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Pope condemns Europe over migrant deaths

13 December 20210 comments

Pope Francis has slammed Europe over closed borders and the migrant and refugee crisis.

After a visit to Lesbos, the Greek island at the centre of Europe’s refugee crisis for a decade, to offer comfort to asylum seekers, he had strong words for European leaders saying that “fear, indifference and cynical disregard continue to condemn people to death at sea”.

Pope Francis said Europe had failed to heed the lessons from history during his address on Sunday to people at a migration camp on Lesbos

Five years after his last visit, the pontiff admonished the west for its handling of the humanitarian crisis. Instead of welcoming people fleeing poverty and war, its indifference and cynical disregard had continued to condemn them to death, he said.

“Sisters and brothers, I am here on Lesbos to say I am near you, to look into your eyes full of fear and expectancy, eyes that have seen violence and poverty, the pope told a group of immigrants on Sunday. “Migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone.”

In 2016, in a signal move seen by papal observers then as a defining moment of his papacy, Francis came to the island at the height of the migration drama.

He sent a message to Europe’s political leaders by flying back to Rome with a group of Syrian refugees on his plane. The gesture appeared to usher in a new era of compassion and goodwill towards people refuges.

In 2016 Europe had failed to heed the lessons from history, the head of the Roman Catholic Church said this week as he addressed asylum seekers and officials at the camp.

Since then, the Mediterranean had been allowed to become a “desolate sea of death” where smugglers’ boats packed with desperate people sank, the pope said.

“Please let us stop this shipwreck of civilisation,” he said, referring to a decision by many EU countries to build walls along their borders.

“I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes,” he said in the presence of Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou,

Pope Francis, who turns 85 later this month, is the son of Italian migrants who moved to Argentina, has made the defence of refugees a cornerstone of his eight-year papacy.

While in Cyprus, his first stop on the trip, the pontiff condemned what he described as the “slavery” and “torture” often suffered by those fleeing war and poverty.

“It reminds us of the history of the last century, of the Nazis, of Stalin,” he said at a prayer service held for immigrants coalesced in Nicosia, the island’s divided capital. “And we wonder how this could have happened.”

But Francis saved his harshest criticism for the end of his tour.

He expressed fears over disenchanted people being lured by the “siren songs of authoritarianism” and warned against populists promising popular but unrealistic solutions.

Almost a million people, many fleeing war in Syria, travelled through Greece in 2015 and 2016. Lesbos was by the busiest entry point, with hundreds of asylum seekers arriving on its beaches each day in small boats.