A spokesman for Cyprus’ government says Pope Francis is making arrangements to transfer several migrants to Italy after ending his three-day visit to the eastern Mediterranean island nation early next month.
NICOSIA, Cyprus – Pope Francis is making arrangements to transfer several migrants from the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus to Italy, where he begins a three-day visit next week, a Cypriot government official said on Thursday.
A Vatican spokesman did not immediately respond when asked to confirm whether the pope was indeed bringing the migrants back to Italy or was otherwise arranging for their travel from Cyprus.
The ITA Airbus 320, which is bringing the Pope and the Vatican delegation from Rome to Nicosia on December 2, will not travel to Greece on the second leg of the trip, according to the ITA press office. This may suggest that any transfer of migrants from Cyprus to Rome could actually take place without the Pope, as they have to travel to the Greek capital of Athens on 4 December in a different plane.
The pope made headlines in 2016 when he brought a dozen Syrian Muslims back with him on a flight back to Rome, which hosts a large migrant reception camp, after a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Cyprus said earlier this month it would seek EU approval to stop processing asylum claims from migrants, which the country says is unable to cope with new arrivals.
The Cypriot government is also pressuring the European Union to relocate many of the asylum seekers living in Cyprus to other member states of the bloc and attacking agreements with third countries to repatriate their citizens whose asylum applications. have been rejected.
Cypriot authorities say that in the first 10 months of this year, migrant arrivals were up 38% compared to 2020. Of the 10,868 new arrivals, 9,270 had illegally crossed the UN-controlled buffer zone from the Turkish Cyprus north to seek refuge. Internationally recognized in the South.
Asylum-seekers comprise 4% of the population in the south of the island – four times the average for other EU front-line states.
Migrants say the situation is getting worse at a reception camp just outside the Cypriot capital Nicosia as it currently has nearly double its maximum capacity of 1,200 people.
Shadrach Mwunze of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said he and others in the camp want somewhere where they can live in peace, whether in Cyprus or elsewhere.
“Cyprus has welcomed us … if they are unable to welcome us, they may even send us to France, Canada, England,” Mvunze told the Associated Press, which visited the camp on Thursday. “They can be scattered across Europe to make us more comfortable.
Nigerian Daniel Idu, who crossed over to the north to apply for international security in the south, said he sought a chance to lift his old mother and young son out of poverty.
“If I get a chance to meet the Pope, I’ll ask for only one thing and that’s to settle down and maybe have a better job to support my family,” he said.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.