The first 14 asylum seekers residing in Cyprus, including the two stranded in the buffer zone, will be flying to the Vatican on December 16, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said on Saturday.

He was speaking at old Larnaca airport after the farewell ceremony for Pope Francis, who departed for Greece on Saturday morning after completing his three-day visit to Cyprus.

This remarkable visit is not just important in a religious sense, Nouris said, but also significant because the government was able to brief the pope on the difficulties it faces due to migration.

He added that the Pope’s gesture to relocate 50 asylum seekers to the Vatican “clearly shows solidarity in practice; this is the substantive solidarity which we seek from our European partners”.

Nouris explained that following talks, representatives from the Vatican arrived in Cyprus three weeks ago to discuss the logistics of the transfer, also visiting Pournara migrant reception centre and talking to the people residing there.

“Through these talks, we formulated the list of 50 people who will relocate to the Vatican”.

The first 14 will fly out of the island on December 16, including the two Cameroonian who were students stuck in the buffer zone for the past six months with neither the Turkish Cypriots, nor the Republic taking them in.

Asked to comment on the 46 Syrians spotted on the Nicosia-Larnaca highway near Koshi, Nouris said that 81 more asylum seekers arrived to the island on Friday.

“It is no coincidence that the President has recently written to President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen – our country is going through a very difficult time,” he said.

“This is precisely one of the subjects we raised with the Pope, and I believe that through his statements he showed a very clear understanding of the problems faced by our small, divided homeland”.