Written by Dr. Paolo Naso, Mediterranean Hope project’s Coordinator
They have arrived with their few belongings, full of fear and hope. We could see our neighbour getting off a regular flight from Beirut, at 7 AM on February 29th. 93 Syrian immigrants that fled IS persecutions and the violence of a war that does not spare women, children or civilians.
"Welcome to Italy" said the banner at the arrival which was held by FCEI and the Community of Sant'Egidio's operators, accompanied by police officers that are used to receiving heads of state, authorities and VIPs.
But this time in Italy have arrived simple refugees which are exhausted after years spent on struggling and facing difficulties.
"I feel like an uprooted tree - says Mariam who is the matriarch of a large family which has lived four years in a refugee camp - looking for a new land to root".
This is Italy. For years, Italy has been the dream and the obsession of a group of people that for four years have lived in Tel Abbas camp only attended and supported by a group of generous Italian volunteers of '"Operation Dove". Operation Dove is a project of the Pope John XXIII Community Association.
Italy has been the only hope, the promised land to reach by any means, including smugglers boats.
"Smugglers contacted me- said one of Mariam's sons - and we thought to travel with them... until I got that message."
A simple message announcing that a relative had perished in the waters of the Aegean Sea.
Last year in November, I went to Tel Abbas and the question was always the same:
"But, is there a legal chance to reach Italy?". Our answer was cautiously confident.
Those were the months in which on behalf of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), and together with the Community of Sant'Egidio we were defining the protocol that would allow the opening of "humanitarian corridors". And the first from Lebanon.
In every meeting, in front of officers who posed questions and raised understandable issues, our thought was always addressing those people encountered in the field, their expectations and the promises we made.
Until December 15th, with the Christmas lights already on, when the pastor Luca Negro on behalf of FCEI, Pastor Eugenio Bernardini on behalf of the Waldensian Board and Professor Marco Impagliazzo of Sant'Egidio, signed the "Protocol" for the opening of humanitarian corridors for a total of one thousand refugees together with the leaders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of the Interior, all engaged in this pilot project in Europe.
Since then everything went on rapidly to speed up very complicated procedures involving the Italian Embassy in Lebanon, the Lebanese police and of course the Italian authorities.
But sometimes things are going in the right direction, and in two months it was possible to collect all the necessary documents, book a flight - generously offered by Alitalia - and organise the departure, planned at 4 AM on February 29th.
"Dad, why don't we bring our tent to Italy?" Asked a child who has never lived in a house or slept on a real bed.
"And I will receive treatments - hoped Diyar - who at ten lost one of his legs due to a grenade.
And perhaps I could have a new leg.
Indeed, he will have it, thanks to Bimbi in gamba Foundation that will offer a sophisticated prosthesis.
As well as little Falak - arrived with her family on February 4th and through the first humanitarian corridor from Italy. She has already started her chemotherapy and already has a "new" eye that allowed her to remove that ugly bandage that has disfigured her by more than a year.
Our neighbour came in this way crossing a Red Sea that opened saving them from humiliation and perhaps saving their life.
Italian borders opened and on February 29th we send a strong message of hope against that Europe of walls, barbed wire and expulsions.
We hope that such a message could move the leaders of Brussels and the Italian public opinion.
A positive message for the Christian communities that ecumenically have tried to do the right thing.
(nev-notizie evangeliche 09/2016)
Humanitarian corridors. Celebrating the 24 Syrian families that arrived in Fiumicino
The Minister Gentiloni and the representatives of the sponsoring organisation welcomed them.
Rome (NEV) March 2nd, 2016 - In an atmosphere of emotion and celebration on Monday, February 29th, 24 Syrian families arrived at the airport of Fiumicino, thanks to the pilot project of humanitarian corridors promoted by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), the Community of Sant'Egidio and the Waldensian board, in agreement with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior.
Those families - about 93 people, including 41 minors, considered particularly vulnerable - came from Lebanon with a regular scheduled flight, thanks to a visa for humanitarian reasons issued by the Italian embassy in Beirut.
The first one to welcome them, at the press conference held at the airport, was the Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni who wanted to thank all those who made possible the design of humanitarian corridors:
"To address the issue of migration is necessary to put in place a range of different actions, including the humanitarian corridors. These corridors - the Minister said - are a message to remind Europe that walls are not the solution to address this immigration crisis."
Pastor Luca Maria Negro, President of FCEI, underlined the novelty of this project within the European framework and its ecumenical character, also supported by numerous foreign Protestant churches and international ecumenical organisations.
"The idea - Negro said - was conceived inside the FCEI project, Mediterranean Hope, which began in 2014 with an Observatory on Migration in Lampedusa.
By watching this sea, that many people try to cross, we realised that it is a sort of water desert. And, we thought about Isaiah 40 calling 'to prepare the way for the LORD in the desert'.
We have followed this call to prepare a way for those who are fleeing from war and poverty."
A warm welcome to the Syrian families have been given by the president of the Community of Sant'Egidio, Marco Impagliazzo, who stressed that today has been drawn "a very nice picture of Italy, based on solidarity and rights that are some of the founding principles of Europe. This first group of families demonstrates that it is possible to manage the arrival of refugees on our continent safely and with humanity. It also aims to become a model for the European countries which are struggling in front of our duty to welcome those who are fleeing from the war."
"Today is a day to celebrate, a day of joy - said Paolo Naso, representative of the Waldensian Board as Eugenio Bernardini could not participate. "This project is an example of how civil society has been involved, together with the competent authorities to give a concrete answer to the drama of so many refugees.
This is the Europe we want: a community that does not raise walls but build bridges."
The Waldensian and Methodist churches have sponsored the project of humanitarian corridors by means of the eight per thousand funds.
Although Pastor Massimo Aquilante - under whose presidency of FCEI the humanitarian corridors were designed and prepared inside the framework of the Mediterranean Hope project - could not be present, he wanted to express his deep joy for the arrival of these 93 refugees:
"I can personally confirm that MH project has proved, from its very beginning its endless potential that we have used and fostered. This Monday's event is its further confirmation. But, as I have always wanted to point out, the soul of the project lies in the tension to remain a witness of God's kingdom.
We should put back in God's hands all of our achievement because 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'."
After the press conference the Syrian families left for the different locations where they will be supported by the host structures of the ecumenical project promoters.
The FCEI has set up "Casal Damiano", a reception centre for 23 people near Aprilia (Latina); 5 more people will be welcomed in Reggello (Florence), at the centre of the Waldensian church "Casa Cares".