By Linda Bordoni
Humanitarian Corridors, conceived and implemented by a group of faith-based organizations, have been chosen to receive the UNHCR 2019 Regional Nansen Refugee Award for Europe.
Established in 1954, the Nansen Refugee Award is presented every year to an individual, group or organization for work that assists, protects and supports refugees, displaced and stateless people.
Thanks to the Humanitarian Corridors project, for which Pope Francis himself has repeatedly expressed his support, thousands of refugees have been given a safe and legal pathway to protection and the possibility of building a better future in Italy.
The self-financed project was conceived and implemented by the Community of Sant'Egidio together with Waldensian and Methodist Churches and the collaboration of Caritas Italiana and the Italian government.
Since February 2016 more than 2000 refugees and vulnerable people have been given a humanitarian visa and have arrived in Italy through a humanitarian corridor. Once in Italy, they are welcomed in houses, receive Italian lessons, helped to find a job and their children are enrolled in school.
UNHCR’s regional spokesperson for Southern Europe, Carlotta Sami, told Linda Bordoni that this award highlights the value of a fruitful project that provides a win-win situation for all.
Sami explained that the Humanitarian Corridors have been operational for a few years and that “this prize is bringing them the right visibility and the recognition” they deserve.
She said that for the group of organizations that joined forces to set them up and implement them, it has been a labour of love that has resulted in “something real and concrete for refugees.”
Stop people dying on the Mediterranean route
Sami recalled how the idea of opening up the Humanitarian Corridors came on the heels of the terrible 2013 shipwrecks that caused the death of hundreds of people in the Mediterranean Sea.
“These associations decided to take concrete action to counteract this terrible tragedy. And it is working,” she said.
Unfortunately, she noted, it is working only for a few thousand people, adding “that’s why visibility is so important: to show that the Humanitarian Corridors are working, and that they are a win-win solution”, both for the host communities and for the refugees.
“They need to be strengthened, they need to also to receive the support of governments because until now they are supported only by simple citizens, by NGOs, by associations,” she said.
Another reason they need to be strengthened, she highlighted, is because most refugees don’t have access to these programmes and they continue to end up risking very dangerous routes and thus, risking their lives.
“We need to stop that,” she said.
Pope Francis’ support has been key
Sami describes Pope Francis’ support of the Humanitarian Corridors project as key.
“Pope Francis fully and deeply understands how big is the risk and how terrible is the trauma that refugees are suffering,” she said.
Most of them, she pointed out, come from very poor countries and they deserve a possibility and an opportunity to restart their life.
“They will be the first, she concluded, willing to contribute to the communities that will receive them”.