Pope Francis condemns politics of migration in address on Greek front line

Pontifff criticises ‘political propaganda’ on Lesbos visit as policies harden across the EU

Pope Francis greets two young migrant  girls in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis greets two young migrant girls in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

 

Pope Francis has delivered a stinging rebuke to migration politics in an address at a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, home to thousands of people seeking shelter in Europe.

The pope condemned politicians who stoke fears of others and use migrants for “political propaganda”, describing national borders as “irrelevant” when human lives were at risk.

It came at a time when migration policies have hardened in the European Union, with calls from countries on the union’s borders to be allowed to use EU funding to build fences to secure the frontier.

“It is sad to hear proposed as solutions, the use of common funds to build walls, to put up barbed wire,” Francis said.

“When human lives are in peril, when human dignity is in danger, national borders become irrelevant,” he said, citing the Holocaust survivor and late Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

The pontiff spoke of the importance of “respect for legality”, a poignant comment at a time when Greek authorities and others have been accused of engaging in illegal “push-backs” to force those seeking asylum to return across borders.

He called for more ambitious solutions to address conflict, poverty and environmental destruction as root causes of migration.

“It is easy to sway public opinion by instilling fear of others,” Francis said. “Why do we fail to speak with the same vehemence about the exploitation of the poor, of the forgotten wars, often lavishly funded; of the economic accords made on the backs of the people, and the covert deals to traffic arms and increase their trade. Why is this not spoken about?”

“The underlying causes should be confronted, not the poor people who suffer the consequences, and are then used for political propaganda,” he added.

Empathy

The pontiff has made empathy for refugees and migrants a cornerstone of his papacy, and travelled to Iraq earlier this year where he held inter-religious meetings in a bid to promote peace and stability in the region.

His first pastoral visit outside Rome after his election in 2013 was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which has served as a gateway to Europe and a site of mass drownings, as boats have foundered off its shores.

Speaking directly to the audience of refugees but with a message for Europe’s wider political leadership, Pope Francis made an appeal to stop the Mediterranean becoming a “graveyard” in what he call a “shipwreck of civilisation”.

“If we want to start again, we must look at the faces of children. We find the courage to be ashamed in front of them, who are innocent, and who are the future,” Francis said.

“They ask our consciences: what kind of world do you want to give us? We cannot turn away from the images of their small bodies, laying inert on the beaches.”