Refugees in Lesbos eagerly await the Pope

In the capital of Lesbos, Mytilene, a choir sings with fervor a song in French: “Jesus, shepherd of all mankind, you came to seek those who were lost.” » Hidden behind a porch overlooking a shopping street, the Roman Catholic Church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, built in 1843 by the Franciscans, is full on November 27, like every Saturday afternoon. Among the crowd, a large majority of asylum seekers from French-speaking Africa who feel “Lost”, “abandoned to [leur] sort » in the Mavrovouni camp located 6 kilometers away. All say they are impatiently awaiting the arrival of the Pope, scheduled for Sunday.

The chapel, which has enjoyed a second life for several years thanks to the refugees – because, in Lesvos, as in all of Greece, nearly 90% of the population is Orthodox – is a haven of peace in their punctuated daily life, since the pandemic of Covid-19, long moments of confinement.

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On Sundays, the Greek authorities do not allow refugees to leave the camp. The more than two thousand migrants who are there can only go to the city once a week. « [Venir à la messe le samedi,] it is the way to escape from this prison, to find a community and to pray together for our situation to improve ”, explains Berthe N’Goyo, a Cameroonian. The young woman narrowly escaped, three months ago, an illegal refoulement of the Greek Coast Guard to Turkey. For months, these practices, contrary to international law, which consist in preventing the filing of an asylum application on Greek soil and pushing the exiles back to Turkish territorial waters, have multiplied, according to NGOs and the Haut -Commissariat for refugees.

“Great cemetery”

In the evening, while the camp is surrounded by the sea, her tent vibrates in the strong winds, Berthe cannot sleep. “We have worries: the uncertainty of the future, living conditions, lack of money and food, problems in the country”, adds Enice Kiaku, a Congolese woman claiming to have been the victim of sexual violence in the former Moria camp, which went up in smoke in September 2020. “You have to hold on to something so as not to go crazy. Prayer helps me ”, she adds. Sunday, Berthe and Enice absolutely want to meet Pope Francis who will go to the camp to pronounce the Angelus, but will only meet with three refugees.

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In April 2016, the Sovereign Pontiff returned from Lesbos with twelve Syrian asylum seekers. “What I saw today was to cry (…). We must not forget that emigrants, before being numbers, are people, faces, names, stories ”, he then declared. In December 2019, he had also welcomed thirty-three migrants to the Vatican, thanks to a humanitarian corridor.

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