Pope Brings Home Refugee Families From Greek Island
The Holy See confirmed Saturday that the three Muslim families, including six children, would be housed in the Vatican. Francis wanted to “make a gesture of welcome” to refugees, the statement said.
The families hail from three different cities in Syria. All lost their homes to bombings. Francis said his decision to bring them back to Rome was “purely humanitarian” and not a political act. However, it came as attitudes in Europe appeared to be hardening over accepting more refugees.Before departing from Lesbos, Francis was joined by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos II in signing a declaration urging the international community to make the protection of migrant lives a priority and to extend temporary asylum to those in need.
The three clerics led a minute of silence in front of hundreds of people at the Lesbos port of Mytilene, before tossing floral wreaths into the sea in memory of those who perished while trying to reach to Europe.Earlier, Francis visited the Moria detention camp in Lesbos.Adults and children broke down in tears at the sprawling fenced complex on the Aegean island, pleading for help after their journey to Europe was cut short by an EU decision to seal off a route used by a million people fleeing conflict since early 2015.
Francis also accepted drawings and paintings from children. As he handed one art project to his staff, he said, “Don’t fold it. I want it on my desk.”
The European Union and Turkey have entered into a controversial deportation deal to try to end Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.
Human rights groups say the scheme for dealing with the crisis does not recognize the inherent dignity of the migrants as human beings, but instead treats them as merchandise that can be traded back and forth.The Vatican said the pope’s trip was not a “direct” criticism of the scheme, but was a purely humanitarian visit.