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Jewish group upset with pope’s use of ‘concentration camps’

A Jewish group has called on Pope Francis to “reconsider” his choice of words in recently describing European centers for Middle Eastern refugees as “concentration camps.”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said there is no comparison between the Nazi-run camps used for extermination and slave labor to today’s refugee centers.

Pope Francis made the remark in Rome on Saturday during a ceremony to commemorate the “New Martyrs” of the 20th and 21st centuries. He was paying tribute to an unknown Christian woman who was killed in front of her Muslim husband, who is a refugee, for holding a crucifix.

“I don’t know if [her husband] managed to leave that concentration camp. Because… there is a great number of people left there inside them,”  the pope said when referring to her husband’s refugee status.

Describing refugee camps specifically, the pontiff asserted: “These refugee camps — so many are concentration camps, crowded with people… because international accords seem more important than human rights.”

The AJC took issue with the comparison and urged the pope to revise his assertion.

“The Nazis and their allies erected and used concentration camps for slave labor and the extermination of millions of people during World War II,” the organization said in a statement. “There is no comparison to the magnitude of that tragedy.”

“We respectfully urge the Pope to reconsider his regrettable choice of words. Precision of language and facts is absolutely essential when making any historical reference, all the more so when coming from such a prominent and admired world figure,” the statement continued.

The pope’s remarks may carry all the more weight as he has notably lent moral authority to positions on controversial issues. He has, for instance, given catholic priests the authority to forgive women who have had abortions.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has reported there are some 21.3 million refugees worldwide, nearly half of them children.

It is widely documented that conditions in certain refugee centers have been horrific. The Guardian, for instance described that the notorious “Jungle” camp in Calais, France had “cramped makeshift tents plagued by rats, water sources contaminated by (feces) and inhabitants suffering from tuberculosis, scabies and post-traumatic stress.”

However, David Harris, chief executive of the AJC wrote on his group’s website, that there is still no comparison to what Jews endured under the Nazi regime.

“The conditions in which migrants are currently living in some European countries may well be difficult, and deserve still greater international attention, but concentration camps they certainly are not,” he said.

Karen Faulkner
Karen Faulkner is a British Israeli citizen. She has a Master's degree in Human Rights & Transitional Justice from Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

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