Pope Francis visits Cyprus this week to lend his support to a conflict-riven island now on the front line of a new migratory route for people fleeing their countries for Europe, Reuters reports.
In central Nicosia, nothing tells the story of an influx in arrivals more than the small courtyard area outside the Church of the Holy Cross. Each morning migrants queue for aid and assistance from a Catholic charity.
Aid workers say the situation is overwhelming. Francis, who has made defence of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week.
He plans an ecumenical prayer with migrants at Holy Cross on Friday after Mass at an outdoor stadium in Nicosia in the morning.
“I am thinking of those who, in recent years, and still today, have been fleeing from war and poverty, landing on the shores of the continent or elsewhere, and finding not hospitality, but hostility and even exploitation,” Francis said in a video message ahead of his visit.
“They are our brothers and sisters.”
Even during these days so many migrants are exposed to very serious dangers, and so many lose their lives at our borders!
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) November 28, 2021
In addition to its proximity to the volatile Middle East, Cyprus has found itself in a sticky spot for reasons of its own complex geopolitics.
Split between its ethnic Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Cyprus has a porous 180 kilometre ceasefire line cleaving it east to west that has been used by people traffickers as a backdoor into the government-controlled south. This year alone more than 90 per cent of those who came to the south used this route.
“Right now we are overwhelmed with the number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who are here in Cyprus,” said Elizabeth V. Kassinis, executive manager of Caritas Cyprus, part of a global network of Catholic relief and aid organisations.
She said the charity, which provides aid ranging from assistance with paperwork to clothing and food parcels, has recently been assisting up to 400 people daily compared with between 150-200 in the past.
Many are pinning hopes on the pope bringing them better days. “The pope can change many things because the pope represents Jesus Christ … if you follow God you cannot lose anything,” said Antoinette Ndjikeu, 50, from Cameroon.
Francis will overnight in no-man’s-land. The Franciscan monastery adjacent to Holy Cross lies in a buffer zone running through the heart of the medieval city where most other buildings have lain rotting and abandoned for years.