At a ceremony in the Greek island of Lesbos, Pope Francis said he understood Europe’s concern about the recent migrant influx. But he said migrants are first of all human beings “who have faces, names and individual stories” and deserve to have their most basic human rights respected.
During the Pope’s visit, Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the archbishop of Athens, Ieronymos II, signed a joint declaration calling on the international community to make the protection of human lives a priority and to extend temporary asylum to those in need.
In his remarks to the refugees, Francis said, “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,” he said. “May all our brothers and sisters on this continent, like the Good Samaritan, come to your aid in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity that has distinguished its long history.”
Human rights groups have denounced the EU-Turkey deportation deal as an abdication of Europe’s obligation to grant protection to asylum-seekers. The March 18 deal stipulates that anyone arriving clandestinely on Greek islands on or after March 20 will be returned to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. For every Syrian sent back, the EU will take another Syrian directly from Turkey for resettlement in Europe. In return, Turkey was granted billions of euros to deal with the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees living there and promised that its stalled accession talks with the EU would speed up.
Making sure not to violate the deal, the Vatican said 12 Syrians coming to Italy with the pope had been in Lesbos prior to March 20, and thus were not subject to possible deportation.
“The world will be judged by the way it has treated you,” Bartholomew told the refugees. “And we will all be accountable for the way we respond to the crisis and conflict in the regions that you come from.”