Pope Francis says Europe does not have migrant 'emergency'

Pope Francis has challenged European leaders to open their ports to people fleeing hardship and poverty, insisting the continent does not face a migration "emergency" but rather a long-term reality governments must deal with humanely.

Speaking in the French port city of Marseille, the pontiff criticised European countries that have tried to close their doors to migrants and urged them to respond 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 French President Emmanuel Macron and others at a 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."

The pope's visit to southern France comes as Italy's far right-led government reacted to a new wave of arriving migrants by threatening to organise a naval blockade of Tunisia and step up reparations.

Some 7,000 migrants came ashore on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa within one day last week, briefly outnumbering the resident population.

The French government has increased patrols on its southern border to stop migrants in Italy from crossing over.

Meanwhile in the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping small boat crossings from France one of his five key priorities for his government, but his plans for bringing down illegal immigration - including the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset and a scheme to send migrants to Rwanda - have been mired in problems and delays.

Talk of migration 'emergency' fuels 'alarmist propaganda'

Francis said talk of a migration "emergency" only fuels "alarmist propaganda" and stokes people's fears.

"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 fuelling 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."

Read more:
Home Office told to stop work at former RAF base set to house asylum seekers
Italy PM tells EU it has 'responsibility' to help tackle migrant surge

Pope has made migrants' plight a key policy

It comes as 27 migrants whose boat was sinking were rescued off the coast of north Lebanon, the country's military said in a statement.

Francis has made the plight of migrants a key policy of his 10-year pontificate, travelling to Lampedusa on his first trip as pope to honour migrants who drowned.

He has since celebrated Mass on the US-Mexico border, met Myanmar's Rohingya refugees and brought home 12 Syrian Muslims on his plane after visiting a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.