Pope denounces unimaginable “hell” of Libyan migrant camps

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis denounced the unimaginable “hell” of Libya’s migrant detention camps as he celebrated a Mass on Wednesday in honor of would-be asylum seekers who risk their lives for a better future.

Wednesday marked the seventh anniversary of Francis’ visit to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to meet with migrants who had recently arrived aboard smugglers’ boats from Libya. The July 8, 2013, trip was Francis’ first pastoral visit outside Rome after his election, and it was in Lampedusa where Francis first uttered his now-frequent appeal for an end to the “globalization of indifference” that greets migrants globally.

Francis repeated that phrase in his homily Wednesday in the chapel of the Vatican hotel where he lives. Whereas last year’s anniversary was marked with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, attended by asylum-seekers and those who care for them, this year’s commemoration was restricted to the staff of the Vatican’s migrants office, due to coronavirus restrictions.

Francis recalled that he heard stories of suffering from the migrants he met on Lampedusa in 2013, but only realized when he got back to the Vatican that his translator had only relayed a fraction of what the migrants had recounted.

“He gave me the distilled version,” Francis said of the translator, explaining that this is often the case when the world hears blandly of war and suffering in Libya.

“You cannot imagine the hell that is being lived there,” he said, referring to Libyan detention camps as “lagers.”

Human rights groups have documented cases of rape, torture and other widespread abuses in Libyan migrant centers, where would-be asylum seekers are returned after they are rescued by the Libyan coast guard and returned to shore.

Italy and the European Union, seeking to stem the flow of migrants to Europe, have invested millions of euros in boosting the ability of the Libyan coast guard to patrol its coasts. But rights groups complain this has only made them complicit in the abuses that then occur in the camps.