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Pope calls for closure of Libyan migrant detention camps

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis called Thursday for the closure of Libya's migrant holding centers, saying they were places where would-be refugees are dying slowly from “ignoble torture and slavery."

Francis also encouraged continued sea rescues during a meeting in the Vatican with a group of newly arrived refugees from a camp in Lesbos, Greece. At the end of the encounter, Francis unveiled a modified cross dedicated to migrants made from a life jacket recovered from the Mediterranean by a migrant rescue ship.

“How can we not hear the desperate cry of so many brothers and sisters who prefer to risk the stormy seas rather than die slowly in Libyan detention camps, places of ignoble torture and slavery," he asked.

Francis praised aid groups that continue to rescue migrants at sea, a reference to Italy's past efforts to crack down on humanitarian rescue organizations by impounding their boats and placing their crews under investigation.

“We have to seriously commit to emptying the detention camps in Libya, with all possible solutions,” Francis said. He called for prosecution of the human traffickers who profit from the smuggling operations “without fear of revealing their links to, and complicity with (state) institutions."

Libya’s detention centers are rife with abuse and Europe’s policy of supporting the Libyan coast guard in bringing back would-be refugees has come under growing criticism. Even the U.N.'s own transit center in the Libyan capital of Tripoli has gotten so overcrowded with migrants fleeing the Libyan-run centers that the U.N. refugee agency recently announced cash incentives for them to leave.

Francis has made the plight of refugees a pillar of his papacy, demanding countries welcome and integrate those fleeing hardship and conflict. When he visited a Lesbos camp in 2016, he brought back a dozen Syrian refugees aboard his plane, to be resettled in Italy.

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