By Philip Pullella and Michele Kambas
VATICAN CITY, Nov 26 (Reuters) – Pope Francis has ordered 50 migrants from Cyprus to be relocated to Italy on the occasion of their trip to the Mediterranean island next week, a Vatican source said on Friday.
All 50 will be relocated after the trip, which begins Thursday, but most likely not before Christmas for logistical reasons, the source added.
In Cyprus, government spokesman Marios Pelekanos said the Vatican had expressed its intention to relocate several migrants from the island to Rome, but did not give details.
“It is a tangible expression of solidarity on the part of the head of the Roman Catholic Church towards people in need, affirming that the Vatican recognizes the problem that the Republic of Cyprus faces today due to the increase in migratory flows and the need to a fair distribution among EU member states, “he said.
The eastern Mediterranean island, which is the European Union country closest to the Middle East, claims it has seen growth in arrivals in recent years.
So far this year, migrant arrivals have increased by 38% compared to the whole of 2020, he says.
Many come across the porous “green line,” inherited from a 1974 ceasefire following a Turkish invasion after a brief Greek-backed coup, dividing the island into the internationally recognized Turkish Cypriot north and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south.
Of the 10,868 arrivals in the first 10 months of 2021, more than 9,000 did so via this route. Many of its asylum seekers come from war-torn Syria, but arrivals from sub-Saharan Africa have multiplied in recent years.
Francis is scheduled to visit Cyprus from December 2-4, before spending two days in Greece, including a day trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, which is home to many foreign migrants.
Francis, who has made advocating for migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos in 2016 and returned with a dozen Syrian refugees.
The Moria camp was destroyed by fire last year and replaced by another called Mavrovouni.
(Report by Michelle Kambas in Cyprus; edited in Spanish by Benjamín Mejías Valencia)