VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - In anticipation of Pope Francis' Sunday visit to Lesbos, human rights experts are urging Pope Francis to speak up for Christian refugees facing persecution from Muslim migrants detained on the Greek island.
The pope, who begins a five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece on Thursday, has negotiated the relocation of 50 migrants from Cyprus to Italy after bringing 12 Syrian Muslims from three families home with him following his first trip to Lesbos in 2016.
The Vatican has failed to reveal if there will be Christians among the refugees with Francis, earlier insisting that "all refugees are children of God."
Francis' return to Europe's flashpoint for illegal immigration will also serve as a "magnet for migrants," creating further problems for the already besieged inhabitants of Lesbos, regional governor Costas Moutzouris warned.
"We are very happy. The visit of the pope is a great honor for us. But in Lesbos, many are worried that this visit may attract even more immigrants," Moutzouris remarked.
Marking the 70th anniversary of the International Organization of Migration on Monday, the pontiff expressed regret that "migrants are increasingly being used as bargaining chips, as pawns on a chessboard — victims of political rivalries."
But human rights consultant Dr. Martin Parsons alerted Church Militant to the pope ignoring reports evidencing "significant persecution of Christian refugees by Muslim migrants within Greek refugee camps, including widespread abuse, physical violence, death threats and rape."
Parsons, a former aid worker to Afghanistan who warned that the U.S. deal with the Taliban risked the Taliban's return to power, elaborated:
One of the major problems faced by Christians fleeing persecution is a refusal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Western governments to recognize the specific targeting of Christians because of their Faith, claiming that any such action would amount to "discrimination."
The Bible tells us that the Church has a particular responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). And in the world of real politics, arguing that Western governments should simply accept all migrants who want to come to them risks Western governments shutting the door on all migrants — including Christians fleeing persecution.
Christians in the Lesbos camps are estimated to represent 1–2% of the migrant population. Forty percent are from historically Christian (mostly Catholic) backgrounds in Africa, and the rest are from Middle Eastern Muslim backgrounds and are generally converts from Islam.
"Most of the Christians who had converted to Christianity from Islam live in daily fear for their lives, being forced to live covertly among hostile members of the community who consider apostasy worthy of death," the International Christian Consulate reported.
In a survey, 62% of Christians said they had experienced death threats in the camp. Eighty-three percent stated that it was specifically because of their religious beliefs as Christians, and 24% said this had occurred more than three times.
"They say we are kafirs [infidels] and we should die because we left Islam and chose to be Christian. It's very bad in the camp," a Syrian female said.
"They say you are kafir because they know we go to church and don't go to the mosque. They told me that if I don't leave Christianity, when it's dark, we'll come and kill you because this [is] the law in Islam," an Iranian male said.
Seventy-two percent of respondents said that Muslims in the camp try to force others to follow Islam, and 90% said they felt pressured to renounce Christianity.
Several respondents also complained that police did not intervene or help, and others said they had tried to report serious incidents but were told they must pay 100 euros to make a complaint. Not having the money, they were not able to make an official complaint.
"Francis repeatedly stresses that accepting mass migration into Europe is the fulfillment of the Christian obligation to welcome the stranger," Islamic scholar Robert Spencer told Church Militant. "But the pope has never once acknowledged the fact that the migrants are largely Muslim and that Christian refugees are often harassed and persecuted by their Muslim counterparts," he lamented.
The historian, who recently published his bestseller Mass Migration in Europe: A Model for the U.S.?, added:
Francis is not likely ever to acknowledge this, as he has stated, contrary to all the facts of the case, that authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Qur'an reject every form of violence. In persisting in these fantasies, the pope is exposing the Christians of Europe to danger from people who hold to a belief system that has been at war with Christendom without respite for 1,400 years.
Whenever a Muslim migrant attacks a church or a Christian, and this is already happening with increasing frequency across Europe, we see the fruits of the pope's refusal to accept unpleasant realities.
During Francis' visit to Lesbos in 2016, Christian refugees in Athens (who were estimated at 3% of the 12,000 total) were interviewed using a modified version of the Darfur genocide questionnaire.
"The majority (92%) are afraid to be identified as Christian, for fear of ongoing persecution. Those that were not afraid (8%) stated that this was only because they were not living in refugee accommodation," the report observed.
"A high proportion of them show signs of trauma," a supplementary report concluded.
Of the Christian refugees, 80% of those interviewed said they had witnessed threats and attacks of other Christians, and 72% said they had personally witnessed threats or attacks in the camps because of their Faith.
"Syrians and Afghans were identified as the main perpetrators of persecution of Christians in the camps, but any Muslim refugee was seen as a threat to be cautious of," the report added.
Most Christians interviewed reported that to stay safe:
Christian migrants said they felt the West cares about the Muslims but not them and expressed a sense of abandonment and betrayal by Western governments, media and Church leaders.
Four Muslim Afghan migrants were charged with arson and sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Greek court after they burned down the Moria migrant camp (considered Europe's biggest refugee center) on Lesbos in 2020.
The logistical effort required to house, process and resettle mostly Muslim illegal immigrants from Greece to Europe has been branded "the most expensive humanitarian response in history."
Church Militant contacted the Holy See Press Office to ask if Pope Francis would be addressing the plight of persecuted Christian migrants in Lesbos and whether the 50 migrants relocated to Italy through papal diplomacy would include Christians, but received no reply.