By Linda Bordoni
Making his way to the podium in front of the Basilica before the General Audience, Pope Francis asked the popemobile driver to stop to allow eight children to jump aboard for a ride.
Alessandro Gisotti, the interim Director of the Holy See Press Office told journalists that some of the kids had arrived in Italy from Libya through a “humanitarian corridor” on 29 April, while the others reached shore on a migrant boat a few months ago.
They were all wearing T-shirts that said “Welcome, protect, promote and integrate” the appeal coined by Pope Francis in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
He said they belong to different nationalities including Syrian, Nigerian and Congolese, and are currently hosted, together with their families, by an association on the outskirts of Rome.
The self-funded “Humanitarian Corridors” project, which Pope Francis has repeatedly upheld, is carried out by the Community of Sant’Egidio in collaboration with the Federation of Evangelical Churches and the Waldensian and Methodist Churches.
It aims to avoid migrant journeys on boats in the Mediterranean in which so many – usually trafficked people – have died, and at the same time fight human trafficking.
It is able to grant people in “vulnerable conditions” (victims of persecution, torture and violence, as well as families with children, elderly people, sick people, and persons with disabilities) legal entry on Italian territory with humanitarian visas, and the possibility to apply for asylum.
The project also responds to national security requirements because visa issuing procedures demand all the necessary checks by Italian authorities
Once in Italy, the refugees are welcomed in houses at the expense of the associations involved and are offered Italian language lessons, school enrolment for the children, and activities that promote integration and the search for employment.