Pope Francis to Visit Migrant Island of Lampedusa

Pope Francis says he doesn’t want local officials to turn out in force to welcome him

Pope Francis is to make a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa on Monday, to pray for illegal migrants lost at sea trying to reach Europe.

A Vatican statement said the Pope had been profoundly touched by a recent fatal shipwreck off the island of a boat carrying migrants from Africa.

The visit is expected to be extremely low-key, with no official welcome.

Lampedusa, about 80 miles (120km) from Tunisia, is one of the nearest gateways to Europe for African migrants.

Tens of thousands of migrants have made the crossing in recent years, many on overburdened and poorly equipped wooden boats.

The pontiff is also expected to meet immigrants who have survived the crossing and encourage the local population to help people in extreme need.

The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says the small refugee reception centre on the island has been swamped for many years with growing numbers of arrivals of African migrants, particularly during the summer season when the sea is calmer.

Lampedusa’s native population of 6,000 is often outnumbered by thousands of migrants in improvised camps around the island.

The migrants are normally transported to reception centres on the Italian mainland for identification purposes.

Italy has asked the EU for help to deal with what is essentially a European problem but has so far received only scant international help.