ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Italy) (AFP) – Pope Francis, who has put the plight of migrants in Europe at the heart of his concerns, said Thursday it was time “to invest wisely to give them work and education” in their countries of origin, in particular in Africa.
“The problem of wars is difficult to solve, as is the problem of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Nigeria,” but “the problem of hunger can be solved,” he said during a press conference on the plane returning from a trip to Geneva.
The pope’s comments reflect an investment plan being considered by European governments.
“In the collective unconscious, there is a bad idea that we can exploit Africa, always a land of slaves,” he lamented.
“This must change with investment plans, we’ve got to grow them!” he said, praising “the cultural wealth of Africa”.
Francis also recalled his four criteria for welcoming migrants: “to welcome, accompany, accommodate, integrate”, adding a caveat he has regularly mentioned since a trip to Sweden in autumn 2016.
“Every country has to do this with the government virtue of prudence, because a country has to host as many refugees as it can, that it can integrate and educate,” he said.
“We have a wave of refugees fleeing wars and hunger, war and hunger in so many countries of Africa, wars and persecution in the Middle East,” he said, congratulating in particular Italy and Greece which had been “extremely generous” in their welcome, just like Turkey or Lebanon.
The pope however made no reference to the new populist government in Italy which has banned NGO-operated migrant rescue ships from docking.
Italy announced Thursday it would seize two ships of the German NGO Mission Lifeline, one of which is stranded in the Mediterranean carrying more than 200 migrants, to investigate their legal status after saying they were “illegally” flying the Dutch flag.
Earlier this month, Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini refused to let an NGO ship carrying 630 migrants dock in Italy.
The Aquarius was later welcomed by Spain.