The Greek Church has deplored a migrant pincer on that country’s border with Turkey as Catholic support for the refugees caught in the trap floods in from all over Europe.
– Greek Bishops’ President: “These poor people are under enormous pressure”
“These poor people are under enormous pressure”, Sevastianos Rossolatos, Archbishop of Athens and President of the Episcopal Conference of Greece, told SIR March 2 as the escalation of hostilities in Idlib, in Syria, have in the last few days pushed at least 13,000 people – according to International Organization for Migration numbers – to the border between Turkey and Greece, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now opened on that country’s side.
“The refugees are fighting on one side with the Greek forces that are trying to prevent them from entering our country and on the other side with the Turkish forces that are instead pushing them, even under duress, to get in, after driving them for free by bus and taxi to close to our borders. [The refugees] are living in desperate conditions, they sleep in the open air and have no help”, Rossolatos lamented.
The Athens archbishop even revealed that “the Turkish troops are reportedly cutting through barbed wire fences at the Greek border in order to facilitate entry into Greece”.
“It is widely acknowledged that Turkey’s plan is to push refugees into Greece in order to exert pressure on the EU”, Rossolatos denounced.
– Caritas Greece: “3.5 million refugees ready to leave Turkey”
For his part, and also speaking to SIR March 2, Father Antonio Voutsinos, president of Caritas Greece, agreed with Archbishop Rossolatos that “migrants are being used to exert political pressure on the EU that had closed its borders also 5 years ago. Nothing has changed since then”.
Voutsinos warned that the situation is “deteriorating”, and rapidly.
“In Turkey about 3.5 million refugees are ready to leave. The problem is not only humanitarian but also political”, the Caritas Greece president warned.
– Situation also critical in island refugee camps
As the situation deteriorates on the land border, the crisis in the refugee camps on the Greek islands is intensifying too, Voutsinos denounced.
“A massive flow of people are arriving from Turkey towards Greece and it’s impossible for us at Caritas Greece to arrange assistance for them right now”, Voutsinos deplored.
“We don’t have adequate resources. It’s a phenomenon that caught us unprepared. We didn’t expect it. Even migrant reception camps in Lesvos, where a child died when a boat full of migrants capsized, in Chios and Samos, are on the brink of collapse”.
“In these camps, where Caritas is present, migrants from Turkey continue arriving by sea”, Voutsinos continued.
“The Turks transport these poor people on crowded boats to our islands. The smugglers disembark the migrants once they are approximately 50-100 meters from our shores, leaving them in the middle of the sea. They risk dying in this way. We can’t abandon them”.
“Until a couple of months ago, migrants hosted in these centres were one-fifth of those living there now, numbering almost 25,000. Lesvos has a reception capacity of 3,000. Thus thousands of people are living near the camps, housed in tents and makeshift shelters in very poor conditions. Many of them are women and children”, Voutsinos deplored.
– Cardinal Hollerich, “ashamed”: “If we respond only with tear gas and guns we will have lost our Christianity in Europe”
As the world waits for a solution to the Greece-Turkey migrant conflict – hopefully to come Tuesday, when EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Parliament President David Sassoli and European Council President Charles Michel will meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the Greece-Turkey land border to work out a deal – support for the refugees stuck on the border has been pouring in from all over Europe.
For his part, outgoing German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx said Tuesday that it was “unacceptable” that Germany, and Europe, “stay out” of the Turkey-Greece migrant crisis “and say ‘This is none of our business'”.
“These people are currently being misused by political systems by being deprived of their dignity”, deplored Cologne cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, emphasising each of the refugees “is our neighbour” and like Marx urging the Church to “get involved with those who are now at the frontiers of Europe and knock on our borders, who are on the run from war and terror”.
For his part, in a March 2 interview with Domradio, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, said he was distraught by the situation on the Greek islands and the Turkey-Greece border.
“We are numb in our feelings. Our first reaction is no longer Christian”, Hollerich decried.
“People fleeing Syria because of the cruel warfare are only perceived as a problem for Europe and are no longer accepted as people in need.
“We have a problem in our Christianity, in our humanity. I feel ashamed when I read that refugees are labeled as a problem. When it says: How can we protect ourselves from the refugees?”
“Is this how it would end up with the good Samaritan? That’s my problem. As a Christian, I can’t agree to that. And I would also like to underline the words of Pope Francis, who is always in favor of welcoming these people”, Hollerich continued.
“These are people, these are children. These are very often sick people. These are people who need help. And if we only respond to this need with tear gas and gun violence, we will have lost a large part of our Christianity in Europe”, the cardinal warned.
“As Christians… we cannot close our ears and eyes from the need of these people”, Hollerich insisted.
“It actually shows whether Europe still has Christian roots or not. If we are no longer able to accept people in the greatest of needs, then please, let’s no longer talk about the Christian roots of Europe”.