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Pope Francis urges Europe to keep welcoming migrants

The pontiff has urged European nations to accept refugees despite the problems faced in doing so. He said the continent could resolve the crisis and be strengthened in the process.

Pope Francis called on the overwhelmed European governments to continue offering safe haven to the millions of people

fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa

, despite conditions that were threatening the continent's position as a "beacon for humanity."

"The present wave of migration seems to be undermining the foundations of that 'humanistic spirit' which Europe has always loved and defended," the pontiff told the Holy See's diplomatic corps on Monday.

"Yet there should be no loss of the values and the principles of humanity, respect for the dignity f every person…however much they may prove, in some moments of history, a burden difficult to bear."

The pope was speaking nearly a week after allegations that people of suspected North African and Arab origin had

sexually assaulted hundreds of women in Cologne's central station

on New Year's Eve. Similar incidents, on a smaller scale, were reported from Hamburg and Stuttgart.

The events caused massive public outrage in Germany, including protests by far-right groups opposing migration as well as groups advocating women's rights. Public discussion in Germany in the last days has centered around tightening laws for asylum for refugees and simplifying deportation for foreign offenders.

mg/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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