People who call themselves Christians but do not want refugees at their door are hypocrites, Pope Francis said Thursday, amid reports of new tragedies involving migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
"It is hypocritical to call yourself a Christian and to chase away a refugee, or anyone who needs your help. Jesus taught us what it means to be a good Christian in the parable of the Good Samaritan," Francis said in a meeting with German Lutheran pilgrims at the Vatican.
The pope, a vocal champion of migrant rights who was born in Argentina from an Italian immigrants, earlier issued a message ahead of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which the Catholic Church will observe on January 15.
"Children are the first among those to pay the heavy toll of emigration, almost always caused by violence, poverty, environmental conditions, as well as the negative aspects of globalization," Francis said in the message.
Renewing arguments that welcoming migrants is a Christian duty, the pope cited a passage from the Biblical Book of Exodus stating: "You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
He criticized attempts "to curb the entrance of migrants, which in turns fosters illegal networks" for people smuggling and trafficking, "instead of favouring the social integration of child migrants, or programmes for safe and assisted repatriation."
Francis said governments should balance their right to control migration flows "with the duty to resolve and regularize the situation of child migrants," saving them from abuse, exploitation and the "lowest levels of human degradation."
Separately, Malta-based charity MOAS said it heard from a group of 113 migrants rescued overnight from a rubber boat in the central Mediterranean that at least 17 of their peers, including a 3-year-old boy from Nigeria, were dead or missing.
"The sea was rough and the boat was taking on water. At one point some people started to panic. The next thing I knew I was pushed into the water and I lost my son in the chaos as I was trying to grab a life jacket," the surviving mother was quoted as saying by MOAS.
According to Save the Children, an international charity, roughly 20 per cent of the 304,000 migrants who landed in Italy and Greece in the year to date are underage. In Italy, a major surge in arrivals by unaccompanied minors has been recorded.