Pope urges compassion for migrants in Easter appeal

Vatican City: Pope Francis today spoke out against the “rejection” of refugees as the European migrant crisis saw its latest desperate scenes on the Greek border with Macedonia.

The pontiff used his Easter address to urge people to offer “welcome and assistance” to those fleeing war and poverty, as Europe struggles with its worst migration crisis since World War II.

Countries along Europe’s “Balkan route” have toughened their stance on migrants in recent weeks, closing their borders to those seeking to transit in search of a better life in the continent’s wealthier northern states.

The shutdown has led to a bottleneck at the Greece-Macedonia frontier, where the Greek authorities have been trying to evacuate an estimated 11,500 people stranded at the squalid Idomeni camp.

But today, dozens of migrants who had left, rushed back to the camp following a rumour that journalists and Red Cross officials would help them force their way across the fence into Macedonia.

The EU and Turkey struck a deal earlier this month that will see new migrants arriving on the Greek islands returned to Turkey, in the hope of discouraging them from making the dangerous sea crossing.

During Good Friday prayers, the pope decried what he called Europe’s “indifferent and anaesthetised conscience” over migrants and today he took up the theme again.

“The Easter message of the risen Christ… invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees… fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice,” the pope said.

“All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way with death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance.”

Francis has long called for the global community to open its doors to refugees and fight xenophobia — appeals which have intensified since the controversial EU-Turkey deal.

In his Easter address, the pope also referred to Syria’s “lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction, death, contempt for humanitarian law”, voicing hope for a positive result from UN-brokered peace talks that opened in Geneva in mid-March and are to resume in April.

Syria’s five-year conflict has killed more than 270,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes, with neighbouring countries bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis.