Turkey has dispatched its own warship-escorted drill ships to search for gas off Cyprus, something that the Cypriot government calls a blatant violation of its sovereign rights and international law.
The Cypriot government accuses Ankara of trying to extend its hegemony over the eastern Mediterranean by using northern Cyprus as a forward military base for Turkish forces and drones.
Anastasiades said as much in his speech to Francis, denouncing “Turkey’s continued intransigence,” its “unprecedented belligerence” and “bellicose rhetoric.” He vowed to nevertheless work to find a just settlement and reunification of all Cyprus’ communities.
Francis’ first stop in Cyprus was a meeting with the country’s Maronite and Latin rite Catholic leaders at the Maronite cathedral. There, Francis praised the “mosaic” of Cyprus’ multiethnic people and urged the country and its church to continue welcoming migrants.
“This face of the church reflects Cyprus’ own place in the European continent: it is a land of golden fields, an island caressed by the waves of the sea, but above all else a history of intertwined peoples, a mosaic of encounters” he told the gathering.
Cyprus has seen such a spike in migrant arrivals this year — a 38% increase in the first 10 months compared with all of last year — that it has formally asked the European Commission to let it stop processing asylum claims altogether. It has more migrants per capita than any other European Union nation.
Francis is expected to echo the call for migrant welcome when he returns Sunday to Lesbos, Greece, where he made headlines in 2016 when he brought a dozen Syrian refugees home with him aboard the papal plane. Anastiades thanked Francis for arranging a similar transfer this time around of 50 migrants from Cyprus, to go later to Italy, and called for other European countries to step up to share the migrant burden.
Among the possible candidates for transfer to Italy after the pope’s visit are Grace Enjei and Daniel Ejuba, two Cameroonian asylum-seekers who crossed from the north about six months ago and got stuck in the buffer zone, where they have been living in a tent ever since.
“If help can come from anywhere, I will grab it,” Enjei said on the eve of Francis’ arrival. “And if I’m given the opportunity to like, make a choice, of course, anywhere in Europe will be OK.”
She and Ejuba said they paid hundreds of euros to someone in the north who showed them the way to cross through the U.N. line six months ago. They would face deportation if they returned to the north, but have been blocked from crossing into the south amid Cyprus’ crackdown on migrants, which has recently included a 27.5 million-euro ($31.8 million) deal with Israel for a camera system to monitor the 180-kilometer-long (110-mile-long) buffer zone.
Despite their precarious life in the U.N. buffer zone, Enjei says remaining in southern Cameroon wasn’t an option: Her home was burned down and random shootings and violence made her flee.
“I don’t regret leaving home. I don’t,” she said. “Even in my present situation, I still don’t regret it.”
This article originally appeared here.