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A Chastising Pope Goes to Lesbos, Visits Refugee Detention Camp

Making his second trip to the island of Lesbos, Pope Francis visited a refugee detention center holding asylum seekers waiting two years or longer for processing as Greece’s government is dealing with accusations of pushing back more trying to reach the country.

In 2016, he brought back 12 Muslims and this time talked to 92 refugees who live in the camp as the New Democracy administration is building new facilities on five islands near Turkey, which is allowing human traffickers to keep sending them.

“Today’s visit by the Pope gladdens all us migrants,” an 18-year-old from the Republic of Congo who has been at the camp for more than year told Kathimerini.

“I now know that there is someone out there thinking of us,” he added and stated that “he gives us hope and the strength to carry on.” Besides Catholics among them, there were 37 Muslims, the paper said.

“He demonstrates that he is with us, as a brother,” said a 60-year-old Iraqi refugee, before adding that “every one of us is like me, like you.”

With Greece and Turkey swapping shots over how refugees and migrants are being treated, or used, Pope  Francis condemned the exploitation of refugees for political propaganda.

Pope Francis meets migrants during his visit at the Karatepe refugee camp, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. Pope Francis is offering comfort migrants at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. He is blasting what he says is the indifference and self-interest shown by Europe “that condemns to death those on the fringes.” (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

He went back to Lesbos  briefly as part of his five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece to meet with refugees at the Mavrovouni camp, which holds about 2,300 people.

He lamented that “little has changed with regard to the issue of migration” since his last visit five years ago, said the news agency Reuters in a report, noting that thousands have died trying to get to the European Union, which closed its borders to them.

“I am here to see your faces and look into your eyes. Eyes full of fear and expectancy, eyes that have seen violence and poverty, eyes streaked by too many tears,” he said at the camp’s reception and identification area.

Without naming names, he criticized those who use the migration crisis for political ends, shying away from blaming either country, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“It is easy to stir up public opinion by instilling fear of others,” he said, adding that people who are anti-immigrant “fail to speak with equal vehemence” about the exploitation of the poor, wars, and the arms industry, said Reuters.

“The remote causes should be attacked, not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda,” he said.

The camp is on an old army firing range and was hastily built after a handful of asylum seekers burned down the notorious former Moria camp in protests at COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Christian Tango Mukaya, a 30-year-old asylum-seeker from Congo, delivers a speech as Pope Francis listens to him during a ceremony at the Karatepe refugee camp, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. Pope Francis is returning to Lesbos, the Greek island that was at the heart of a massive wave of migration into Europe. (Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool via AP)

As he entered the Mavrovouni camp, Francis greeted and shook hands of dozens of asylum-seekers, including young children, who lined up to see him then sat on a chair under a tent, behind him the Aegean Sea that has proved perilous and deadly for those coming from Turkey.

SEA OF DEATH

The camp is is surrounded by cement and barbed wire and the sea, across which refugees and migrants who went to Turkey first hoping to reach the EU came to Greece in search of sanctuary.

Departing from his prepared address, Francis said it was “distressing” to hear that some European leaders wanted to use common funds to build a wall and put up barbed wire to keep immigrants out. read more

“We are in the era of walls and barbed wire,” he said. Greece is extending a wall along the Evros River on the Turkish border and had been planning a floating barrier around part of the island that hasn’t been implemented.

Joshue, an 18-year-old refugee from Congo, was among those who welcomed the Pope’s visit.

“It’s not like hearing it from afar, he came to the field to see how we live, to see how things happen here, so it gives us hope and strength knowing that such a leader is thinking about us,” he said.

“Five years have passed since I visited this place. After all this time,” he added, “We see that little has changed with regard to the issue of migration,” the New York Times reported.

He reprimanded western countries for not living up to the values the allegedly espouse, a number of EU countries reneging on promises to help take some of the overload from Greece and wanting a Great Wall to keep them out.

He said EU plans to fund proposals to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching the bloc were “distressing,” and used the images of dead children on beaches to scold the leaders who’ve shown they don’t care.

“The Mediterranean Sea, cradle of so many civilizations, now looks like a mirror of death,” he said, with more people trying to reach Greece and Europe drowning when their dinghies capsize and sink.

Greece has fervently denied pushing back refugees and migrants in their boats despite mounting evidence and videos from human rights groups and activists, and Turkey, which isn’t being penalized under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU and lets human traffickers keep operating.

Turkey is holding some 4.4 million people who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands and Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to send more through Greece unless he gets more money and concessions.

Pope Francis said the COVID-19 pandemic showed that “we are all on the same boat” and that “the great issues must be faced together,” with no sign that EU leaders are listening to him.

He singled out the nations and ideologies that sought “to stir up public opinion by instilling fear of others” and walling themselves off, the Times said.

“It is an illusion to think it is enough to keep ourselves safe, to defend ourselves from those in greater need who knock at our door,” he said, adding, “Let me repeat: History teaches this lesson, yet we have not learned it. Let us stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibility, stop passing off the issue of migration to others, as if it mattered to no one and was only a pointless burden to be shouldered by somebody else.”

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