'Let us stop ignoring reality': Pope Francis castigates Europe over migration crisis

Pope Francis meets migrants during his visit at the Karatepe refugee camp, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos. Credit: AP

Pope Francis has criticised some European countries for their handling of the migrant crisis, as he offered comfort to asylum seekers fleeing poverty and war.

Five years after his last visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, the pontiff said that little had changed since 2016, when it was at the heart of a massive wave of migration to Europe.

In November, 27 people, including a little girl, died when their inflatable dinghy sank in the Channel between France and the UK.

Pope Francis attends a ceremony at the Karatepe refugee camp. Credit: AP

During his Sunday visit to the Mavrovouni camp, the pope said that Europe must stop building walls, stoking fears and shutting out “those in greater need who knock at our door.”

“I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes,” he said.

“Let us stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibility, stop passing off the issue of migration to others, as if it mattered to no one and was only a pointless burden to be shouldered by somebody else.” He went on to denounce that the Mediterranean Sea had become a vast cemetery where smuggling boats packed with desperate people too often sink.

The head of the Catholic church was speaking at a temporary camp housing about 2,000 asylum-seekers, which replaced the overcrowded Moria camp that was destroyed in fires last year.

His five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece has been dominated by the topic of migration and his call for European countries to show greater solidarity with those in need.

Sitting before him in a tent at the water’s edge was Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, EU Commission Vice Presidet Margaritis Schinas and would-be refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Congo, among other countries.

More than 1 million people, many fleeing war in Iraq and Syria, crossed from Turkey into Greece during 2015 and 2016, with Lesbos the busiest Greek crossing point.

Greece has recently built a steel wall along a section of the Greek-Turkish land border and is intercepting boats transporting migrants from the Turkish side.

It denies allegations that it is carrying out summary deportations of migrants reaching Greek territory but human rights groups say numerous such pushbacks have occurred.