Migrants must not be sent back to cruel traffickers, pope says

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM FRANCE (CNS) -- Because so many migrants' journeys and lives are in the hands of cruel traffickers, countries of destination cannot send them back to where they embarked like a game of "ping pong," Pope Francis told reporters Sept. 23.

"Migrants are to be received, accompanied, promoted and integrated," he said, and if the host country is unable to take them in, then "accompany them" in being integrated in a dignified way in their country of origin so they will not end back up in the hands of these "wretches," the gangs and traffickers.

The pope answered just a few questions on the short flight back to Rome from Marseille, France, where he spent two days highlighting the plight of migrants who seek passage to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea and the region's responsibility and opportunities to find solutions.

Asked if he felt his urgent appeals for protecting the lives and dignity of these men, women and children over the span of his 10-year pontificate have failed, Pope Francis said he believed that there is greater awareness now of the seriousness of their plight than before, but that this growing awareness has been slow.

Instead, what it is happening, he said, is countries are treating the problem like "a hot potato that they don't know how to handle."

So, it ends up like a game of ping pong, he said, with migrants going back and forth between the hands of ruthless traffickers and the European shores that reject them at the border.

Often migrants end up in "lagers" where their lives are worse off than before, he said. "We can't send them back" without seeing or understanding what will happen to them. "We have to be careful and do something."

Helping these people in need "is good for us," he said. "It makes us more human and more divine."