Pope Francis on Sunday urged governments and people to do more to help migrants and not see them as enemies, wearing a plastic ID bracelet used by asylum seekers to drive home his message.
Francis visited a drab refugee center on the outskirts of Bologna known simply as “The Hub”. Run by a charity, it is home to about 1,000 asylum seekers, most of whom risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East.
There, they live in gray containers and other forms of temporary housing while awaiting decisions on their asylum requests to be moved to other towns in Italy.
Many of the refugees and migrants are without documents and all wear a plastic yellow bracelet. The pope wore one bearing his name and the number 3900003 on his right wrist. It was given to him by an African refugee.
“Many who don’t know you are afraid of you,” he told them as a light drizzle fell. “That makes them think they have the right to judge (you) coldly and harshly,” he said.
He paid homage to those who “never arrived because they were eaten up by the desert or the sea”.
Some 600,000 impoverished migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy in less than four years. In that time, more than 13,000 have died trying to cross the Mediterranean.
Pope Francis waves during a meeting with representatives of the world of labour in Maggiore square, during a pastoral visit in Bologna, Italy October 1, 2017.
Francis, who has made defense of migrants and refugees a major plank of his papacy, also condemned internet trolling against foreigners, saying they had been subjected to “terrible phrases and insults.”
“If we look on our neighbors without mercy we risk that even God will look on us without mercy,” he said.
The pope’s defense of migrants, his second in less than a week, comes at a time of growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and many European countries where far-right parties have made inroads.
Last week, the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (Afd) party surged to third place in a national election, tapping into public disquiet over the arrival of more than a million migrants in Germany over the past two years.
Francis called on more governments to facilitate initiatives backed by the private sector and community groups to set up “humanitarian corridors for refugees in the most difficult situations.”
This was a reference to programs such as one run in Italy by the Rome-based Sant’ Egidio peace community, which regularly brings into Italy refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.
Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League, whose base is in the regions just north of Bologna, has vowed to clamp down on migration from developing countries if it forms part of a coalition government after next year’s elections.