Pope Francis is urging the nations of the world to take in as many refugees as possible.
The pontiff told reporters aboard the papal plane Thursday that he believes it is incumbent on governments to “welcome, to accompany, to place, to integrate” as many refugees as their societies can reasonably accommodate.
“Each country must do this with the virtue of government, which is prudence, and take in as many refugees as it can, as many as it can integrate, educate, give jobs to,” Francis said during the in-flight press conference, according to The Associated Press.
“We are living through a flood of refugees who are fleeing war and hunger,” the pope said.
More than 33,000 people have risked their lives to reach Europe by sea in 2018 so far, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. About 771 are estimated to have drowned during the journey.
Francis was responding to a journalist’s question aboard the papal airplane during a trip back to Rome from Geneva. A reporter asked him to share his thoughts on the current crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the influx of migrants attempting to enter Europe.
The pope reaffirmed his support for U.S. Catholic bishops who have spoken out against President Donald Trump’s policy of separating families who attempt to enter the U.S. illegally.
“I am behind what the bishops say,” the pope said. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the tactic “immoral.”
On Wednesday, Trump reversed the policy, signing an executive order so that immigrant families could be detained together.
Francis also decried the actions of human traffickers in Libya who exploit migrants passing through the conflict-ridden country. Migrants who are stopped in Libyan waters are often turned back and sent to detention centers in Libya, where they face execution, torture and “open slave markets,” according to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Francis said that he was appalled by photographs he’s seen of the Libyan detention centers.
“The traffickers’ prisons are terrible, terrible, like the concentration camps of World War II,” the pope said.
The pope encouraged world governments to invest intelligently in refugees’ countries of origin so that migrants from there won’t turn to human traffickers to seek a better life elsewhere. The pope referred in particular to migrants coming from various countries in Africa.
The number of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa seeking asylum in Europe and the U.S. has grown dramatically since 2010, according to the Pew Research Center. People from the region also seek to migrate to other countries as international students or through family reunification. These migrants are often seeking to escape high unemployment rates, political instability and conflicts in their home countries, Pew reports.
“So many European governments are thinking of an urgent plan to intelligently invest in those countries, to give jobs and education,” Francis said.
Francis has long been a staunch advocate for refugees and has repeatedly called on Catholics around the world to do the same. In 2015, he called on every parish, monastery and shrine in Europe to take in a family of refugees.
In 2016, Francis invited 21 Syrian refugees who had fled to the Greek island of Lesbos to return with him to the Vatican. The refugees were provided with temporary housing in Vatican City. The children were enrolled in elementary school, while their parents attended graduate school classes or started working.
On World Refugee Day this Wednesday, Francis reminded his followers on Twitter not to let fear get in the way of “welcoming our neighbour in need.”