By Karolina Tagaris and Philip Pullella
ATHENS – Pope Francis heard from young people including children of migrants who have fled war or poverty at a school in Athens on Monday, as he wrapped up a trip to the Mediterranean in which he defended the rights of refugees and condemned those who exploit their plight for political gain.
The pope’s last event in Greece was a visit to a Catholic-run school where he listened to accounts from several students, including 12-year-old Aboud Gabro, whose family left Syria after their house in Aleppo took a direct hit by a bomb in 2014.
He urged also the children to become social themselves instead of slaves of social media and “prisoners of the cell phones in their hands”.
During a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece, Francis returned to Lesbos, the Greek island on the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis when it began in 2015, lamenting that “little has changed” since his previous visit there.
Speaking from the island’s migrant camp, Francis called the Mediterranean, where thousands have drowned trying to make the crossing to Europe, “a grim cemetery without tombstones”.
Greece, and more recently Cyprus, are the main gateways into the European Union for people trying to flee war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond.
Nearly a million people, mostly Syrians, crossed to Greece from Turkey in 2015, before travelling to wealthier northern European countries, where their arrival has fuelled support for populists and far-right groups.
At an emotional meeting with migrants in Cyprus, Francis compared the conditions in which migrants are held in Libya and elsewhere to those in Nazi and Soviet camps.
The pontiff arranged to have 50 migrants living in Cyprus relocated to Rome.