Vatican City (NWN) — Pope Francis’ visit to Cyprus and Greece is drawing new attention to the plight of migrants at Europe’s borders and to Francis’ evangelical countries to welcome and integrate them and front-line governments. is the difference between. increasingly unwilling or unable to let them in.
The eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus has seen such an increase in migrant arrivals this year – a 38% increase in the first 10 months compared to last year – that it has formally asked the European Commission to fully consider asylum claims. shut it down ,
Francis is expected to increase migration Question – and Cyprus’s nearly half-century division – when he arrived in Nicosia on Thursday on the first leg of his five-day trip. The trip will also take him back to Lesbos, where he made headlines in 2016 when he brought home a dozen Syrian migrants from a refugee camp on the Greek island.
Francis is arranging a similar transfer this time: about 50 migrants in Cyprus have been identified for transfer to Italy, although they will not join them on the plane, but will be resettled in the coming weeks, Cypriot officials say. And the Vatican has not ruled out that some more immigrants from Lesbos could be transferred to Italy after Francis’ visit.
“It was like a gift,” said one of the Syrian migrants who arrived in Italy after Francis’ 2016 visit to Lesbos, Malak Abo. Now, Abo works at a charity center in Rome run by the Catholic Sant’Egidio charity group, which helped facilitate his 2016 relocation.
In divided Nicosia, Francis will immediately come face to face with the reality of the island’s ethnic rift, which is also helping fuel its migration flows. Francis will live in the Vatican nunciature, or embassy, which is located in the United Nations-controlled buffer zone that divides the island between Greek Cypriot South and breakaway Turkish Cypriot North.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded with Greece following a coup by supporters of the Union. Turkey only in the north recognizes the declaration of independence of Cyprus. UN-led efforts to restart reunification talks are proceeding at a snail’s pace amid Greek Cyprus’ rejection of Turkish Cypriot calls for a two-state agreement.
About 80% of all migrants in Cyprus first arrive in the north and then cross the UN green line to seek refuge in the internationally recognized south, which is a member of the European Union. The Cypriot government claims that Turkey systematically sends asylum seekers north to put pressure on the island’s southern government.
Grace Nzei and Daniel Ejuba, two Cameroonian asylum seekers who crossed over from the north about six months ago and were trapped in a buffer zone where they are living in a blue tent, are among possible candidates for transfer to Italy after the Pope’s visit. Huh. Since then.
On the eve of Francis’ arrival, Angie said, “If there can be help from anywhere, I’ll grab it.” “And if I am given the opportunity to make a choice, of course, it would be fine to choose anywhere in Europe.”
He and Ejuba paid hundreds of euros in the north to someone who had shown them a way to cross the UN line six months earlier. They will face deportation if they return to the north, but have been barred from crossing to the south amid crackdowns on Cypriot migrants, with Israel recently setting up a camera system for surveillance. million euros ($31.8 million) deal. 180 km long (110 mi long) buffer zone.
Despite the precarious life they live in a tent on the UN’s Green Line, Grace says that living in southern Cameroon was not an option: her house was burned down and random shootings and violence forced her into the bush in search of safety. had fled to.
“I don’t regret leaving the house. I don’t,” she said. “Even in my current situation, I still don’t regret it.”
Francis has made the plight of migrants a hallmark of his papacy, making his first visit as pope a destination of choice for migrant smugglers based in Lampedusa Island, Libya. He has since prayed at the US-Mexican border, visited a refugee camp in Bethlehem and met with Rohingya refugees who had fled Myanmar for Bangladesh.
In a message this week marking the 70th anniversary of the International Organization for Migration, Francis stressed that refugees are people worthy of respect and condemned how their desperation is exploited, a message that He reiterated in the context of the standoff at the EU border with Belarus.
“The debate on migration is not really about migrants,” Francis said. “Even more regrettable is the fact that migrants are increasingly being used as bargaining chips, as pawns on the chessboard, as victims of political rivalry.”
Francis is meeting with Orthodox leaders in both Cyprus and Greece, as well as small local Catholic communities in each country.
The trip comes amid new pandemic travel restrictions around the world thanks to an Omicron variant first detected in South Africa.
Pope, who turns 85 this month and has only part of one lung, has been fully vaccinated, but generally avoids face masks. Asked whether any precautions were taken to protect him and others during the trip, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said there was “prudence” as well as the prevailing health pass requirements that apply to most of Europe.
Asked whether the Pope and the Vatican delegation had received booster shots, Bruni said “I can assume” that anyone traveling on a Pope plane who wants one can get one.
Cyprus has seen daily COVID-19 infections rise by more than 0.5% in recent weeks, prompting authorities to wear masks and weekly testing for schoolchildren over 6, as well as canceling all school Christmas events. inspired to.
Menelaos Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus.
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