By Philip Pullella and Michele Kambas
VATICANCITY – Pope Francis has arranged to have 50 migrants from Cyprus be relocated to Italy to mark his trip to the Mediterranean island next week, a Vatican source said on Friday.
The 50 will be relocated after the trip, which begins on Thursday, but most likely not before Christmas because of logistical reasons, the source added.
In Cyprus, government spokesman Marios Pelekanos said the Vatican had expressed an intention to re-settle a number of migrants from the island to Rome but gave no details.
“This is a tangible expression of solidarity by the Head of the Roman Catholic Church to people in need, affirming that the Vatican recognises the problem that the Republic of Cyprus faces today because of the increased migratory flows and the need for a fair distribution among EU member states,” he said.
The east Mediterranean island, which is the closest European Union country to the volatile Middle East, says it has been inundated with arrivals in recent years.
So far this year, migrant arrivals have risen 38% compared with the whole of 2020, it says.
Many arrive through a porous “green line”- the legacy of a 1974 ceasefire after a Turkish invasion following a brief Greek-backed coup – which bisects the island into a Turkish Cypriot north and internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south.
Of 10,868 arrivals in the first 10 months of 2021, more than 9,000 had arrived through that route. Many of its asylum seekers are from war-torn Syria, but increasingly in recent years arrivals have spiked from sub-Saharan Africa.
Francis is due to visit Cyprus on Dec. 2-4 before spending two days in Greece, including a day trip including the Greek island of Lesbos that hosts many foreign migrants.
Francis, who has made defence of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos in 2016 and returned with a dozen Syrian refugees.
Moria camp was destroyed by a fire last year and replaced with another camp called Mavrovouni.