In Cyprus, the pope’s plea in favor of migrants comes up against island tensions

But then, putting aside his speech, he spoke in unusually blunt terms. “We cannot remain silent” on a “culture of indifference,” Francis said. He looked at the benches, filled with men and women from Africa and the Middle East, some holding crying babies. “Looking at you, I see the faces of suffering,” he said, calling their fate “the story of slavery, universal slavery”.

Speaking with growing emotion, he listed the terrible conditions that many migrants endure to reach Europe. Some were pushed back after having spent their savings, and captured in migrant centers that he likened to “concentration camps, real concentration camps” where women are sold and men tortured.

He said that people who read about Nazi death camps and Stalin’s Gulag ask “how could this have happened?”

“Brothers and sisters, this is happening now, on the neighboring coasts,” he added.

Those who were not captured, he said, crossed a Mediterranean Sea which “has become a great cemetery”.

“The worst part is you get used to it,” he said with exasperation. “Getting used to it is a serious, very serious disease, and there is no antibiotic for this disease.”

He added: “It is my responsibility to help open my eyes.”

Cypriot asylum seekers and migrants make up almost 4% of the population, a primacy which Francis tried to present as a gift, but which the Greek Cypriot government clearly sees as a burden. In 2020, the country’s Interior Minister, Nicos Nouris, deplored this percentage, the highest in Europe per capita, during a council of ministers and implored the European Commission to come to his aid.

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