It was an emotional scene on the Greek island of Lesbos this morning (April 16), as Pope Francis touched down to visit scores of anxious refugees.
“Do not lose hope,” the Pope said during his brief time at the Moria migrant camp, which houses more than 3,000 people—many of whom might soon be deported to Turkey, due to a recent agreement the country stuck with the European Union. ”The greatest gift we can offer one another is love.”
Since last summer, hundreds of thousands of refugees (from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere) have passed through Lesbos from the Turkish coast on their way to other countries in Europe. But the migration flood has sparked concerns across the continent about overcrowding, and many countries are restricting or closing their borders. The new EU deal allows authorities to individually assess those crossing into Greece and send “irregular migrants” that arrive back to Turkey.
Though the number of migrants arriving in Lesbos has dropped off sharply since the EU deal, thousands are currently stuck on the island awaiting their fate.
As a gesture of welcome, the Pope invited three families—six adults and six children, all Muslim refugees from Syria—aboard his plane heading back to the Vatican in Rome. The families had been victims of wartime bombing in their home country, and had been in the camps prior to the agreement between the EU and Turkey, the Vatican said, adding that the arrangement had been negotiated with immigration authorities.
At Moria, Pope Francis—whose visit was said by the Vatican to be purely humanitarian, and not a critique of the new policy—implored world leaders to show “common humanity” for the migrant crisis.
“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” he said.
Children and parents crowded eagerly for a glimpse of the religious leader. ”We risked our lives to get out and we’d rather die here,” said one Syrian Kurdish refugee. “God willing, [Pope Francis] will help us and get Europe to open its doors to us.”
Here are some pictures from the Pope’s visit.