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Rome Reports

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Melanie and Mirra, two women who didn't choose to be refugees

No one chooses to be a refugee. Melanie didn't choose, but she's been a victim of bad luck. She arrived in Rome three years ago as a tourist from Dublin, and her life changed overnight in the Eternal City. 

“I couldn't go back because, as a result of all the mess – to put it nicely – there is in Venezuela, the Irish government decided to close the borders by beginning to request a visa that we had to obtain in Venezuela. At that time, I was traveling here as a tourist, which is why I couldn't return to Dublin, and returning to Venezuela was risky.”

Two backpacks. That was the baggage she brought to Rome and became everything she had. Her whole life remained in Dublin.

“I remembered that, when I was studying at a Jesuit university, someone had told me about anorganization that works on the border between Colombia and Venezuela helping Colombians who flee from guerrilla warfare and are looking for shelter in Venezuela. I naively thought, 'Ah! If that organization is there, they must be here in Rome. Who knows? Surely they're here.”

The organization that helped Melanie is this one, the Astalli Center, which assists some 21,000 refugees in Rome each year. 

This center also helped Mirra. She didn't choose to be a refugee either, but – being so young – knew she had to flee the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

“Coming to a country where it's cold, where you don't know anyone, where you don't know where to start... I always say I left all of my dreams behind because I thought of doing something else in life. I had other projects, other dreams, other things to do. It's not easy.”

The war in her country is recognized as the worst armed conflict since World War II, with a death toll of five million. 

“Because of the difficult political situation,because of the persecution and for many other reasons, I had to leave the country. Unfortunately, I had to leave my two children, my mother, my brothers. That was the hardest part. When you have to do it, though, you do it. You think, 'I save myself to be able to save my family, my children, above all.'”

Both women participated in the presentation of the World Day of Peace message, and both have their own message for those who believe building walls for refugees solves something. 

“I think it makes the situation worse. Even without walls, people take trips in dangerous conditions and so many die. When they say 200 dead, you see a number, but behind every statistic is a person. If they build walls, it will be worse because, the more difficult things get, the more people search for another way to come, even worse than those that exist now.”

“I only ask for opportunities to do what I know how to do. If a country gives you opportunities, I believe it's an investment, an intelligent option.”

There are more than 65 million refugees around the world. None of them choose to be one. No one abandons his or her home and everything he or she knows unless he or she has no other option, or wants to save his or her own life or that of loved ones.