There is an ever growing number of undocumented African and Middle Eastern refugees landing on Europe's beaches. The churches in southern Europe are working hard to find ways to welcome these refugees.
The Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), in collaboration with the Catholic lay community of Sant'Egidio, has just signed an agreement with the Italian government to open "humanitarian corridors" to allow one thousand highly vulnerable refugees from Lebanon, Morocco, and later, Ethiopia to enter Italy safely and legally.
While the initial number is a small fraction of the tidal wave of refugees into Italy, this project is crucial both for Italy and for refugees who want to come to Italy:
- The screening of the applicants and guarantees of visas in advance will make it possible for the refugees to avoid the risky journeys most migrants have taken with smugglers and human traffickers and allow them to settle legally in Italy.
- The program's result could encourage other European countries to design similar programs for women, children, and seriously ill or disabled individuals who are most at risk in their own countries.
- The program is supported by people in Italian Protestant churches, who can help resettle the refugees.
FCEI president Luca Negro also highlighted the importance of the participation of local congregations and members in personally participating in the program, observing: "It is Christmas time and we obviously think about that young mother who had to deliver her baby in a manger as she could not find a place in an inn. Today, for many people, that inn is Europe. We are ready to welcome those who will come."
From a report of the Federation:
Green light for the pilot project on humanitarian corridors promoted by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) in collaboration with the Community of Sant'Egidio, in the framework of the FCEI programme "Mediterranean Hope" (MH).
After a development phase that took months to create a constructive dialogue with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and the Ministry of the Interior, yesterday morning, during a press conference, the two organisations announced the successful signing of a standard procedure to open humanitarian corridors. These corridors will first be open in Lebanon and Morocco, later in Ethiopia.
A thousand refugees, in very vulnerable conditions, are expected to be hosted. Thanks to the release of visas for humanitarian reasons, these people will be able to enter the Italian territory legally and safely. Once welcomed in Italy by the organisations involved, they will be able to apply for asylum. Thanks to this agreement, the project, which for the first time will prevent refugees from risking their lives during desperate journeys, will finally start.
Yesterday morning the presidents of FCEI and the Community of Sant'Egidio, Pastor Luca Maria Negro and Marco Impagliazzo, expressed their satisfaction. They have pointed out the absolute novelty of this procedure that can be a model for other Schengen countries. In particular, they have underlined the humanitarian relevance of this operation that especially focuses on admitting women, children and seriously ill or disabled individuals. This initiative is also a strong move against smugglers and human traffickers. This project, whose ecumenical dimension was repeatedly stressed during the press conference, is largely financed by the 8 per thousand of the Waldensian Church and therefore it is free from government costs.
"It is a good practice for Italy and for Europe. The fact that this agreement has been reached on the eve of the International Day of the Migrant is indeed a happy coincidence. We thank the Italian authorities - said Pastor Negro - for the attention given to the proposal of opening humanitarian corridors for vulnerable refugees, such as pregnant women. It is Christmas time and we obviously think about that young mother who had to deliver her baby in a manger, as she could not find a place in an inn. Today that inn is Europe for many people. We are ready to welcome and accompany those who will come. We are ready to offer that hospitality mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews reminding that some people without their knowing, welcomed the messengers of the Lord".
During the press conference Pastor Eugenio Bernardini, moderator of the Waldensian Board, said: "We do not hide that the motivation behind this project is our identity as Christians and our service towards the others. We have simply asked Italian authorities to help us in developing our duty as Christians. Now, we are able to experience this good practice, not only thanks this agreement, but also thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Italian taxpayers who have decided to devote their 8 per thousand to the Waldensian and Methodist Churches. Behind this agreement, there is also the diaconal action of our churches, the commitment of many communities and many men and women who already welcomed hundreds of refugees. With the opening of humanitarian corridors our commitment to the reception will be even higher and we are pleased to ecumenically share it as an important sign of the new ecumenical season we are living".
The legal framework of this ecumenical initiative is the Article 25 of the EC Regulation 810 /2009 of 13 July 2009 that sets out a Community Code on Visas, namely the possibility of granting them with limited territorial validity, notwithstanding the entry conditions of the Schengen Borders Code, "for humanitarian reasons or national interest or because of international obligations".
[This reportage was provided by the American Waldensian Society.]