The Pope has asked every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a refugee family, insisting that a “concrete gesture” is necessary to help Syrian asylum-seekers.
Pope Francis announced to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square that the Vatican’s two parishes would be welcoming refugees, and urged, “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe [to] take in a family.”
The Pope’s call for help comes as members of the public offer to welcome refugees in their homes. The Finish Prime Minister Juha Sipila, singer Bob Geldof, French mayors, and British Labour leadership candidates Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham have all offered to personally host refugees.
The public pressure has slowly started to affect government action. The UK has softened its stance, and will use some of its international aid budget to support Syrian refugees, reportedly agreeing to welcome 10,000 Syrians. Meanwhile Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he’s prepared to increase the percentage of refugees Australia accepts from Syria—though he will not increase Australia’s total refugee intake.
But international efforts are nowhere near enough to support the thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria. Although Germany has agreed to take 800,000 refugees, other countries are far less open.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to use military units along its southern border to block refugees from entering the country, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the country is too small to take in refugees. In wealthy Arab states, citizens are calling out their governments for inaction on the refugee crisis.
The President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has urged Europe—and Hungary in particular—to do more to ease the humanitarian crisis (though Iran supports Syrian president Bashar Assad, whose regime is responsible for much of the violence that has driven millions of Syrians to flee).
“We are happy that some European countries made positive efforts to help refugees and we hope other European countries that do not have this position compensate on shortcomings,” he said in a message published on his website.
Meanwhile, the United Nations today called for an emergency evacuation of 17,000 refugees who are trapped on the Greek island of Lesbos, and are waiting to be given travel permits by the Greek authorities.