Pope Francis returns on Sunday to Lesbos, the Greek island at the heart of Europe’s migration debate.
The visit comes after Francisco deliberately criticized European governments for their current handling of migrants during his visit to the region.
In Cyprus, on Friday, he denounced the “culture of indifference” shown to migrants, and in Athens on Saturday he urged European governments to welcome migrants “in proportion to the media of each country.”
“Europe remains stagnant, falling prey to nationalist forms of self-interest rather than being an engine of solidarity. At times, it seems hesitant and uncoordinated,” he said.
“In the past, ideological conflicts prevented the building of bridges between eastern and western Europe. Today, the issue of migration has also caused rifts between the south and the north.”
Visit to the migrant center
The 84-year-old Francis spends just two hours on Lesbos, visiting a new migrant detention center where potential refugees live in white UN containers at the water’s edge and barbed wire fences line the entrance to the camp.
On his previous visit in 2016, Francis brought 12 Syrian Muslim refugees aboard the papal plane.
More than 1 million people, many of them fleeing the war in Iraq and Syria, crossed from Turkey into Greece during 2015 and 2016, with Lesbos being the busiest Greek crossing point.
A crowded refugee camp in Moria on the island, which the Pope visited in 2016, was destroyed by fire last year.
Francis will meet the migrants at the replacement camp on Sunday, lead a prayer service and also spend time with the families inside their container homes.
The Vatican did not say if any migrant would leave the island with Francisco this time.
The Vatican confirmed on Friday that as part of Francis’ visit, 12 migrants currently living in Cyprus will be relocated to Italy in the coming weeks and will be cared for by a Catholic charity in Rome.
Human rights groups intensify criticism of Greece
Greece has recently built a steel wall along a section of the Greek-Turkish land border and is intercepting ships carrying immigrants from the Turkish side.
Athens denies allegations that it is carrying out summary deportations of migrants arriving on Greek territory, but human rights groups say there have been numerous rejections.
Ahead of Francis’ parade on Sunday, human rights groups have stepped up their criticism of Greece’s treatment of migrants and stricter migration policies among the 27 EU members.
Amnesty International said that the new EU-funded detention camps on the Greek islands violated Athens’ commitments to provide international protection to those in need.
“Under EU and international law, asylum seekers should only be detained as a last resort,” Amnesty said. “As we feared, the Greek authorities hide behind the legally ambiguous concept of so-called closed controlled centers to illegally deprive asylum seekers of their liberty.”
The rights group called on Greece “to urgently withdraw this decision and lift the restrictions.”
Greek Migration Affairs Minister Notis Mitarachi defended Greece’s response in a statement on Sunday, saying it had responded “selflessly” to the crisis in 2015 and continued to provide protection to asylum seekers.
But he demanded that the EU do more to help front-line countries like Greece that bear a disproportionate burden, while “those who exploit their fellow men are rewarded.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism