Pope denounces living conditions of migrants in “gulag” during visit to Cyprus


Pope Francis, in a moving meeting with migrants, said on Friday he had a responsibility to speak out the hard truth about the suffering of refugees, many of whom are being held in conditions he compares to those in Nazi camps and the Soviets.

Francis, who has made the defense of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his pontificate, spoke at the end of his second day in Cyprus, where he met migrants, some of whom will be among the 50 to be relocated in Italy at his initiative over the coming months.

Starting from a prepared speech, he said many people still wonder how the postwar Nazi concentration camps or Stalinist gulags could have been allowed to exist.

“Brothers and sisters, this is happening today,” he said, citing the conditions of refugees in camps in Libya and elsewhere where they are forcibly returned when expelled from Europe.

“They ended up in concentration camps where women are sold, men are tortured and (people) enslaved,” he said.

After listening to some of the stories of the migrants, the Pope said: “The worst part is that you get used to it … This indifference is a serious illness for which there is no antibiotic.

The 84-year-old pontiff said he regretted having to talk about such unpleasant things, but added: “It is my responsibility to open my eyes.”

“Hurt by hate”Francis was moved to add to his prepared comments upon hearing some of the personal stories of the migrants.

“I am someone wounded by hatred. The hatred once lived cannot be forgotten,” a migrant, Marcolins from Cameroon, told the pope in the church where the meeting was held, just at the border which has divided Cyprus in two since 1974.

“There is hatred that drives a human being to use a gun not only to shoot another, but to break their bones while others are watching,” Marcolins said.

Francis, who is leaving for Greece on Saturday, called earlier on Friday for healings in Cyprus during a mass celebrated at the sight of a huge Turkish Cypriot flag on the mountainside across the line that divides the Mediterranean island.

He framed his homily around the theme of shared pain – topics that strike a chord with all Cypriots on an island split in two since a 1974 Turkish invasion sparked by a Greek-inspired coup.

“Healing takes place when we carry our pain together, when we face our problems together, when we listen to each other and we speak,” Francis said at Mass.

Countless attempts at mediation on Cyprus have failed and the peace process stalled in 2017 when talks collapsed. Tens of thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots remain internally displaced.

The huge Turkish Cypriot flag painted on the mountainside, which is illuminated at night, is a constant reminder of the division.



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