Vatican City — Pope Francis on Wednesday said people who shut out refugees should seek forgiveness, after clashes on Italy’s borders as European countries try to push back against a wave of migrants fleeing by boat from Libya.
Addressing crowds in St. Peter’s Square, Francis drew his followers’ attention to the U.N.’s World Refugee Day this Saturday.
“It is my hope that the international community should act in a fitting and effective way to prevent the causes of forced migration,” the pontiff said. He called on Catholics to pray for people “who seek a home where they can live without fear” and praised those who help refugees.
The pontiff also picked out those who have failed to support refugees: “I invite everyone to ask forgiveness for those persons and institutions that close the doors on these people who are searching for family, that are searching for safety.”
Francis’ appeal follows clashes at Italy’s northwest border as riot police forcibly removed migrants who had been refused permission to enter France.
Countries neighboring Italy have recently upped security and returned migrants who had crossed the border, despite European Union rules stipulating the migrants must stay in Italy until their visa or asylum application is processed.
Rome has, however, argued that European nations must do more to share the burden of new arrivals, as 200,000 are estimated to reach Italy by sea this year.
The pope has repeatedly expressed his support for migrants and refugees, in 2013 visiting the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is an arrival point for many people taking the journey across the Mediterranean.