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The anonymous heroes of the refugee crisis

2016-05-15

POPE FRANCIS
"It is a sad journey. We are going to see the greatest humanitarian tragedy after World War II.”

These were the Pope's words before his trip to Lesbos, where he acknowledged the key role the volunteers play in the refugee crisis.

These volunteers pulled many refugees from the water by their arms and were the first smiling faces they saw after a distressing journey marked by pain.

MAURO CASINGHINI
Order of Malta
"We read in his eyes the feelings of terror that this trip provoked."

Mauro Casinghini is of the Order of Malta. His doctors are part of the crew of Italian ships who have been patrolling the sea since 2008 in search of barges full of immigrants.

MAURO CASINGHINI
Order of Malta
"Working in a patrol vehicle is not the same as working in a hospital. In February 2015, we had to do an operation aboard, while fighting waves more than 26 feet high."

If the Order of Malta works on ships, NGO Open Arms Proactiva rescuers work on the beach. Their case has been one of the most moving in the refugee crisis.

They are rescue professionals at sea who decided to take action and move to Lesbos. From the beach, they help refugees disembark; and if necessary, plunge into the water to rescue them.

ÓSCAR CAMPS
Proactive Open Arms
"We realized that the situation was very complicated; we rescued a child and when we returned for the parents, the parents were already gone. The reality is that it is very hard to be God.”

The most dramatic experience they remember happened in October 2015, when they met at a shipwreck three miles from the coast. In the water there were hundreds of people.

ÓSCAR CAMPS
Proactive Open Arms
"They were already dying, there were corpses, there were children floating... it was horrific. We did not know where to start and there were only four lifeguards with two jet skis. When you see what we did ourselves, with our hands and our own resources...What could have been done if the administration had helped at all?"

In his final speech to the people of Lesbos, the Pope thanked the volunteers and the local population for their efforts to alleviate the suffering of refugees. He said they are "guardians of humanity" and said that God is with those who suffer.

The International Organization for Migration estimates so far this year more than 1,400 have died at sea and almost 6,000 people between 2014 and 2015.

JRB/MB
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