Written by Fiona Kendall
A year has passed since our flagship conference “Living and Witnessing the Border” in Palermo. It seemed to us that there was a strong sense of shared values and a joint commitment to action amongst those who attended. With that in mind, we felt that this would be an appropriate time to bring you up to date with some of Mediterranean Hope’s current campaigns and concerns, which we know to be relevant beyond Italy’s shores.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which initiated our humanitarian corridors project came to an end last autumn. Over 1,000 participants benefited from the two-year pilot phase. Each beneficiary arrived in Rome via an Alitalia flight and, on arrival, received a warm welcome to Italy. Thanks to the government’s willingness to grant interim humanitarian visas for each, all participants have been able to access health and other benefits whilst their formal applications for international protection have been processed. The vast majority have had their applications granted and we are confident that the remainder will ultimately succeed. All participants have received intensive language tuition, children in the programme have been offered school places and adults have received support in finding employment, training for employment or accessing further education. Most fundamentally, all have been provided with appropriate accommodation and practical support from the point of their arrival, not only in Rome but throughout Italy.
We are pleased to report that a further MoU was entered into with the Italian government at the end of last year. Once again, this provides for one thousand participants to benefit from the programme over a two year period. So far, participants in our programme have been drawn from refugee camps in Lebanon, having fled the war in Syria. Whilst the majority have been Syrian, there have also been some from Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Palestine. The first MoU also envisaged a direct route from Morocco and we remain hopeful that the Moroccan government will enable this to proceed in due course. Whilst the programme is not without its challenges, it is being held up as an example of best practice by our European neighbours and it is encouraging to see that this pioneering initiative is now being replicated in other countries, such as France, Belgium and Andorra, whose governments are collaborating with churches and humanitarian organisations at work there. The numbers permitted to access the programme, however, remain tiny in comparison with the numbers of asylum seekers desperate to find safe and legal pathways to migrate. Our primary challenge is therefore closing that gap.