Following through on his call for doing “everything possible to ensure humanitarian assistance to those suffering” in Syria, Pope Francis on Tuesday visited several hundred refugees and asylum seekers at the Astalli refugee center in Rome, Time reported.
While meeting with refugees from the Middle East and Africa, the pope spoke with a Sudanese man and sat down with a Syrian family to hear their story. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR,) more than two million Syrians have been driven out of their homeland over the course of the country’s nearly 3-year-old civil war. UNICEF put out a release on Tuesday detailing the emotional toll the crisis has taken on Syrian children, who make up roughly half of the country’s refugee population.
“Parents report that their children are experiencing frequent nightmares and exhibiting reckless and aggressive behaviors,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, in Tuesday’s statement. “Bedwetting is common and children have become more withdrawn and clingy. Their drawings are often violent and angry with images of bloodshed, explosions, and destruction.”
Syrians have fled primarily to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt, but a growing number are arriving in North Africa and Europe, where Astalli, run by Pope Francis’ Jesuit order, is located. Francis’ visit to the refugee center follows a Vigil for Peace he led on Saturday, and a letter he sent last week to participants in the G-20 summit. Both the vigil, and letter urged world leaders to avoid military action in Syria.