“They have arrived with their few belongings, full of fear and hope,” observes Dr Paolo Naso, as he watches 93 Syrian immigrants — 41 of them children — step off a plane that came from Beirut on 29 February.
“They fled Islamic State persecutions and the violence of a war that does not spare women, children or civilians,” says 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.
As he helps hold a sign that reads “Welcome to Italy," he hears the words of people who are exhausted after years spent struggling.
[This story was originally published by the World Council of Churches.]
"I feel like an uprooted tree,” says Mariam, matriarch of a large family that has lived four years in a refugee camp, “looking for a new land to root”.
Miriam and others lived in the Tel Abbas camp, attended and supported only by a group of Italian volunteers associated with '"Operation Dove”, a project of the Pope John XXIII Community Association.
One of Miriam’s sons was contacted by smugglers. “We thought to travel with them," he says — until they received a message that a family member had perished in the Aegean Sea attempting the trip to Italy.
“Last year, in November, I went to Tel Abbas and the question was always the same: is there a legal chance to reach Italy?” says Naso. At that time, his answer was cautiously confident. He was in the midst of helping to create “Humanitarian Corridors,” a project organized by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, the Sant’ Egidio religious community and the Italian government.
As he and others navigated the necessary meetings and paperwork required to establish Humanitarian Corridors, they pressed the Italian government to implement the issuance of more humanitarian visas, never losing their mental image of the people they met in the camp. “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," says Naso.
The immigrants arriving this week were able to book a flight offered by Alitalia, and as Naso hears the children speaking, he is eager to share their words. He also urges continued support and prayers.
“Why don't we bring our tent to Italy?" asks a child who has never lived in a house or slept on a real bed.
"And I will receive treatments,” hopes a boy named Diyar. who at ten years old lost one of his legs from a grenade. “And perhaps I could have a new leg.”
Diyar will indeed have his leg, says Naso, thanks to a foundation that is offering a sophisticated prosthesis.
Naso adds that Humanitarian Corridors could serve as a practical model — an example of how changes in policy can prevent the loss of life. “We send a strong message of hope against that Europe of walls, barbed wire and expulsions — a positive message for the Christian communities that ecumenically have tried to do the right thing,” he said. “We hope that such a message could move the leaders of Brussels and the Italian public opinion.”