Pope Francis has urged the world to take migrants and refugees out of detention centres, comparing the conditions of many centres around the world to concentration camps.
As SBS reports, the Pontiff made his comments during a visit to the Rome basilica, where he met migrants, and shared a story of his recent trip to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year.
At the camp, Pope Francis met a Muslim refugee from the Middle East, who was forced to flee after extremists killed his wife. “I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp,” the Pope later reflected, “Because refugee camps, many of them, resemble concentration because there is a great number of people left there inside them.”
The Pope’s comments have drawn criticism from members of the Jewish community, who say that there can be no comparison to the tragedy of World War II. The American Jewish Committee’s head, David Harris, says that the Pope’s choice of words was “regrettable” – “The Nazis and their allies erected and used concentration camps for slave labour and the extermination of millions of people during World War II,” he said. “There is no comparison to the magnitude of that tragedy.”
The Pope also praised those in the international community who have opened their borders to refugees and asylum seekers, while also calling out those who put politics ahead of people, “The generous people who welcome them must bear this extra burden, because it seems that international accords are more important that human rights.”
While the Pope did not elaborate further on this point, there are currently agreements that keep migrants from crossing borders between the European Union and Libya, and the EU and Turkey.
The Pontiff’s comments also have particularly significance domestically, as the US looks to reaffirm its refugee resettlement deal with Australia.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, there were 1,852 people in immigration detention facilities in Australia as of 30 November 2015. There were also a reported 543 asylum seekers (including 70 children) in detention in Nauru, and 926 adult asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea.