Pope Francis lamented on Saturday the state of holding centers where migrants are held in various European countries, likening them to “concentration centers.”
He therefore urged governments to get migrants and refugees out of these centers.
During a visit to a Rome basilica, where he met migrants, Francis told of his trip to a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year. Francis took some of the Lesbos refugees with him aboard his plane back to Italy.
He met a Muslim refugee from the Middle East there who told him how “terrorists came to our country”.
“I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration (type) because of the great number of people left there inside them,” the pope said.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) later urged the pope “to reconsider his regrettable choice of words” for using the term concentration camp.
“The conditions in which migrants are currently living in some European countries may well be difficult, and deserve still greater international attention, but concentration camps they certainly are not,” the AJC’s head, David Harris, said in a statement.
“The Nazis and their allies erected and used concentration camps for slave labor and the extermination of millions of people during World War II. There is no comparison to the magnitude of that tragedy,” he said.
Francis praised countries helping refugees and thanked them for “bearing this extra burden, because it seems that international accords are more important than human rights”.
He did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to agreements that keep migrants from crossing borders, such as deals between the European Union (EU) and Libya and the EU and Turkey. Humanitarian groups have criticized both deals.
He praised Italians and Greeks for welcoming tens of thousands of refugees and migrants rescued at sea.
He said he hopes the same generous spirit will “infect” other countries in Europe who have been resistant to taking in the refugees.
Noting that Italy had one of the world’s lowest birth rates, he said: “If we also close the door to migrants, this is called suicide.”
Next week Francis makes a two-trip pilgrimage to Egypt, a predominantly Muslim Arab nation where on April 9, on the Christian holy day of Palm Sunday, twin suicide bombings of Coptic churches killed 44 people.