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Migrants waited to register at the Kokkinotrimithia refugee camp on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus, Nov. 9. Pope Francis plans to lead an ecumenical prayer service with migrants in Nicosia during his Dec. 2-6 trip to Cyprus and Greece.
Migrants waited to register at the Kokkinotrimithia refugee camp on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus, Nov. 9. Pope Francis plans to lead an ecumenical prayer service with migrants in Nicosia during his Dec. 2-6 trip to Cyprus and Greece.
Photo Credit: Yiannis Kourtoglou | Reuters

Countries must do more to make migration safe, legal, pope says

In message, Pope Francis said, “There is an urgent need to find dignified ways out of irregular situations”

VATICAN CITY — Continuing to focus on the care of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis urged a U.N. organization to do more to convince nations to open safe and legal pathways for migration and to regularize people who have entered countries without the proper documents.

In a message Nov. 29 to the International Organization for Migration, Pope Francis said, “There is an urgent need to find dignified ways out of irregular situations.”

“Desperation and hope always prevail over restrictive policies,” he said, so migration will continue no matter what countries do. “The more legal routes exist, the less likely it is that migrants will be drawn into the criminal networks of people smugglers or into exploitation and abuse while in contravention of the law.”

The pope’s message was read by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, at a meeting marking the 70th anniversary of the U.N. agency. In 2011, retired Pope Benedict XVI decided the Holy See would become a member of the organization.

While insisting a belief in human dignity means migrants must be treated as individuals and not a “phenomenon,” Pope Francis also made suggestions for policies needed to help both people on the move and the countries where they are seeking a better life.

“Migrants render visible the bond that unites the whole human family, the richness of cultures and the resource for development exchanges and trade networks,” he said, but that always depends on the integration of newcomers.

“Integration implies a two-way process, based on mutual knowledge, mutual openness, respect for the laws and culture of the host countries with a true spirit of encounter and mutual enrichment,” he said.

Keeping migrant families intact or helping reunite families is essential, since families are “an essential component of communities in our globalized world,” he said. Unfortunately, “in too many countries migrant workers are denied the benefits and stability of family life as a result of legal impediments. The human void left behind when a father or mother emigrates alone is a stark reminder of the overwhelming dilemma of being forced to choose between emigrating alone to feed one’s family or enjoying the fundamental right to remain in one’s country of origin with dignity.”

And, he said, rather than simply complaining about migration flows, “the international community must urgently address the conditions that give rise to irregular migration” — poverty, conflict, discrimination, climate change — so that migration would be “a well-informed choice and not a desperate necessity.”

“Ultimately,” Pope Francis said, “migration is not only a story of migrants but of inequalities, despair, environmental degradation, climate change,” and also of “dreams, courage, study abroad, family reunification, new opportunities, safety and security, and hard but dignified work.”

Migration is major theme of Pope Francis’ trip to Cyprus and Greece

By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will draw the world’s attention to migration once again as he visits Cyprus and Greece in early December.

The number of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos — where Pope Francis will fly Dec. 5 — is a fraction of what it was when he visited in 2016 and took 12 Syrian refugees back to Rome with him.

But people are still there, living in a temporary camp, often after surviving “pushback” attempts on the part of the Greek or Turkish military, supported by European Union policies.

And no one could say the situation is better on Cyprus, even if migrant arrivals there seldom make the international news.

Pope Francis will visit Cyprus Dec. 2-4 and Greece Dec. 4-6.

Since late 2018, Cyprus has received more asylum-seekers per capita than any country in the European Union, and has been overwhelmed by the influx, said Elizabeth V. Kassinis, executive manager of Caritas Cyprus. “Ninety-nine percent of our beneficiary population now are migrants.”

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas aid and development agency and a partner in the Caritas network, has given Caritas Cyprus a grant to help care for the asylum-seekers, many of whom are homeless, Kassinis said Nov. 22.

Besides being an E.U.-member country geographically close to Lebanon and to Turkey — way stations for migrants — Cyprus is seen as a gateway particularly for those coming from Turkey because there are no real borders to cross.

The migrants and refugees go by boat from Turkey to what only Turkey recognizes as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” the northeastern third of the island.

Since the government of Cyprus does not recognize the North as a separate country, it does not run border controls along the buffer zone.

Caritas Hellas hopes the pope will help the Greek government see that its increasingly “military approach” to migration — using the army or coast guard to push migrants back to Turkey — is not the way for a civilized society to respond to people in need, she said.

The Greek government has been working to distribute migrants and asylum-seekers throughout the country. In October 2020, it said, there were 18,872 asylum-seekers on Lesbos; as of October 2021, the figure was down to just 4,532, according to the Ministry of Migration and Asylum.

But more than five years after the influx began and with fewer than 5,000 migrants on Lesbos, most of them are housed in “temporary” camps far from towns, Alverti said. “Even in a five-star hotel, if you spend two years or five years in one room, psychologically how can you function after that?”

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