Pope Francis arrives today on the divided island of Cyprus for a two-day visit before continuing to Greece. The possibility that the pope could bring a group of refugees back to Italy from Cyprus is an "option being studied", according to the Vatican Press Office.
In April 2016, Pope Francis brought some migrants to Italy after his first visit to the Greek island of Lesbos. According to Cypriot authorities, negotiations were underway with the Vatican to organize another transfer of migrants to Rome -- this time of families residing in Cyprus.
The Vatican Press Officer Matteo Bruni however said that this is still unclear. "We will see. This trip is not in the same terms as that visit to Lesbos; it contemplates even broader themes. If the pope brings someone with him, we will see," Bruni told reporters during a briefing on the trip.
"Options of this type were being studied, but the complexity of the legislation does not allow us to give definitive answers," he added. If the transfer is to take place, it will not be a humanitarian corridor, but a relocation of refugees from one country to another in Europe, he stated.
Lesbos chosen because it is now 'a symbolic place'
Migration will be a key feature of the pope's visit to the eastern Mediterranean countries. Francis will hold an ecumenical prayer with migrants on Friday in the Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia.
When asked why Pope Francis is returning to Lesbos again after his 2016 visit, the Vatican spokesman said the situation will be different. "Among other things, there will not be the same refugees, in part they have been moved elsewhere. In their place others have arrived."
But the choice of Lesbos is mainly a symbolic one. "There is a symbolic value to this place, and looking back to the visit in April 2016, one recalls how the pope touched first-hand those people's pain, and the expectation towards Western countries of being welcomed and finally having a place to lay one's head," Bruni said. The spokesman recalled an encounter between the pope and a man who had lost his wife during their migration journey.
Visit to Lesbos, Mavrovouni
On Sunday (December 5), Pope Francis will visit the "Reception and Identification Center" in Mavrovouni (also commonly referred to as the (new) Karatepe camp) on Lesbos.
Following the fire that burnt down the Moria refugee camp in September 2020, migrants were moved to the Mavrovouni site. Several thousand asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan, but also Iraq, Syria and various African countries, continue to live there under harsh living conditions and an lengthy wait for asylum permits.
At the end of the official ceremony in the camp, and before leaving for Athens, the pope will greet and talk to some refugees and visit their lodgings.