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Pope Francis visits Greek island amid refugee crisis

April 17, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Pope Francis was greeted Saturday on the Greek island of Lesbos by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Patriarch Bartholomew, and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church Ieronymos amid tight security.

The three religious leaders visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos where hundreds of refugees are being kept temporarily, and also paid tribute to the people who lost their lives at sea trying to cross the waters from Turkey to Greece.

Tsipras said the Catholic pontiff was welcome to the island that “lifted on its shoulders all the weight of Europe”, a reference to the unprecedented refugee crisis.

Pope Francis praised Greece and the Greek people and their role in addressing the issue, saying the country continues to set an example for humanity.

Tsipras called the visit “an opportunity to highlight the need to stop the [Syrian] war, the exploitation of people, and to allow a legal route for these people who flee their homes for a better future.”

The premier said it was also an opportunity to show that “the Greek people, despite the great difficulties they have faced and despite being unjustly treated and suffering harsh austerity measures over the years that others have imposed, showed a human face and solidarity towards refugees.

“I’m proud of that, especially since some of our partners and even in the name of Christian Europe lifted up walls and fences to prevent defenseless people from pursuing a better life.”

During their visit to the Moria camp, the three religious leaders broke protocol and strict security measures to meet the migrants that live in captivity there.

The migrants welcomed them with slogans and banners asking to meet them in person.

Many of the refugees kissed their hands and asked them to help them make their dreams for a better life come true.

After addressing the refugees, the three religious leaders signed a joint appeal to the world community and to the UN to deal with the refugee crisis.According to Refugee Crisis Management Coordination Body figures, 53,666 identified refugees and migrants were on Greek territory on Friday. Almost 30,000 are in northern Greece; just over 10,000 are in the Idomeni camp.