Libyan migrant centres are like concentration camps, pope says

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Wednesday compared migrant detention centres in Libya to concentration camps, saying the world was being given only a diluted version of how hellish life really was for the people living there.

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of Saint Peter and Paul, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, June 29, 2020. Angelo Carconi/Pool via REUTERS

The pope, who has in the past called for the camps to be closed, made his comments in his homily during a Mass to mark the seventh anniversary of his trip to the Italian island of Lampedusa, landing place for many migrants making the perilous crossing from north Africa.

Departing from his prepared address, he recalled how an interpreter translating his conversation with a migrant seven years ago, gave him only a “distilled” version of what the migrant was actually saying.

“This is what is happening today in Libya. They give us the distilled version,” said Francis, who has made defence of migrants a major part of his seven-year-old papacy.

“Yes, there is a war (in Libya) and we know that is ugly but you cannot imagine the hell that people live there in those lagers of detention,” he said.

Lager is an abbreviation of the German word ‘Konzentrationslager’, or concentration camp.

“All these people had was hope as they were crossing the sea,” Francis said.

Thousands of refugees and migrants are held in about 20 official detention facilities in Libya, some controlled by armed groups, as well as an unknown number in squalid centres run by traffickers, according to the United Nations.

Human rights groups say abuses, including beating and forced labour, are rife in the detention centres.

Detainees in the Libyan camps include those who left on boats for Europe and were brought back by the European Union- backed Libyan Coast Guard, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones