By Francesca Sabatinelli and Francesca Merlo
Six years have passed since Pope Francis last visited the Greek island of Lesbos. Since then, according to Archbishop Josif Printezis, a lot of things have changed. Speaking to Francesca Sabatinelli, the Greek Archbishop notes that the conditions at the migrant camp are much better now than they were. It’s actually a new camp, he says, explaining that after Pope Francis visited back in 2016, it burnt down and a new one was built.
The Pope visits Lesbos and meets with migrants and refugees at the island’s Mavrovouni refugee camp on Sunday, his penultimate day in Greece.
A different reality
Another difference is that “now there are much fewer refugees”, says Archbishop Printezis. There were around 25,000 when the Pope came to visit, now there are around 2,500. This, he explained, is partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning many fewer refugees are traveling, “but also due to the agreement between the European Union and Turkey”. They are not being “sent over”, he explains. He also adds that the process of identification and asylum is much faster now, and people are getting their papers and moving to mainland Greece or to the continent.
The agreement between Turkey and the EU was made in March 2016, EU Heads of State or Government and Turkey agreed to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU and replace it instead with legal channels of resettlement of refugees to the European Union.
The Pope’s concern
The Pope really is concerned for the situation surrounding migrants, said Archbishop Printezis. He is concerned about the many lives being lost, especially at sea, but he is also concerned about the situations that are causing the migration forcing people to leave their homes and their countries… about war.. about poverty.
A significant visit
“We are looking forward to the Pope’s visit”, he says. It is a wonderful opportunity for us as such a “small Catholic community” to be able to meet the Pope, to have him visit, or even just to have him “think about us”. It is important that the Catholic people of Greece not feel left out, he continued, and for them to feel part of the bigger Catholic Church in the world. Pope Francis is very highly esteemed he concluded, by our Catholics, but also by the Orthodox.. “by everyone”, he says. “All people are very fond of him for all he says and all he does”.