Pope Francis Takes 12 Refugees Back to Vatican After Trip to Greece

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from The New York Times,

Pope Francis made an emotional visit into the heart of Europe’s migrant crisis on Saturday and took 12 Muslim refugees from Syria, including six children, with him back to Rome aboard the papal plane.

The action punctuated the pope’s pleas for sympathy to the plight of the refugees just as European attitudes are hardening against them.

Those taken to Rome were three families — two from Damascus and one from the eastern city of Deir al-Zour — whose homes had been bombed in the Syrian war, the Vatican said in a statement as the pope departed the Greek island of Lesbos.

”The pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees,” the statement said, adding that the Vatican would care for the three families.

The announcement capped a brief trip by the pope to Greece that again placed the plight of migrants at the center of his papacy.

“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” Francis said during a lunchtime visit to the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, where leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches joined him.

“As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf,” Francis continued. “We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”

Upon landing in Lesbos on Saturday, Francis held a brief private meeting with Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, before traveling across the island to the detention center in Moria, where people are held as they await rulings on their asylum applications — or as they wait to be deported under a recent agreement struck between the European Union and Turkey to curb migration.

Beginning last summer, hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have poured into Lesbos after paying smugglers to make the short sea journey from the Turkish coast. The procession through Greece and the Balkans toward Germany plunged the European Union into a political crisis and eventually led several countries to restrict or close their borders, despite the bloc’s system of open internal borders.

The deal with Turkey includes a provision under which migrants arriving in Greece can be swiftly deported back to Turkey. Since the deal took effect last month, the number of migrants arriving in Lesbos has dropped sharply (even as the numbers arriving in Italy are steadily rising). Critics say the agreement has trampled on the civil rights of refugees fleeing war and betrayed the ideals of the European Union.

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