Pope Francis insists Europe doesn’t have a migrant emergency and challenges countries to open ports

For a second straight day in the French port city of Marseille, Francis took aim at European countries that have tried to close their doors to migrants and tried to shame them into responding with charity instead.

“May we let ourselves be moved by the stories of so many of our unfortunate brothers and sisters who have the right both to emigrate and not to emigrate, and not become closed in indifference,” Francis told Macron and others at a Marseille conference centre where Mediterranean region Catholic bishops are meeting. “In the face of the terrible scourge of the exploitation of human beings, the solution is not to reject but to ensure, according to the possibilities of each, an ample number of legal and regular entrances.”

Pope Francis, flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron, center, and his wife Brigitte, right, arrives at the final session of the “Rencontres Mediterraneennes” meeting.

The pope’s visit to the city in southern France comes as Italy’s far right-led government has reacted to a new wave of arriving migrants by threatening to organize a naval blockade of Tunisia and to step up repatriations. The French government has beefed up patrols on its southern border to stop migrants in Italy from crossing over.

Macron greeted Francis on a wind-swept promenade overlooking Marseille’s old port and helped him walk into the Palais du Pharo. With his wife by his side, the French leader listened as a young Italian volunteer working in Greece and the bishop of Tirana, Albania, who fled to Italy during Albania’s communist rule, spoke of the welcomes they received in foreign countries.

Macron’s centrist government has taken a harder line on migration and security issues after coming under criticism from French conservatives and the far right. With elections for the European Union’s parliament set for next year, Macron is pushing for the EU to strengthen its external borders and to be more efficient in deporting individuals who are denied entry.

Macron and Francis then held a private meeting on the sidelines of the Mediterranean bishops’ conference. The Vatican has stressed that Francis is not on an official state visit to France but rather a visit to Marseille, in keeping with his refusal to visit the European centres of global Catholicism before he visits smaller communities where the church is either a minority or facing difficult social situations.

Francis’ two-day trip was scheduled months ago, but it is taking place as mass migration to Europe is once again making headlines, Nearly 7,000 migrants came ashore on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa within a day last week, briefly outnumbering the resident population.

Francis said talk of a migration “emergency” only fuels “alarmist propaganda” and stokes fear.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron wait for Pope Francis before the final session of the “Rencontres Mediterraneennes” meeting in Marseille.

“Those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they look for welcome, for life” he said. “As for the emergency, the phenomenon of migration is not so much a short-term urgency, always good for fueling alarmist propaganda, but a reality of our times, a process that involves three continents around the Mediterranean and that must be governed with wise foresight, including a European response capable of coping with the objective difficulties.”

History’s first Latin American pope has made the plight of migrants a priority of his 10-year pontificate, travelling to Lampedusa on his first trip as pope to honour migrants who drowned. In the years since, he has celebrated Mass on the US-Mexico border, met with Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees and most spectacularly, brought home 12 Syrian Muslims on his plane after visiting a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.

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