Migrants must not be sent back to cruel traffickers, pope says

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Pope Francis answers a question from a journalist aboard his flight back to Rome from Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023, after his two-day trip there. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM FRANCE (CNS) — Because so many migrants’ journeys and lives are in the hands of cruel traffickers, countries of destination cannot send them back to where they embarked like a game of “ping pong,” Pope Francis told reporters Sept. 23.

“Migrants are to be received, accompanied, promoted and integrated,” he said, and if the host country is unable to take them in, then “accompany them” in being integrated in a dignified way in their country of origin so they will not end back up in the hands of these “wretches,” the gangs and traffickers.

The pope answered just a few questions on the short flight back to Rome from Marseille, France, where he spent two days highlighting the plight of migrants who seek passage to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea and the region’s responsibility and opportunities to find solutions.

Pope Francis listens to a question from a journalist aboard his flight back to Rome from Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023, after his two-day trip there. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Raising awareness for migrants

Asked if he felt his urgent appeals for protecting the lives and dignity of these men, women and children over the span of his 10-year pontificate have failed, Pope Francis said he believed that there is greater awareness now of the seriousness of their plight than before, but that this growing awareness has been slow.

Instead, what it is happening, he said, is countries are treating the problem like “a hot potato that they don’t know how to handle.”

So, it ends up like a game of ping pong, he said, with migrants going back and forth between the hands of ruthless traffickers and the European shores that reject them at the border.

Often migrants end up in “lagers” where their lives are worse off than before, he said. “We can’t send them back” without seeing or understanding what will happen to them. “We have to be careful and do something.”

Helping these people in need “is good for us,” he said. “It makes us more human and more divine.”

Euthanasia in France, war in Ukraine

The pope was also asked if he spoke with President Emmanuel Macron about the French leader’s efforts to draft a bill legalizing end-of-life options in France.

The pope said he did not bring it up during this trip, but that when he met Macron at the Vatican in 2022, he had been very clear on his position, which is, “One does not fool around when it comes to life, neither at its beginning or its (natural) end.”

The pope was also asked about his and the Vatican’s efforts in promoting an end to Russia’s war against Ukraine and if he feels frustrated with the lack of a concrete result.

“Yes, that’s true. Some frustration is felt,” he responded. “The Secretariat of State is doing everything to help,” as his special envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi.

When it comes to dealing with nations at war in efforts to reach peace, what is realistic is possible, the pope said.

Pope Francis said no one thinks that “tomorrow the two warring leaders will be going out to eat together,” but working toward something possible is still important.

Carol Glatz

Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.