The Pope has taken 12 Syrian refugees, including six children, on his plane back to Rome following a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, according to the Vatican.
All the asylum seekers rescued by Pope Francis were Muslims
They were among thousands of people trapped on the Greek island of Lesbos following the controversial EU-Turkey deal, which sees all asylum seekers arriving over the Aegean detained as they await their fate.
A statement from the Holy See press office said: “The Pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees, accompanying on his plane to Rome three families of refugees from Syria, 12 people in all, including six children”
The Vatican added that those invited by the pontiff “were already in camps in Lesbos before the agreement between the European Union and Turkey.”
In March, the EU struck a deal with Turkey, under which migrants and refugees reaching Greece from Turkey will be returned. In response, the EU agreed to take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey.
Here are refugees boarding Pope Francis’s plane to return w him to the Vatican. Awaiting details from Vatican. pic.twitter.com/VpW7niiBxR
— Jim Yardley (@JimBYardley) April 16, 2016
“All the members of the three families are Muslims. Two families come from Damascus, and one from Deir Azzor (in the area occupied by Daesh). Their homes had been bombed,” the director of the Holy See office said, referring to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) by its Arabic acronym.
The Vatican said it would take “responsibility for bringing in and maintaining the three families.”
On Saturday, the 79-year-old Pope paid a visit to the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, which hosts nearly 3,000 asylum seekers.
“You are not alone,” the pontiff told the crowds who gathered to greet him. “Many of you felt forced to flee situations of conflict and persecution for the sake, above all, of your children, your little ones. You have made great sacrifices for your families.”
He added that as people of faith he and the bishops “wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf.
“We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”