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Pope Francis urges countries to review laws on refugees, migrants

Laws on migration should "reflect a readiness to welcome migrants and to facilitate their integration," according to the Argentine pontiff. He was speaking as thousands seek entry to the EU, many via Italy.

In a call for compassion for the poor and vulnerable,

Pope Francis

on Tuesday urged countries to review immigration laws and integrate migrants in an appeal that strikes at the heart of debates in Europe and the United States over the issue.

"With regard to migrants, I would ask that legislation on migration be reviewed, so, while respecting reciprocal rights and responsibilities, it can reflect a readiness to welcome migrants and to facilitate their integration," he said the occasion of the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace.

"Special concern should be paid to the conditions for legal residency, since having to live clandestinely can lead to criminal behavior," the pontiff, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said.

The annual message is sent to world leaders, international organizations and the United Nations.

The pontiff's message comes as some EU members have responded to the biggest refugee crisis to hit the continent since World War II by erecting barriers and

rejecting a German proposal of a quota system

to settle refugees across member states.

Meanwhile, immigration in the United States remains a divisive issue ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Conservative Republicans have repeatedly slammed President Barack Obama's immigration reform to bring some 5 million illegal immigrants - US residents for many years in most cases - out of the shadows.

A plan to increase the number of Syria refugees allowed asylum in the United States has similarly faced resistance from Republicans.

Leading Republican candidate Donald Trump has gone so far as to call for a wall along the US-Mexican border,

deporting up to 11 million immigrants

and preventing Muslims from entering the country.

In February, the pope is schedule to visit

Mexico where he plans to address immigration during a mass on the US-Mexican border.

Pope Francis also touched on other issues including wars, poverty, the death penalty, prison reform, unemployment and the environment.

cw/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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