FROM JOHN THAVIS IN VATICAN CITY POPE BENEDICT XVI has met Syria's vice-president to discuss the exodus of Christian and other refugees frOm Iraq, many of whom have fled to Syria.
During a private audience Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa gave the Pope a personal message from Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, the Vatican said in a statement.
Later the Syrian vice-president met for separate talks with Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's top foreign affairs expert.
The Vatican said the discussions focused on Syria's efforts to host hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and on Syria's requests for aid from international agencies.
Also on the agenda were the problems and conditions of Christians in Syria and what the Vatican termed the "decisive contribution that Syria can give in order to overcome the serious crises that afflict many populations of the Middle East".
Syria is now home to an estimated 15 million Iraqi refugees, and Syrian officials have said the international community has not helped the country to deal with the influx. With at least 30,000 new refugees arriving each month, Syria recently established visa restrictions to limit the number.
Many of those arriving in Syria have been Iraqi Christians who have fled increasing violence and discrimination.