Migrants help Pope Francis celebrate his 85th birthday | World news

A group of migrants from refugee camps in Cyprus who are resettled in Italy at Pope Francis’ expense helped the pontiff celebrate his 85th birthday on Friday.

“You saved us,” an African boy told the Pope during a meeting at the Vatican Apostolic Palace a day after the 12 arrived from Cyprus.

They wished him a happy birthday and gave him a painting by an Afghan refugee showing migrants crossing the sea.

They come from the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Somalia and Syria and are the first of 50 people from camps in Cyprus that the Pope has pledged to provide for. The others are expected to arrive in the coming months and will be taken care of and integrated into Italian society by the Catholic charity Sant ‘Egidio.

The first group included, among others, doctors and computer scientists from their country of origin.

The Pope will plan for the resettlement of 50 migrants in Italy as part of an agreement between Italy, the Vatican and Cyprus to commemorate his trip earlier this month to the Mediterranean island.

Francis, who was elected the first pontiff in Latin America in 2013, has made the defense of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his pontificate.

Ethnically divided Cyprus, the EU member state closest to the Middle East, has struggled to cope with an influx of migrants and refugees over the past two years.

Many asylum seekers access government-controlled areas in the south through the “green line” that separates the island after previously arriving in the break-away Turkish Cypriot state in the north.

The Pope also visited Greece on the December 2-6 trip, including a stop at a refugee camp on the island of Lesvos.

During a previous visit in 2016, he had left Lesbos, then on the front line of the migration crisis in Europe, taking with him 12 Syrian refugees.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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