The Cypriot government spokesman said Pope Francis is making arrangements to transfer a number of migrants to Italy after concluding his three-day visit to the eastern Mediterranean island nation early next month
NICOSIA, Cyprus – Pope Francis is organizing the transfer to Italy of a number of migrants from Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean, where he opens a three-day visit next week, a Cypriot government official.
The Vatican spokesperson did not immediately respond when asked to confirm that the Pope would indeed bring migrants back to Italy or otherwise arrange their trip off Cyprus.
The ITA Airbus 320 that will bring the Pope’s and Vatican delegation from Rome to Nicosia on December 2 will not go to Greece on the second leg of the trip, according to the ITA press office. This could suggest that any transfer of migrants from Cyprus to Rome could in fact take place without the Pope on board, as he is due to travel to the Greek capital of Athens on December 4 on another plane.
The Pope made headlines in 2016 when he brought a dozen Syrian Muslims with him on his return flight to Rome after a trip to the Greek island of Lesvos which is home to a large reception camp for migrants.
Cyprus said earlier this month it would seek European Union approval to stop processing migrants’ asylum claims amid a wave of new arrivals the country says it is unable to cope with .
The Cypriot government is also urging the EU to relocate a number of asylum seekers living in Cyprus to other member countries of the bloc and to conclude agreements with third countries to take back their citizens whose asylum claims have been made. rejected.
Cypriot authorities say that in the first 10 months of this year, migrant arrivals increased by 38% compared to 2020 as a whole. Of the 10,868 new arrivals, 9,270 illegally crossed a controlled buffer zone by the United Nations from the separatist Turkish Cypriot north to seek asylum. in the internationally recognized south.
Asylum seekers make up 4% of the population in the south of the island, four times the average for other EU frontline states.
Migrants say conditions at a reception camp just outside the Cypriot capital Nicosia are deteriorating as it currently houses nearly double its maximum capacity of 1,200 people.
Schadrach Mvunze from the Democratic Republic of the Congo said what he and others in the camp want is a place where they can live in peace, whether in Cyprus or elsewhere.
“Cyprus welcomed us … If they can’t accommodate us, they can even maybe send us to France, Canada, England,” Mvunze told The Associated Press, which visited the camp on Thursday. . “They can disperse us all over Europe to make us more comfortable.
Nigerian Daniel Idu, who left the separatist north to seek international protection in the south, said all he asked for was a chance to lift his aging mother and young son out of poverty.
“If I have the opportunity to meet the Pope, I will only ask for one thing and that is to settle here and probably have a better job to provide for my family,” he said. -he declares.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.