KRAKOW, Poland — Three years after the historic visit of Pope Francis to the Greek island of Lesbos, the pope has dispatched one of his closest aides to the island’s massive refugee camp where many people are still trapped. Roughly 15,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are believed to be stuck on Lesbos and a handful of other Greek islands in an effort to reach Europe.
Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Papal Almoner, boarded a plane to Greece Monday morning with a message of hope and closeness to refugees still trapped in the camp.
Krajewski told Crux that he would check on what could be done for the refugees that are still in the camp and understands it as a mission of a shepherd assisting the flock.
“I think of today’s feast of St Stanislaus [the Polish martyr bishop] and of today’s Gospel – The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The pope was here 3 years ago – there are children older than 3, and they are still in the camp.”
In January, the British-based humanitarian group Oxfam issued a report on conditions at the camp, alleging, among other things, that women are wearing diapers at night rather than leaving their tents to use community toilets, out of fear of sexual violence. Also in January, a 24-year-old man from Cameroon froze to death in the camp.
Under the terms of a 2016 deal between Turkey and the EU, refugees arriving in Greece are forbidden to leave the camps to travel to the mainland.
Daniela Pompei of the Community of Sant’Egidio is also part of the trip party, and has been on the ground in Lesbos since Monday. Saint Egidio, one of the “new movements” in the Catholic Church, organized logistics of the trip in cooperation with the Migrants and Refugees Section of Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting the Integral Human Development.
The reason for the trip is an expression of Francis’s trademark ideas – a “revolution of tenderness” and reaching out to those in peripheries. The mission, according to a Vatican statement, carries the “intention of expressing the closeness of the Holy Father to asylum-seekers and refugees in Greek camps and reviving feelings of solidarity in Europe”.
The gesture of solidarity and concern for migrants comes just days ahead of May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament, with polls show anti-migrant and Eurosceptic parties poised to make significant gains.
Pope Francis wanted the trip since “asylum seekers and refugees seem to be losing hope for alternative solutions to life in the camp,” the statement reads, and “the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Greek camps still appears very problematic – the long stay in the camps seems to have increased the conditions of vulnerability in economically disadvantaged areas.”
The two-day mission led by Krajewski, according to the statement, aims to push “for a better situation people for whom things haven’t changed for three years.”
Krajewski will visit a camp and hotspot in Moira and the Kara Tepe camp on Lesbos, accompanied by Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos of Athens and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the president of COMECE (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community).
The delegation doesn’t go empty-handed. Krajewski, who’s responsible for distributing the charitable funds of the Vatican, will donate 100,000 Euro as pope’s personal contribution to Caritas Hellas. The money will be spent on needs of asylum-seekers and refugees, but also for local communities.