Pope Francis rebukes Europe as little changes for migrants on Lesbos visit

Pontiff says Mediterranean remains a 'cemetery without tombstones' as he visits the Greek island

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Pope Francis criticised Europe’s leaders on Sunday as he complained that the plight of migrants had not improved in the five years since he last visited the Greek island of Lesbos.

The Pope said the Mediterranean Sea remained a “cemetery without tombstones” and he criticised politicians who exploit migrants making perilous journeys for their own propaganda purposes.

Returning to the island for the first time since 2016, he described the neglect of migrants as the “shipwreck of civilisation”.

The Pope briefly visited refugees at the Mavrovouni camp, which accommodates about 2,300, during a brief visit to the island. The stop-off was part of a five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece.

"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.

On his last visit, he took 12 Syrian refugees back to Italy with him. He lamented that “little has changed with regard to the issue of migration" since his last visit five years ago.

"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.

"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, set up in an old army firing range, is made up of dozens of prefabricated structures, some similar to shipping containers and other, smaller ones made of plastic.

As he entered the camp, the Pope greeted and shook hands of dozens of asylum-seekers, including young children, who lined up to see him.

Sitting on a chair under a tent with the sea behind him, the pope listened to Christian Tango Mukaya, a 30-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who has been at the camp with two of his children for a year. He has not had contact with his wife and another child since he arrived.

Pope Francis meets migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos. Reuters

Mavrovouni, its perimeter surrounded by cement, barbed wire and the sea, replaced the notorious Moria camp that burned down last year.

Departing from his prepared address, the Pope 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.

"We are in the era of walls and barbed wire," he said.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called for the EU to jointly finance a border wall to stem the tide of migrants coming from the Middle East through Belarus into Poland and Lithuania.

Greece has long been the main entry point into the European Union for migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Hundreds of thousands of people arrived on Lesbos's beaches in 2015 after crossing on boats from Turkey.

Updated: December 06, 2021, 4:49 AM