A first group of migrants left Cyprus on Thursday as part of an initiative by Pope Francis to assist in their relocation, the government said.
Pope Francis visited Cyprus in early December. He pledged to arrange the transfer of 50 migrants to Italy, Cyprus’s interior ministry said at the time.
Twelve migrants left Cyprus early Thursday, the ministry said.
“We would like to warmly thank Pope Francis and the Holy See for this symbolic gesture and anticipate it will be a step towards substantive solidarity by other (EU) member states toward the Republic of Cyprus,” it said.
Ethnically-divided Cyprus has struggled to manage an influx of migrants and refugees in the past two years.
Many asylum seekers access the southern government-controlled areas through the “Green Line” splitting the island after previously arriving in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in its north.
Cyprus, which is the closest European Union member state to the Middle East, says arrivals so far this year are up 38 percent compared with the whole of 2020.
Pope Francis, whose defense of refugees and migrants is defining his papacy, also visited Greece and the island of Lesbos earlier this month.
During a previous visit in 2016, Pope Francis left Lesbos, then at the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis, taking 12 Syrian refugees with him.
Cyprus finance minister says Turkey’s aggression towards its neighbors is an obstacleTurkey’s “aggression” towards its neighbors represents an obstacle to any plans to move forward in all sectors, Cyprus’ Finance Minister Constantinos ... World News
Pope Francis calls for healing in split Cyprus, Orthodox archbishop attacks TurkeyPope Francis called on Friday for healing during an outdoor Mass in Cyprus within sight of a huge Turkish Cypriot flag on a mountainside on the other ... World News
Cyprus seeks to suspend asylum applications to cope with an influx of migrantsCyprus said Wednesday it would seek to suspend asylum applications to cope with an influx of irregular migrants entering the eastern Mediterranean ... World News
Pope Francis to revisit Lesbos on trip to Cyprus, GreecePope Francis will visit Cyprus and Greece next month, the Vatican announced Friday, returning to the island of Lesbos, a major port of entry for ... World News