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UNHCR lauds Pope's solidarity with refugees

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UNHCR lauds Pope's solidarity with refugees

16 April 2016

UNHCR welcomes the Pope's demonstration of solidarity with the world's refugees today on his visit to the Greek island of Lesvos and by offering a home to three Syrian families.

Pope Francis travelled back to Rome from Lesvos today with 12 Syrians, including three women, three men and six children aged from four to 14 years of age. The Vatican is sponsoring the group's move to Rome and ensuring a home for the refugees who had arrived on Lesvos on 18 March and had been waiting for relocation to another European country. The Syrian families (two from Damascus and one from Dier ez-Zor) arrived just before the EU-Turkey agreement came into force on 20 March.

Today, the Pope visited refugees and migrants at a centre in Moria, Lesvos, and greeted children, women, and men who have fled war and human rights violations. At least two refugees broke down in tears as they approached the Pontiff to get his blessing.

"The Pope's latest gesture is a powerful demonstration of solidarity. It must inspire governments and societies in a world where the desperate plight of record numbers of forcibly displaced is too often met by barriers, rejection and fear," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

During his visit, Pope Francis together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece called on world leaders to respond with courage in facing this massive humanitarian crisis and its underlying causes, and to provide protection and long term solutions for refugees fleeing war and violence.

UNHCR has long been calling for countries around the world to take in a greater share of refugees from the world's largest humanitarian crisis, and to provide safe and organized ways for Syrians to find safety in third countries, including in Europe.

Last month, the agency hosted a high-level meeting in Geneva calling on governments to provide new 'pathways' for legal entry to their countries, including boosted resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and work and study visas.

UNHCR is aiming for 480,000 places to be available in the next few years, representing 10 per cent of the current registered refugee population (of 4.8 million) in countries neighbouring Syria. UNHCR is also calling on EU governments to increase and quicken the pace of relocation of refugees from Greece to EU member states.

So far, only 2,958 relocation places have been pledged by EU member states despite EU commitments to relocate 66,400 persons from Greece, and only 615 persons have been transferred to EU countries under the relocation scheme.

Media contacts:

  • Carlotta Sami, in Rome, +39 335 679 47 46
  • Boris Cheshirkov, in Lesvos, +30 695 180 7041
  • Ketty Kehayioylou, in Athens, +30 694 02 77 485
  • Celine Schmidt, in Paris, +33 6 23 16 11 78
  • Ariane Rummery, in Geneva, +41 79 200 7617