The esplanade of barracks and small white cubicles borders one of the island’s idyllic bays in the distance. The place, however, is hideous up close. There is no electricity or water all hours of the day. It is cold and at night the humidity grinds the bones. Here they live indefinitely. But worse was Moria, the other refugee camp, which burned on October 9, 2020. Or stay in Afghanistan. Or let’s not say die at sea, like some of the 20,000 migrants who in recent years tried to cross the waters that separate Turkey and this Greek island in precarious boats. Jila Alizahi arrived here after traveling on foot from Kabul. She is 16 years old and has been trapped in Lesbos for almost three. Half life. Enough to be able to sum up with this increasing sequence of calamities his days in Mavrvovouni, the place where he survives with 2,200 other people.
In Mavrovouni almost nothing ever happens. Neither advance nor go backwards. The place is part of the set of refugee camps that were built in Greece with European funds after the 2015 crisis. “We don’t know anything about our papers. We have to go out. My wife is sick and we need a good hospital, ”laments Mohamen Amini, a 36-year-old Afghan. An increasingly invisible place. Except this Sunday, when the Pope appeared with the press from around the world and asked to stop “this shipwreck of civilization.” It is not usual for a pontiff to repeat a destiny. And less if you are in a small corner of Europe. But this is Francisco’s main obsession. “I am here again to meet you; I am here to tell you that I am close to you; I am here to see their faces, to look into their eyes: eyes full of fear and hope, eyes that have seen violence and poverty, eyes filled with too many tears ”, he announced surrounded by the inhabitants of the countryside.
Lesbos, the third largest island in Greece, has become a symbol of this pontificate. Many refugees have been trapped here since 2016. Children, like Jila herself, who have not been able to go to school. Lives stranded on a mountain of documentation on the table of some European court. Asylum applications rejected up to five times while they are still locked up, as the African community in the countryside denounced the Pope this Sunday. The five islands in the Aegean Sea thus became huge open-air prisons from 2015, at the height of the landings. A year later, Francisco visited the island. So long that some, like the Afghan majority, have even been able to see from a distance the unimaginable return of the Taliban. “Five years have passed since the visit I made. After all this time we can see that little has changed on the immigration issue, ”the Pope lamented.
Some things are not exactly the same. The old Moria camp (which was the largest in Europe), where thousands of families were crammed together in miserable conditions, burned in 2020. A group of Afghan refugees burned a container in protest of the conditions in which they lived and the fire broke out. it spread rapidly through the shacks where the migrants slept. The concertinas are still there. But the new facility is something better and the refugees live in a significantly more dignified way. Something that the Pope recognized, with nuances. “I acknowledge the commitment to financing and building decent reception structures and I heartily thank the local population for all the good they have done and the many sacrifices they have accepted. But we must bitterly admit that this country, like others, is currently going through a difficult situation and that there are still people in Europe who persist in treating the problem as an issue that does not concern them.
The EU invested 276 million euros to build five new fields on the islands. Like Mavrovouni. Closed centers, without freedom of movement. With lathes and an algorithm that controls entrances and exits, allowed today only a few hours a day or for reasons such as visiting the doctor. That was the problem. It is not what had been agreed with the European Union. But the plan increasingly consisted of making the problem invisible, the pope criticized. Since 2016, the EU has paid 6 billion euros to Turkey – just 20 kilometers from Mytiliene, the capital of Lesbos – to stop migratory flows reaching the Greek shores. “It is sad to hear that the use of common funds is proposed as a solution to build walls. The fears and insecurities are understandable. Tiredness and frustration, exacerbated by the economic and pandemic crisis, are perceived, but it is not by raising barriers that problems are solved, but by joining forces to take care of others according to the real possibilities of each one and in respect of the legality, always putting first the inalienable value of the life of every man ”.
The Pope thus underlined once again the two great priorities on his agenda. First, he referred to climate change with some optimism, an issue in which he assured “something seems to be moving.” But regarding immigration, the other front that opened as soon as they reached Pedro’s chair in 2013, denounced that “everything seems terribly opaque.” “People and human lives are at stake. The future of all is at stake, which will only be serene if it is integrated. When the poor are rejected, peace is rejected ”, he pointed out.
Join EL PAÍS now to follow all the news and read without limits
The problem of migration, Francisco told the group of refugees who listened to him, is far from being solved. He has repeated it during all the stops of his trip: “You have to welcome.” “Closures and nationalisms – history teaches us – lead to disastrous consequences […]. It is an illusion to think that it is enough to safeguard ourselves, defending ourselves from the weakest who knock on the door. […] Let’s stop this shipwreck of civilization ”.
The rise in immigration at the beginning of the last decade was accompanied by the flourishing of far-right parties. It happened in France in 2005. Also in Italy with the massive arrival of boats to its coasts in 2013. And finally that policy also landed in Spain. The Pope held them responsible for the hatred. “It is easy to drag public opinion, fostering fear of the other; Why, instead, with the same tone, is it not talked about the exploitation of the poor, or the forgotten and often generously financed wars, or the economic agreements that are made at the expense of the people, or the maneuvers hidden to smuggle arms and make their trade proliferate? We must face the remote causes, not the poor people who pay the consequences of it, being also used as political propaganda ”.
Follow all the international information at Facebook and Twitter, o en our weekly newsletter.