Expression of Solidarity and Closeness with migrants and refugees as Pope visits Cyprus and Greece

This week started the 4-day Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Cyprus and Greece. Ecumenical dialogue and the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean will be at the heart of this spiritual journey.  Pope Francis will meet again, as he did in 2016, with migrants and refugees on the island of Lesbos.


As Caritas Confederation, we are encouraged by his expression of solidarity and closeness to the people on the move. Caritas has a long history of solidarity and accompaniment of these brothers and sisters across the world and especially in the Mediterranean region, where peace seems a mirage with the many geopolitical and economic dynamics fuelling conflicts, economic cracks and displacements in Syria and in other Middle East countries.


Migrants and refugees come from near and far to escape poverty, climate change or conflicts, but they often find death on these dangerous journeys. Even if they succeed in reaching the shores of the Mediterranean, their troubles don’t see an end, as they often have to face rejection and hostility. Such an attitude is far from the values that the peoples of this area have shared since ancient times, and a tragic contradiction to the cultural heritage of hospitality and mutual help which has marked the history of Mediterranean civilizations. Indeed, welcoming communities are integral part of the Mediterranean cultural tradition, but this is not reflected in the current policies of European countries and in certain attitudes of closure, discrimination and fear that seem to prevail in our continent, even in local churches.

When people are forced to move because their environment can no longer support a life with dignity, pushing them to return to such a situation is not only unprincipled – it is completely unsustainable, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights states in her statement on 13 September 2021. Along with adopting rights-based approaches to internal displacement, she urged all countries to work together to expand pathways for safe and regular migration for people who are compelled to leave their countries in the context of environmental degradation.

Based on the experience of humanitarian assistance by many Caritas along the Balkan route and in Southern Europe, Caritas Internationalis has strongly advocated for a holistic approach to regular migration with an emphasis on regularization and regular pathways to move away from temporariness towards rights-based, long term migration options for people on the move. This should go hand in hand with a firmer and more predictable humanitarian response to those in need of protection, irrespective of their legal or administrative status. In particular, Caritas Internationalis has urged States to respect the non-refoulement by not rejecting people “on the move” at the borders – as was more than once the case in these years at the European Union borders – and granting effective access to individual protection procedures according to international protection standards, including for undocumented or stateless asylum seekers and minors. It has also recommended the international community to allocate more resources in a needs-centred assistance to vulnerable people on the move at the borders and along the migration routes, including financial support to NGOs which daily assist migrants and asylum seekers.


The Caritas in the Mediterranean continue to accompany migrants and refugees along their journeys of hope, irrespectively of their migration status.

Since 2015, Caritas Cyprus has seen a dramatic increase in demand for its services by adults and minors seeking refuge and asylum in the Greek side of the island. This Caritas is one of the few local humanitarian organisations which provide direct assistance.


Caritas Greece (Hellas) served 18,260 people in Lesbos, 5,400 on the island of Chios and 3,700 on the island of Samos in the period of 2019-2020. Caritas Hellas has also been present on the island of Lesbos since November 2015, trying to meet the increasing needs of migrants and asylum seekers relocated on the island.


Since 2017, Caritas Hellas has been working in Kara Tepe open official accommodation site, where it has developed a holistic psychosocial support mechanism aiming at improving the social and emotional wellbeing of the served population. As of April 2020, in response to the increased health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, Caritas Hellas has expanded its services in Lesbos with the support of the international Caritas network. A new set of interpretation services was introduced, aiming at facilitating the accessibility of refugees and asylum seekers to primary health care units.


“Lesbos” – as recalls Msgr. Joseph Printezis, bishop of Naxos-Tinos – “will be a historic moment for us. Lesbos is a place very dear to Pope Francis because it is a meeting point for migrants in transit to Europe, in search of a future and peace. On 5 December he will be on the island, where he will celebrate a mass and meet the migrants. Today there are many fewer than on the previous visit 5 years ago, but this does not detract from the importance and significance of this return to the island”.


Caritas Hellas and other organizations working with migrants and refugees wrote a letter to Pope Francis to welcome him and narrate about the many problems that migrants and refugees are facing and how local churches, faith-based and other humanitarian organizations are assisting them, as the good Samaritan of the Gospel.


The Letter for reflection and action for and with our brothers and sisters on the move can be consulted at the website dedicated to Pope’s visit to Cyprus and Greece: Pope Francis’ visit to Greece – Κάριτας Ελλάς (


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