As Pope Francis flies back from Lesbos, Greece, he will be accompanied by three Syrian refugee families. At a time where Europe is sending back refugees to Turkey, Francis is once again sending a message to politicians around the world by bringing the refugees — all 12 of whom are Muslim — back with him to the Vatican.
“The Pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees, accompanying on his plane to Rome three families of refugees from Syria, 12 people in all, including six children. These are all people who were already in camps in Lesbos before the agreement between the European Union and Turkey,” a Vatican statement read. “All the members of the three families are Muslims. Two families come from Damascus, and one from Deir Azzor (in the area occupied by Daesh). Their homes had been bombed.”
The statement added that the families would be taken care of by the community of Sant’Egidio — a group of lay people that work with the poor and dedicates itself to evangelization.
There are around 53,000 Syrian refugees still in Greece, according to the International Rescue Committee and another thousand arrive almost every day. With Greece seemingly overwhelmed, the EU is attempting to send Syrians back to other countries deemed safe.
The EU recently struck a deal with Turkey, a country hosting more than 2 million Syrian refugees, but rights groups have denounced the deal as Turkey’s reaction to refugees has gone under a major transformation in recent months. Some refugees are being sent back to Syria, and border guards have shot at new refugees attempting to enter from Syria. Francis’ message to Europe is in light of the heavily criticized deal.
Meanwhile, a number of EU countries have failed to relocate any refugees from Greece — including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and Norway. France has taken 242 refugees from Greece, which is the most of any European country to date.
This is just the latest in a series of political messages Francis has sent to world leaders concerning refugees. Earlier this year, when U.S. politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) were pushing for a ban on Syrian refugees, Pope Francis washed the feet of Syrian refugees as a gesture of hospitality. He’s also made repeated calls for countries to take in refugees, and particularly migrant children.
Speaking during a lunchtime visit to a refugee camp in Lesbos, Francis said, “As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf. 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.”