Pope, on landmark Lesbos visit, ‘wants to take back refugees’

Pope Francis welcomes a group of Syrian refugees after landing at Ciampino airport in Rome following a visit at the Moria refugee camp on April 16, 2016 in the Greek island of Lesbos. Twelve Syrian refugees were accompanying Pope Francis on his return flight to Rome after his visit to Lesbos on Saturday and will be housed in the Vatican, the Holy See said. Pope Francis, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos II visit Lesbos today to turn the spotlight on Europe's controversial deal with Turkey to end an unprecedented refugee crisis.  AFP PHOTO POOL / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP PHOTO / POOL / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

Lesbos / AFP

Pope Francis received an emotional welcome on Saturday on the Greek island of Lesbos during a visit aimed at showing solidarity with migrants fleeing war and poverty, a small group of whom he hopes to bring back to the Vatican.
The pontiff’s landmark visit comes amid controvery over a deal last month to end Europe’s refugee crisis by sending all irregular migrants who land in Greece back to Turkey.
At a refugee camp, where refugees knelt before the pope, one man cried “Father bless me” as the pontiff smiled and placed his hand on the man’s head.
“This is a voyage marked by sadness, a sad voyage,” the pope told reporters during the flight from Rome.
“We will witness the worst humanitarian disaster since the Second World War. We will see so many people who are suffering, who are fleeing and do not know where to go,” he said. “And we are also going to a cemetery, the sea. So many people never arrived,” he said.
An official from Greece’s state refugee coordination agency said Francis, who has repeatedly spoken out about the plight of the migrants risking their lives to reach Europe, wanted to take back a small number of refugees from Lesbos.
The chosen refugees are expected to be from those who arrived on Lesbos before the EU-Turkey deportation deal took effect in March, the official said, without specifying whether this would take place immediately after the pope’s five-hour visit or at a later stage.
Pope Francis, who was accompanied by Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of the Church of Greece and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, visited the Moria processing centre, which is currently housing around 3,000 people. The religious leaders were to later issue a joint declaration on the refugees plight.

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