Written by the World Council of Churches
The first of what will be 1,000 refugees from camps in Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia are arriving this month in Italy through a “Humanitarian Corridors” project organized by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, the Sant’ Egidio religious community and the Italian government.
Italian churches have committed to provide housing, cultural orientation and language lessons for the refugees during their first months in Italy.
Last week, a Syrian family traveled to Italy from Lebanon through the first such “safe corridor” opened by a formal protocol signed by the Protestant Federation, the Community of Sant’Egidio and the government ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior. The four-person family included a seriously ill seven-year-old girl who is now being treated at the Bambin Gesù Hospital in Rome.
In the next weeks, nearly 100 other refugees, including both Christians and Muslims, will fly to Italy from Lebanon after Humanitarian Corridors leaders helped them obtain humanitarian visas so that they are not tempted to risk deadly sea crossings to Europe.
This initial wave of 100 Syrian refugees is particularly vulnerable, as most of them are sick, elderly and women alone with young children or persons with disabilities. Many of them are potential victims of human trafficking.
“We have worked for this initiative, and we see the results unfolding in a very dramatic way as refugees’ lives are saved,” said Dr Paolo Naso, advisor of the Tavola Valdese (of the Waldensian Church) and coordinator for International Relations with Mediterranean Hope, the comprehensive project managed by the Italian Federation of Churches to cope with migrants. “We hope other countries will replicate our efforts.”
Naso and others have worked for months to address the needs of people streaming from North Africa, trying to cross the Mediterranean to escape persecution, war and mass killings.
Initially, to help address this humanitarian crisis, the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy founded Mediterranean Hope. In the past year, when an estimated 3,000 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean, the Federation of Protestant Churches, with the Community of Sant’ Egidio, decided to press the Italian government to implement the issuance of more humanitarian visas.
“This is a practical model, and an example that, if we change policy, we can prevent the loss of life,” said Naso. “I hope we shall see an increase in such humanitarian channels.”