Rohingya refugees are resorting to increasingly desperate measures such as makeshift rafts to cross the Naf River to Bangladesh | UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

By Vatican News

June 18 2020

Ahead of the 106th World Migrant and Refugee Day, held on 27 September, Tijan reflects on how religious sisters in Sierra Leone saved his life, along with thousands of other displaced persons.

Pope Francis has dedicated his message for this year’s World Migrant and Refugee Day to the theme: “Forced like Jesus Christ to flee”.

The World Day will be commemorated on Sunday, 27 September 2020.

“Fears and prejudices – a lot of prejudices – cause us to keep our distance from others and often prevent us from getting close to Jesus Christ and serving Him with love.”

Fleeing from home, alone

The Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section released a video on Thursday, entitled “To be close in order to serve”.

In the video, a man named Tijan reflects on his experience of fleeing war in Sierra Leone.

“Back in 1996, I had to leave my village because of war,” he says. “I was 6-years-old. They arrived in our village, Namasadu – Sierra Leone – at around 4 AM. My sister, my mother, and I were at home, while my father was working on the farm that we owned.”

Tijan says the soldiers took his brother, Omar, and turned him into a child soldier.

His mother, says Tijan, brought him to a nearby Center, to stay with several religious sisters. She then went back home to retrieve Tijan’s sister. “She did not return that day,” he says.

Always ready to help

The sisters didn’t speak his dialect so he understood little. “Only later did I realize that they wanted to help me. Fear was a constant companion. I was especially scared because they were white.”

Tijan says the sisters always tried to help, encourage, and reassure the children.

“Those who arrived at the Center received help, support, and love,” he says. “Because, when you flee from your home, you have nowhere to go. But at the Center there is always food, and a bed for you. There are also many other children.”

Those sisters, says Tijan, “saved us! They saved not only me, but also thousands of children who arrived there alone without parents.”