By Linda Bordoni
“Welcome” and “Peace” were the words with which a group of children and adolescents and their families from the war-torn city of Homs in Syria were greeted on Tuesday morning as they arrived in Rome.
They were also offered a Palm Sunday olive branch and an Italian language tuition book by members of the Sant’Egidio Community who met them at the airport.
The refugees travelled safely to Italy thanks to the “humanitarian corridor” project carried out and funded by Sant’Egidio in collaboration with the Federation of Evangelical, Waldensian and Methodist Churches.
Support of Pope Francis
Pope Francis has welcomed the initiative describing it as a “concrete sign of commitment to peace and life” that helps people fleeing war and violence.
Speaking after the Angelus on 6 March 2016 he said "As a concrete sign of commitment to peace and life, I want to mention and express admiration for humanitarian corridors in favour of refugees, launched recently in Italy. This pilot project, which combines solidarity and security, allows one to help people fleeing war and violence, as the hundred refugees who have already been transferred to Italy, including sick children, disabled people, war widows with children, and the elderly. I also welcome this initiative because it is an ecumenical one, supported by the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Italian Federation of Evangelical Churches, and the Waldensian and Methodist churches".
Since February 2016 over 1000 refugees have arrived in Italy through a humanitarian corridor.
Aims of project
The aim of the project is to avoid journeys on the boats in the Mediterranean, which have already caused innumerable deaths; to avoid human trafficking by preventing exploitation by human traffickers who do business at the cost of those who flee from wars, persecution or hunger ; to grant people in "vulnerable conditions"(victims of persecution, torture and violence, as well as families with children, elderly people, sick people, persons with disabilities) legal entry on Italian territory with humanitarian visas and the possibility to apply for asylum.
Organizers point out that it is a safe solution for all, because visa issuing procedures require all the necessary checks by Italian authorities.
Once in Italy, the refugees are hosted in houses and communities and taught Italian. The children are enrolled in school and the adults are assisted in searching for work.
Memorandum of Understanding
The “Humanitarian Corridors” are the result of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the faith-based groups involved and by the Italian Government that issues humanitarian visas with “limited territorial validity” meaning they are valid only for Italy. Once the refugees arrive in the country legally and safely, they can apply for asylum.