Pope Francis and Orthodox leaders visit migrants on Lesbos

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(London Post)   Pope Francis, alongside Orthodox leaders, is visiting the Greek island of Lesbos to show the plight of refugees. The visit comes as a controversial EU-Turkey deal aimed at ending the migration crisis takes effect.

The leader of the world’s estimated 2 billion Catholics arrived on Lesbos Saturday, alongside the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Athens Archbishop Ieronymos II.

They were due to greet about 250 refugees who are currently on the Greek island. Afterwards they were expected to have lunch with some of them, and throw floral wreaths in to the sea while praying for those who died on the journey to the island.

DW correspondent Bernd Riegert is on Lesbos. He said the Pope’s visit was to “visit refugees and reject EU asylum policy.”

Front line of migration crisis

The visit by Pope Francis coincides with the implementation of a controversial deal between the European Union and Turkey aimed at stopping people attempting to reach Europe. Under the deal, people who arrive in Greece in smugglers’ boats would be detained and deported back to Turkey unless their applications for asylum in Greece were successful.

The Pope was set to visit a Greek “hotspot” – a migrant processing center where conditions have beencriticized by rights groups. Before setting off for Greece, he made this statement on Twitter.

“Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories and need to be treated as such.”

Hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge have arrived on Lesbos during the past year, having made the short but risky journey from the Turkish coast in smugglers’ boats. Most of the arrivals then continued traveling through the Balkans to wealthier western European countries – often Germany and Sweden – to file asylum claims there. Germany recorded some 1.1 million new arrivals in 2015. That practice has all but stopped as nations along the so-called Balkan route shut their borders to transiting migrants in March, leaving thousands of people stranded.

se/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa)

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