Credit: Ansa
Credit: Ansa

The humanitarian corridors set up in Italy, and now France, offer a safe passage to these countries for vulnerable people from abroad. But what are they and how are people chosen?

In response to the thousands of people who have drowned in the Mediterranean over the last few years and to combat human trafficking organizations, a group of Italian churches decided to take action. In May 2015, they set up the project, Humanitarian Corridors, a collaboration between Catholic and Protestant Churches, including the Community of Sant Egidio, the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), and the Waldensian and Methodist Churches.

The churches were able to strike a deal with the Italian government that would enable safe and legal entry into Italy for those in obvious need of protection. The legal basis for this arrangement is Article 25 of EU Regulation 810/2009, which provides foreigners with an entry visa with limited territorial validity. This means they cannot travel to other countries in the Schengen zone.

The project is mainly funded by the Waldensian Church, with other costs being covered by the Community of Sant’ Egidio. The Italian government does not provide any financial assistance.

The initiative focuses on those in need of resettlement who are in Lebanon and Morocco, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The criteria for selecting people to be resettled in this way are different to those under the Geneva Convention.

Whereas the criteria for receiving refugee status under international law have been interpreted narrowly, under the Humanitarian Corridors project, more consideration is given to "individual cases determined by personal situation, age and health status which are not a priority in the Geneva Convention." 

Read more  in a blog by Mediterranean Hope's Alberto Mallardo here.

Importantly, by not distinguishing between refugees and economic migrants, the project is able to offer protection to a wider range of people.

Criteria for selection

Alberto Mallardo, from the organization, Mediterranean Hope, has outlined the kind of people chosen by Humanitarian Corridors: "1) victims of conflict, persecution, torture and violence; 2) women, particularly pregnant women and single mothers; 3) unaccompanied minors; 4) trafficking victims; 5) disabled people or those affected by serious diseases."

A three-step process is undertaken in selecting vulnerable people. Firstly, Humanitarian Corridors’ staff visit refugee camps in Lebanon and Morocco and work with UNHCR and NGOs to identify potential vulnerable people. Selected people are then interviewed.

Once chosen, the second step involves providing people with a safe flight to Italy. This means, not only that they are spared the dangerous journey by boat across the Mediterranean, but also that they can take luggage with them.

Once in Italy, the third step involves supporting people to integrate with housing, language classes, education for children and assistance finding work.

One thousand people resettled

At the end of October 2017, Humanitarian Corridors celebrated the milestone of having resettled 1,000 people since it began. The project has just been extended, with plans to resettle a further 1000 people in 2018/19. 

In March 2017, following Italy’s example, France opened a humanitarian corridor to Lebanon, with plans put in place for the immediate intake of 500 refugees. "It will enable refugees at the border between Syria and Lebanon to be granted an asylum visa for France. They will be flown into France and obtain the refugee status," Italian media reported.

Limited scope

With only a small number of people receiving help compared the large scale of suffering, it highlights the fact that government authorities still wield the greatest power in enabling people legally and safely to access Europe.

But as Mallardo writes, "In a political climate that favors deterrence of asylum seekers and prioritizes detention and deportation as measures to deal with large numbers of people, a project that focuses on the vulnerability of other human beings stands out."

 

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