Yesterday an agreement was signed between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Ministry of the Interior, the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, and the Waldensian Church in Rome in regards to the opening of humanitarian channels that will allow refugees to reach Italy in a legal and above all safe way, avoiding potentially lethal journeys in the Mediterranean. To better understand how this project works, we interviewed Daniela Pompei, the responsible of the Community of Sant’Egidio for immigrant services.
What is the project: “Opening of the humanitarian corridors”?
It is the possibility of letting people who find themselves in vulnerable situations and potential asylum seekers in their temporary homes, bordering countries at war, to enter the country legally. It is particularly aimed at single women with children, victims of human trafficking, the elderly, and the disabled. The countries presently involved are Lebanon, for Syrian refugees, and Morocco, for not only Syrians but also others of sub-Saharan Africa. The project largely consists of getting legal visas for entry through article 25 of the European regulation on visas, in other words, a humanitarian visa, technically a LTV (limited territorial validity visa), specifically a visa that limits entry exclusively to Italy. Once arrived in our country, the application process for political asylum begins, as refugees usually do upon arrival to our shores.
This project’s principle objective is to avoid human trafficking and death in the sea, and to show that there are other channels for entrance to use besides death barges.
Who are the actors involved in the project?
The agreement for this project is signed by the Ministry of Foreign affairs and of International Cooperation (general direction for Italians abroad and immigration policy), by the Ministry of the Interior, particularly the department of civil liberty and immigration, the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Federation of Evangelical Churchs in Italy, and the Waldensian Church. For the first time, the Catholic and Evangelical churches have united for an ecumenical project. It is totally funded by these organizations, so the civil society and the Church assume the responsibility to say, “we, along with the state, can contribute to help persons enter in legal fashion.”
We also have some actors with whom we will collaborate in the predetermined countries, such as the Community John XXIII, who in Lebanon has several operators who live in a refugee camp. Inside to these countries, we will listen to the people who work and live in these circumstances. We will therefore use the collaboration of institutionalized organizations and groups, the High Commission of the UN for refugees, embassies, the functions of various countries, but also non-institutional organizations, such as the Evangelical Churches, the Catholic Church, and the various movements. At the moment there are thousands who could enter in this way. We will be asked, “how will you choose the people?” We do it through these actors outside ourselves: there will be people of the Community of Sant’Egidio, of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, and of the Waldensian Church present in the various missions and outposts who will listen and consider the stories and cases, and then decide.
How many will benefit in this first stage of the project?
The project plans for 1000 persons to enter over the course of 24 months, and will begin immediately with 150 visas in Morocco and 250 in Lebanon, with an extension that will then get to 1000. After these first 400 arrivals in Italy, there will be an evaluation of potentially opening a desk in Ethiopia as well. These involved countries will thus be three; by the end of December we will begin with Lebanon, and by the end of January in Morocco as well.
And for the welcome to Italy?
The Community of Sant’Egidio, the Federation of Evangelical Churches, and the Waldensian Church will take car of the welcome, of finding living spaces, and of assistance, even monetary, for the necessary period of time to request and process asylum. The funds come from the 8×1000 of the Waldensian Church, the state, private donations, and the Community of Sant’Egidio through 5×1000. [Italian Charitable Funds]
Might the opening of humanitarian corridors have effects on security?
All the persons entering will receive visas from the embassy, and will therefore be checked. The list of persons entering will be screened by the Ministry of the Interior, who will authorize the names on the list, and then standard visa checks will be done as well, so, for example, digital handprints will be taken before departure. It is therefore, a project that guarantees safety.
Is it a repeatable model?
It is a pilot project to show that using legislative tools already at the disposal of the European Union without touching the political asylum system one can let people enter legally. It is therefore a project that is repeatable in other countries along with civil society. This summer, following the death of Aylan, the massive influx of Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghani refugees, many associations and the world of civil society in the heart of Europe have mobilized. This is a concrete opportunity to intervene in this sector. The opening of the humanitarian corridors thus shows that it is possible to build legal entryways without having to undergo potentially lethal trips.
Germany has declared itself against establishing a maximum number of asylum requests…
Angela Merkel has shown herself to be a courageous and forward-thinking woman who looks beyond political surveys. She has understood perfectly that those people that we today see so desperate and sick are in reality a great resource for Germany’s and all of Europe’s future, for it is living in a time of an ageing population.