The Syrian refugees Pope Francis took in following his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos have hailed the pontiff as a saviour for offering them a new life.
In a hugely symbolic move seen as a lesson in solidarity for Europe, Francis, who is the son of Italian migrants to Argentina, took 12 Syrians from three families – all of them Muslims – home with him to the Vatican on Saturday.
“All refugees are children of God,” the 79-year-old pontiff said on the flight back to Rome, adding that though his gesture was “a drop in the ocean” he hoped “the ocean will never be the same again”.
In an interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa, the families, who spent their first night in Rome at a Catholic charity, expressed their gratitude for the pope’s “gesture of hope”.
“We saw friends and relatives die in the rubble, we fled Syria because we no longer had any hope,” said Hasan, an engineer from Damascus, who arrived in Italy with his wife, Nour, and two-year-old son.
After fleeing to Turkey, he and his family set out for Europein a rubber dinghy that sailed from the Turkish coast to Greece. “But it was overloaded,” he said, recalling the pitch black of the sea at night and the waves rocking the vessel.
“In Lesbos, we understood that we were stuck in a place that we could not leave, [we were] in a trap, a prison”, he said. He described the pope as a saviour for taking them off the island, where thousands of migrants risk being sent back to Turkey under a new deportation deal between the EU and Turkey.