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Rome Reports

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Refugee camp in Lesbos, five years after Pope Francis' visit


“Father please, bless me.”

It's been five years since these images were captured.

It was the Pope's visit to this refugee camp in Moria in April of 2016. Four years later, the camp was destroyed by a fire.

Twenty thousand people were living there at the time.

It was a one-day trip, which Pope Francis concluded in an unforgettable way: by taking several refugee families back to Rome with him. In Rome, institutions like the Community of Sant'Egidio helped them with the integration process.

Pope Francis was able to witness the good work they did.

That's because nearly a year later, he met with one of these refugees studying biology at a university in Rome.

“I'm from Syria. I fled the country a year ago with my husband and my son.”

But the situation in Lesbos has not improved in the past five years.

After the devastating fire in the large camp in Moria, the refugees were scattered throughout various smaller camps. There they received aid from institutions like Doctors Without Borders.

ALESSANDRA SAIBENE
Doctors Without Borders
“There are some 9,000 refugees living in tents, somewhere on the coast, exposed to the wind and inclement weather. In the winter there were incidents like tents catching fire because people were desperate and didn't know how to keep warm.”

Alessandra Saibene notes that more arrivals are expected in spring and summer. She also explains that the biggest medical problems to expect are psychological. Especially among the children.

ALESSANDRA SAIBENE
Doctors Without Borders
“They develop complete apathy in front of any stimulus around them. They are passive. They refuse to do anything. They've lost their capacity to interact, to relate to others. That's why the work our psychologists do is important and very challenging.”

The situation doesn't show any signs of improving any time soon. Europe continues to put forth efforts to stop the flow of refugees through agreements with countries like Turkey. Meanwhile, instability in Syria continues to contribute to new waves of refugees.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis stands by the same policy he promoted five years ago: to welcome migrants and refugees because they were forced to flee, and to promote their integration so that they can contribute to the future of their new countries.

Javier Romero

TR: CT