Translation Sara MacVane
On October 3, 2013 a calamity took place off he coast of Italy when a ship carrying 500 migrants sank less than two kilometers from the island of Lampedusa. The local community seemed indifferent to ship wreck, which cost the life of 366 people, making it one of the biggest tragedies in the Mediterranean in 100 years. The accident also illustrates why states and other agents in civil society must work very hard to find ways to stop these tragic events at sea.
Five years after this ship wreck, on October 31, 2018, something happened in the airport of Rome which offers hope and a reason for celebration, for 83 refugees from Syria landed. They had fled to Libya to escape the dire situation of on-going conflict in their own country. They flew to Italy on a regular commercial flight and were met and helped by Italian social workers. There is indeed an alternative solution to death at sea.
We call this alternative “humanitarian corridors” and it is an ecumenical initiative, born of collaboration between the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, the Waldensian Church, and the Roman Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio. After the ship wreck of 2013, various social agents and churches of all traditions worked together to find a safer solution for refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean.
In order to make this idea a reality, the different organizations put together a legal framework which allows them to issue humanitarian visas, which allow the refugees can come into Italy legally, on a regular commercial flight, at no cost, and without recourse to any network of smugglers. The project relies on Article 25 of EU Regulations which allows humanitarian visas to be issued by the member countries of the European Union. In 2015 the participating organizations signed a two year agreement with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and this was renewed in 2017. So far 1,363 people have received a visa under this scheme. In 2019, 2,000 refugees will come to Italy in this legal and safe way.
The organizations participating in this initiative work in Libya to carefully select the beneficiaries. They take into account the danger an individual may face, but also how determined s/he is to come to Italy and how easily s/he might be able to adapt, if chosen. In fact, “humanitarian corridors” is more than just simple gateway into Italy; it is a successful integration program which includes all the regions of Italy. When the refugees arrive they are received by one of the many participating organizations, and they are accompanied in a program of social, cultural and professional inclusion, in order to help them become completely autonomous. As soon as they arrive in Italy, they make a formal request for international protection, since the humanitarian visas do not replace a request for legal permission to remain.
This initiative conforms to international and European laws on asylum, and the Ministry of the Interior verifies the visas to reassure local residents and to protect the refugees themselves. The agencies which participate in the program also finance it, especially thanks to the .08% which tax payers are allowed to delegate to the Waldensian Board (La Tavola Valdese) [and in general to some other non-profit organizations]. The participating organizations also fund-raise for the work they do. This project offers a high quality model for what can be done. It would not be difficult for other European countries to do something similar. Indeed some other European countries are following suit. For example, in France the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Protestant Federation in France, the Federation of Protestant Aid, the Conference of Bishops and Caritas France have all signed an agreement with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which allows new “humanitarian corridors” from Libya beginning in March 2019. Similar projects are also starting in Belgium and Andorra.
The project Humanitarian Corridors is a concrete example of what it means to be a “welcoming church” as the Manifesto pour Accoglienza (‘declaration of welcome’). The Manifesto is a pamphlet published by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy to denounce any political action to close borders or to vilify solidarity, both of which are becoming more common all over Europe. The Church must never fail to be a sign real hope in our world today.
Internet site: https://www.mediterraneanhope.com/