that you come from. The Mediterranean Sea should not be a tomb.”
The detention center in Moria is where refugees are held as they await rulings on their asylum applications. Several refugees have been deported or are waiting to be deported. This is part of a recent agreement struck between Turkey and the European Union. After the deal was struck, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of refugees arriving in Lesbos.
Before his visit to the refugee camps, Pope Francis had an official meeting with Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras.
While the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa began back in 2013, it was beginning last summer that there was a huge upsurge in their numbers. Hundreds of refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq lost their lives after paying smugglers money to help them travel to Europe via a short sea route from Turkey. The number of refugees kept on increasing forcing several countries to restrict or close their borders to stop their inflow. The European Union plunged into a political crisis as they several countries struggled to take in these refugees.
[Andrea Bonetti/Greek Prime Minister’s Office via AP]