ROME — Pope Francis urged leaders of the island nation of Cyprus to be more welcoming to migrants, even as the country flounders in trying to deal with the mass migration currently overwhelming it.
“You are an open door, a harbour that unites,” the pope told civil authorities late Thursday following his arrival in the country. “Cyprus, as a crossroads of civilizations, has an innate vocation to encounter, favoured by the welcoming character of the Cypriot people.”
The beauty of this land “comes from the cultures which over the centuries have met and blended here,” the pontiff asserted. “Today too, the light of Cyprus is richly variegated. Many peoples and nations have contributed different shades and tints to this people.”
“I think too of the presence of many immigrants: percentagewise, more than any other country of the European Union,” he continued. “To preserve the multicolored and multifaceted beauty of the whole is no easy thing. As in the formation of a pearl, it takes time and patience; it demands a broad vision capable of embracing a variety of cultures and looking to the future with foresight.”
“I think in this regard of the importance of protecting and supporting all the members of society, especially those who are statistically a minority,” he urged.
In an extended metaphor, Francis compared Cyprus to a pearl that “develops its beauty in situations of difficulty.”
“It is born in obscurity, when the oyster ‘suffers’ after experiencing an unexpected threat to its safety, such as a grain of sand that irritates it,” he said. “To protect itself, it reacts by assimilating the thing that wounded it: it encloses the foreign body that endangers it and makes it into something beautiful: a pearl.”
Let us think of the Mediterranean Sea, “now sadly a place of conflicts and humanitarian tragedies; in its profound beauty it is mare nostrum, the sea of all those peoples who border it, in order to be connected, not divided,” the pope declared. “Cyprus, as a geographic, historical, cultural and religious crossroads, is in a position to be a peacemaker. May it be a workshop of peace in the Mediterranean.”
“The European continent needs reconciliation and unity; it needs courage and enthusiasm, if it is to move forward,” Francis added. “For it will not be the walls of fear and the vetoes dictated by nationalist interests that ensure its progress, nor will economic recovery alone serve to guarantee its security and stability.”
“May we look to the history of Cyprus to see how encounter and welcome have brought forth good fruits that endure,” he said.
“This spirit of enlargement, this ability to look beyond one’s own borders, brings rejuvenation and makes possible the rediscovery of a brilliance that was lost,” he said.
On November 10, Cyprus announced it was submitting a request to the European Commission to suspend asylum applications for those who arrive in the country without the correct papers.
“A request will be submitted to the European Commission to take action in favor of the Republic of Cyprus, including granting it the right to suspend asylum applications by people entering the country illegally,” said government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos.
In 2019, Cyprus was the country with the highest number of asylum seekers in relation to its population, with most coming from Syria, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and constituting 4 percent of the total population.
On July 20, 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, leading to the establishment of a separate Turkish Cypriot state in the north in 1983, a move condemned by the international community, which still considers the northern part of the island to be territory of the Republic of Cyprus occupied by Turkish forces.
Ever since then, Cyprus has been divided by a United Nations-controlled “green line” splitting the island into the Turkish-controlled Muslim north, and the Greek Cypriot Christian south, whose government is the only one recognized by the international community.
Since a majority of migrants and refugees arriving in Cyprus come from the north through Turkey, the Cypriot government considers their entries as “illegal crossings,” accusing Turkey of sending the migrants intentionally to destabilize the south.
In the past, Pope Francis has urged nations not to take in more migrants and refugees than it has the ability to integrate into society, warning that otherwise migrants risk becoming “ghettoized.”