Pope Francis has warned against isolation and scaremongering with regard to the migration of people across the Mediterranean to Europe. Regular entry options and a balanced reception of migrants in Europe must be guaranteed, said the pontiff in Marseille.

“Those who risk their lives at sea are not invaders, they are looking for welcome,” the Pope said on Saturday in the southern French port city. Migration is a process “that must be shaped with clever foresight: with European responsibility.”

The Mediterranean is crying out for justice, said the head of the Catholic Church. “On its banks there is abundance, consumption and waste on the one hand, and poverty on the other.” The “cry of pain” of the migrants who drown while trying to escape turns the Mediterranean, the cradle of civilization, into the “grave of human dignity.”

Europe’s difficulties in welcoming and integrating “unexpected people” cannot be overlooked, the Pope said in his speech, which was also attended by French President Emmanuel Macron and EU Migration Commissioner Margaritis Schinas. “But the main criterion cannot be the preservation of one’s own prosperity, but rather the preservation of human dignity.”

The solution is not rejection, but rather “ensuring a variety of legal and regular entry options,” the 86-year-old continued. The aim must be a “balanced reception in Europe in cooperation with the countries of origin”.

“Let us be touched by the story of our many brothers and sisters in need, who have the right to both emigrate and not to emigrate,” warned Francis. “History demands that we shake up our conscience in order to prevent the shipwreck of civilization.”

The Pope specifically dedicated his two-day visit to Marseille to the fate of the refugees. The evening before, he had campaigned for sea rescue at a memorial service for the migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean. It is a “duty of humanity,” he emphasized, alluding to the increasing difficulties for aid organizations in reaching a port with rescued migrants. This year, more than 2,000 people have died while fleeing across the Mediterranean.

The long-planned visit, which concludes a meeting of bishops and young people from countries bordering the Mediterranean in Marseille, coincides with the recent refugee crisis on the Italian island of Lampedusa and the debate over a new immigration law in France.

France “will not accept any refugees,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin recently said, referring to the thousands of migrants from Africa who have arrived in Lampedusa. He assumed that most of them had no right to asylum anyway, he explained, and offered Italy to help with the repatriation.

Francis also criticized euthanasia, which is currently being debated in France. The government is planning new legal regulations that could make it easier to access euthanasia. “Who listens to the laments of lonely old people who, instead of being appreciated, are pushed aside with the false prospect of a sweet death that is actually saltier than the water of the sea?” the Pope said.

Macron then met privately with the Pope. The Elysée explained that the conversation should also be about immigration, but also about the situation in Ukraine and the Sahel.

The president also wants to take part in the final fair in the afternoon at the Vélodrome in Marseille, where almost 60,000 people are expected. Macron’s presence at the mass sparked criticism from the left-wing opposition, which sees it as violating the strict separation of church and state in France. However, left-wing opposition politicians had also sided with Francis when it came to refugees and warned Macron to listen to the Pope on this issue.

See our photo series: When people have to flee conflict, natural disasters or persecution, they often seek protection in their own country. Of the refugees who fled to other countries, around half were accommodated in these countries.