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Pope Francis calls on Europe to welcome migrants

September 23, 2023

During a speech in France, the Catholic leader urged a humane pan-European response to migration. French President Emmanuel Macron attended the address as his government deliberates a harsher response to asylum-seekers.

Pope Francis delivers a closing speech at a bishops' conference in Marseille
Francis has urged European countries to be humane towards migrants, as far-right nativist parties gain in popularity across the continentImage: Abaca/IMAGO

Pope Francis on Saturday rejected the notion of a migrant "emergency" in Europe during a speech in Marseille, France. 

"Those who risk their lives at sea do not invade," Francis said during a church conference in the southern Mediterranean port city. "They look for welcome."

He added that migration is "a reality of our times, a process that involves three continents around the Mediterranean and that must be governed with wise foresight, including a European response."    

French President Emmanuel Macron, along with Interior Minister Gerald Darminin, were both at the event. Macron and Francis held private talks later on Saturday, as France weighs tougher action on arrivals.  

French President Emmanuel Macron with Pope Francis in Marseille
French opposition politicians have criticized Macron's decision to take part in a Mass with Francis as an affront to secular French valuesImage: Alessandra Tarantino/AP/picture alliance

"May we let outselves be moved by the stories of so many of our unfortuanate brothers and sisters who have the right both to emigrate and not to emigrate, and not become closed in indifference," Francis said, while decrying "beilligerent nationalism."

"In the face of the terrible scourge of the exploitation of human beings, the solution is not to reject but to ensure, according to the possibilites of each, an ample number of legal and regular entrances," he added. 

'Those who risk their lives at sea do not invade,' pope says

Later Saturday, the pope led tens of thousands of worshippers packed into a stadium for a Mass in Marseille.

"Bonjour Marseille, bonjour la France!" Francis said in French as he opened the Mass.

Local authorities said there were around 50,000 people, including Macron, in the city’s Velodrome.  

People in blue ponchos fill the Velodrome stadium in Marseille
The Mass in Marseille's stadium was seen as the highlight of Pope Francis' two-day visit to the Mediterranean cityImage: Alessandra Tarantino/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Lampedusa sees a rise in arrivals

Francis' speech comes after thousands of migrants arrived on the shores of the Italian lsland of Lampedusa earlier this month.

The Italian government reacted to the emergency by rushing to relocated arrivals, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visiting the island herself to see the situation. 

The influx of migrants at Lampedusa has once again thrust migration into the center of the European political discourse.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has proposed that Europe impose a naval blockade to prevent migrants coming into the continent. France, meanwhile, has rejected taking in migrants from Lampedusa.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that "Germany, like Italy, is at the limit of its capacity" in regards to accepting more migrants.    

wd/jcg (Reuters, AP, AFP) 

Thousands of migrants arrive on Lampedusa