Make no mistake, the Pope's message was for Greece
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Pope Francis, speaking in Lesvos, has ended his trip to Greece with an open attack on the illegal and immoral behaviour of Greece and other EU states towards refugees.
On his visit to Mavrovouni camp, also called ‘Moria2’ as it was a tent camp for 14 months until three days ago (the tents were replaced with containers solely in preparation for the Pope’s visit) into which people were forced following the incineration of Moria in September 2020, he said:
‘Please, let us stop this shipwreck of civilization! European countries must stop building walls, stoking fears and shutting out those in greater need who knock at our door.
‘I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes!
‘Let us stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibility, stop passing off the issue of migration to others, as if it mattered to no one and was only a pointless burden to be shouldered by somebody else!
‘Let us not let our sea (mare nostrum) be transformed into a desolate sea of death (mare mortuum).’
It would be convenient and more comfortable, perhaps, for the Greek government to pretend that these words were aimed at Poland, for example, which is currently building a five and a half metre-high wall along its border with Belarus, or Hungary, which has been found to be breaking EU laws by refusing refugees the right to apply for asylum.
But the language applies at least as much – in some cases more – to Greece.
The Greek government has built a steel wall along a large section of its border with Turkey, long before the Polish government planned its own wall.
It has pushed back almost 15,000 men, women and children to Turkey from the Aegean Islands from 1 March 2020 to 30 November this year, and is pretending Turkey is a ‘safe state’ (there is no such thing in international law) and that this means it can force refugees back to Turkey, and the Turkish government must care for them (it means nothing of the sort). The definition of 'shifting responsibility'.
And ‘shipwreck of civilisation’ may well apply to Spain and Italy as well as Greece – certainly there have been enormous numbers of shipwrecks killing obscene numbers of vulnerable men, women and children in the Mediterranean close to those countries as well as to Greece – or indeed the wider EU as a whole. But that hardly means Greece is not being referred to here.
Indeed, as the Pope is no doubt very well aware, St Nicholas is the patron saint of seafarers, and in Greece, unlike most of Europe, as a result people decorate their homes and public spaces at Christmas with boats. Less than three weeks from Christmas, the Greek government would do well to remember its moral, as well as its legal, responsibilities: its humanity, in fact.
This applies to all of the EU, of course, and to the wider world. But today he was in Greece. And anyone claiming his words were not chosen to be relevant to Greece itself is either deluding themselves, or seeking to delude others.