Pope Francis wrapped up his two-day visit to Cyprus on Friday in Nicosia with a mass for migrants that included a strongly worded condemnation of the “slavery” and “torture” endured by asylum-seekers in camps.
The Pope concluded his apostolic journey to the island with an ecumenical prayer service in which he denounced the “indifference” that the West shows incomers.
“It reminds us of the history of the last century, of the Nazis, of Stalin, and we wonder how this could have happened,” the pontiff said at the Parish Church of the Holy Cross in Europe's last divided capital.
During the mass, four migrants from different parts of the world shared stories of their journeys and the suffering they had experienced. After listening to them, Pope Francis said: “We better understand the prophetic power of the word of God, who tells us … ‘You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God’.”
He went on to criticise the “developed civilisations of the West” who refuse to accept migrants or send them back to countries where they would be “confined, tortured and enslaved”, a reference to the recent migrant crisis in Europe in which hundreds of people were pushed back between the borders of Poland and Belarus.
The Vatican said that at least 12 migrants would be taken from the Mediterranean island to Italy, AP reported. The Pope, however, did not confirm the transfer himself during his ceremony.
The Rome-based Sant’Egidio Community has arranged to bring the dozen asylum-seekers from Cyprus to Italy in the coming weeks. The Cypriot Interior Ministry had previously thanked Pope Francis and Holy See for plans to relocate 50 people, saying it was a recognition of Cyprus's inability to continue to absorb an influx of migrants.
The ministry said that two Cameroonian migrants who have been stranded in the UN-manned buffer zone that runs along the divided island for six months would be among those relocated to Italy.
In 2016, Pope Francis famously brought a dozen Syrian refugees home with him aboard the papal plane on his return from a visit to the island of Lesbos in Greece. The Pope will continue on to Greece on Saturday where he will stay for a further two days.
It is not clear whether more than 12 people would be transferred to Italy – the Vatican did not immediately respond when asked about the discrepancy in numbers, although AP reported that Cyprus's Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said arrangements had been made to transfer 50 in total.
Watch - Pope criticises 'disease' of ignoring migrants
The small island nation is home to the largest concentration of asylum-seekers per capita among the EU countries and has repeatedly called for international assistance in helping it cope with a steady influx of people seeking asylum. It recently asked the European Commission to allow it to stop processing asylum claims after an almost 40 per cent increase in migrant arrivals in the first 10 months of 2021 compared with all of last year.
During the final event in Cyprus, Pope Francis referred to the problems the country was facing and recognised that governments are unable to take in everyone and that “we have to understand the limits”.
Nevertheless, he made it clear that countries had a moral obligation to accept those who are fleeing war, hatred and oppression.
“He who comes asking for freedom, bread, help, fraternity and joy, who is fleeing hatred, finds himself in front of a hatred which is called barbed wire,” the Pope said.
“May the Lord awaken the conscience of all of us in front of all these things. We cannot be silent and look away at this culture of indifference.”