Cyprus: Pope will transfer immigrants to Italy after visit

A spokesperson for the Cyprus government stated that Pope Francis is arranging to transfer some immigrants to Italy after completing his three-day visit to the eastern Mediterranean island nation early next month.

Nicosia, Cyprus-A Cypriot government official said on Thursday that Pope Francis is arranging the transfer of some immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus to Italy. He will start a three-day visit next week.

When asked to confirm that the Pope would indeed bring migrants back to Italy or otherwise arrange for them to leave Cyprus, the Vatican spokesperson did not immediately respond.

According to the ITA Press Office, the ITA Airbus 320, which will bring the Pope and the Vatican delegation from Rome to Nicosia on December 2, will not go to Greece at the second leg of the trip. This may indicate that any migration from Cyprus to Rome may actually happen when the Pope is not on board, because he will take another plane to Athens, the capital of Greece, on December 4.

The Pope made the headlines in 2016 when he took a dozen Syrian Muslims back to Rome on his return flight, and then he went to the Greek island of Lesbos, where there is a large immigration reception camp.

Cyprus said earlier this month that it would seek EU approval to stop processing immigrants’ asylum applications when the country said it could not cope with the surge of new immigrants.

The Cyprus government also urges the European Union to relocate some asylum-seekers living in Cyprus to other EU member states and reach an agreement with a third country to withdraw citizens whose asylum applications have been rejected.

The Cypriot authorities stated that in the first 10 months of this year alone, the number of immigrants has increased by 38% over the entire year of 2020. Of the 10,868 new immigrants, 9,270 have illegally crossed the UN-controlled buffer zone from the separated Turkish Cypriot north to seek refuge in the internationally recognized south.

Asylum seekers account for 4% of the population in the southern part of the island-four times the average of other front-line countries in the European Union.

The immigrants say that conditions in a reception camp outside the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, are deteriorating because it currently accommodates almost twice its maximum capacity of 1,200 people.

Schadrach Mvunze from the Democratic Republic of Congo said that what he and the others in the camp want is a place where they can live in peace, whether in Cyprus or elsewhere.

“Cyprus welcomes us… If they can’t welcome us, they can even send us to France, Canada, the United Kingdom,” Mwenze told the Associated Press, visiting the camp on Thursday. “They can disperse us all over Europe and make us more comfortable.”

Daniel Idu of Nigeria traveled from the separated north to the south to apply for international protection. He said that all he asked for was an opportunity to lift his elderly mother and young son out of poverty.

“If I had a chance to meet the Pope, I would only ask for one thing, and that is to settle here and maybe have a better job to support the family,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

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