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Pope Francis May Travel To Greek Island To Highlight Plight Of Refugees

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We now have indications that Pope Francis is preparing to visit a Greek island - one that has been a way station for thousands of migrants. The Pope is widely expected to meet with people who have reached that island at the edge of Europe after a journey of hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles, only to face deportation under a new European plan. Joanna Kakissis is on the line from Athens. She's been covering the story for a very long time. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What evidence shows the Pope would be visiting?

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, the Greek government says he is coming perhaps as early as the end of next week. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome says the Vatican will not confirm the trip yet but says there are discussions going on about it. The Greek Orthodox Church has suggested that everyone go to Lesbos, which makes sense because that's where many of the migrants facing deportation are. That's also the island where hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arrived last year. Many are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. And Pope Francis has been very sympathetic to their plight. Just before Easter, he washed the feet of refugees in Rome. And it's apparently not just Pope Francis. He'll be joined by the ecumenical patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I of Constantinople - so the leaders of the Eastern and Western churches together on Lesbos.

INSKEEP: What's it like on Lesbos?

KAKISSIS: I just got back from a trip there. And the migrant camp on Lesbos is now basically a prison. At least 3,000 people are held in a former army barracks behind this tall, wrought-iron fence. Greek police have orders from the government to chase away any journalists who talk to refugees, even through that fence. I did manage to talk to a couple of people, including a young woman from Syria named Taqwa who actually wants to be a journalist. She says the camp is crowded and scary - that there's not enough food and people are sleeping outside. She's seen fights break out. She's heard people talking about hurting themselves. This is just not a safe place, she says. And I've been sending her text messages this morning about the Pope, and she says, I would love to meet him; maybe I can speak to him.

INSKEEP: Although - is this an implied rebuke of the European Union for preparing to send these people back?

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, we don't know what's going to be said on this visit. And the Vatican's, you know - still hasn't confirmed it's going to happen. But, you know, if it does, just simply having the heads of these two churches flying to Lesbos is a huge statement of empathy toward refugees. And the visit would certainly embarrass EU and Turkish leaders, who drafted a plan that many say is neither workable nor fair.

INSKEEP: Joanna, thanks as always.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's reported Joanna Kakissis, who's in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.