By Linda Bordoni
This year the prestigious Nansen Regional Award for Refugees goes to the Humanitarian Corridors initiative, promoted by the Community of Sant'Egidio, the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, the Waldensian Table and CEI-Caritas Italy for assuring a safe passage to people who are forced to flee war and persecution.
Thanks to the Humanitarian Corridors, since February 2016 more than 2.000 refugees and vulnerable persons have been issued with legal humanitarian visas for Italy, while the promotors of the programme have guaranteed their transfer as well as the reception and the assistance needed to integrate them into Italian society.
The initiative has been praised and upheld as a positive model by Pope Francis on numerous occasions.
The prize-giving ceremony in Rome coincides with the arrival, at the city’s international airport, of 91 Syrian refugees from Lebanon who have been able to make the journey thanks to the Humanitarian Corridors project. As always, promoters of the initiative organize a warm welcome at the airport for the refugees before accompanying them to their new homes.
Danait Guush Gebresselassie, a 28-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea, speaks of how the Humanitarian Corridors project has given her the possibility of hoping for a fulfilling and dignified life.
Danait told me that thanks to a Humanitarian Corridor she came to Italy, after having fled Eritrea and registered as a refugee in Ethiopia.
The Humanitarian Corridor, she said, represented “A very great opportunity for me, and for all those who come through this passage, because it gives us the chance to come legally and safely, without having troubles and without putting your life in danger”.
“And when you come here, you get to continue your studies, or work and have a normal life – a life a person has to have,” she said.
Danait told me she made the difficult decision to leave her home country because she found it impossible to live a free and fulfilling life in Eritrea.
She mentioned a mandatory military service that conscripts young people for an unlimited time; she decried a lack of democracy, a lack of opportunities in higher education, a lack of basic facilities.
“The country is not open to the world. There is no internet. You can’t get in touch with people around the world. They don’t let you have a normal life,” she said.
She told me that once in Ethiopia, she was registered as a refugee just like many others. She then came into contact with Dr Alganesc, the founder and chairwomen of an NGO, the Gandhi Charity.
The Gandhi Charity
Dr Alganesc is an Eritrean national by birth who has dedicated her life to assisting hundreds of thousands of fellow countrymen who risk their lives to flee through Ethiopia’s northern border.
There are currently some 900,000 refugees in Ethiopia. Most of them come from Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia.
Danait said that thanks to her knowledge of Italian, she got to work with Dr Alganesc and with Caritas as an interpreter for Eritreans who wanted to go to Italy.
Pope Francis and faith-based organizations
Danait told me she is well aware of Pope Francis’ support for the Humanitarian Corridors initiative and said she feels supported and protected by the faith-based organizations that have made all this possible.
What do you hope for your future? I asked her:
“I’m at the beginning so I’m trying to have a new life and I’m trying to continue my studies and to work… I hope it is going to be very good because I have so many plans and hopefully everything goes well!”