Pope Francis is again establishing his own ‘humanitarian corridor’ from Greece to Italy. His latest decision is to send a close aide, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, to the Greek island of Lesbos to pick up 33 asylum seekers and bring them back to Rome.
"33 asylum seekers who are resident in the Moria camp on Lesbos will arrive in Rome’s Fiumicino airport on December 4," said Daniela Pompei from the Catholic charity Communitá di Sant’Egidio, in a video posted on the community’s website. "Amongst them will be Afghan families, some young single Afghan men, one older man, and a woman from Cameroon and a woman from Togo."
Pompei, who is responsible for migrant and refugee services at the charity and was the promoter and coordinator of the Humanitarian Corridors project, explained that these people have been waiting for "a very long time," for their asylum claims to be processed. Some of them had “been given appointments for 2021," she said. Pompei continued that the people who would be flying to Rome had been living in Moria for between one and two years, following "terrible journeys" in order to reach the EU.
'Integration starts immediately'
The Sant’Egidio community said that the new arrivals will need the possibility of "re-starting life." Pompei promised that the “process of integration would start immediately. "The day after they arrive, the children and young people have already been signed up to start school and the adults have been signed up to classes, so that they can learn Italian."Sant’Egidio is one of the partners in the Humanitarian Corridors Project which was launched in 2016. The other partners include the Federation of Protestant Churches, the Tavola Valdese and the Italian government. According to their website, the initiative is financed by the four organizations themselves, which have already brought several thousand people fleeing war to Rome. The main objectives of the corridor are "to avoid the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean Sea," and to "prevent exploitation by human traffickers," as well as granting people 'in vulnerable conditions' (victims of persecution, torture and violence, families with children, elderly, infirm, people with disabilities) a legal entry into Italy through humanitarian visas and the opportunity for asylum application thereafter."
Several news agencies, including the German DPA, report that a further "10 evacuees are due to be evacuated later in the month."
Migrant issues close to Pope's heart
This is not the first time that the Pope has intervened. In April 2016, on a visit to Lesbos, Pope Francis took 12 Syrians aboard his personal plane back to Rome. Another nine followed.
As a son of Italian immigrants in Argentina, Pope Francis holds migrant rights close to his heart. In 2017, controversially, he compared the conditions in the Moria camp to a concentration camp. Many organizations, including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), have been outspoken about the inhumane conditions in the camp too, which they say have led people to self-harm and even commit suicide.
The Pope’s special aide, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski is known as "the papal almsgiver." Cardinal Krajewski flew out to Lesbos on Monday. According to the press agency AP, the Vatican declared the Pope wanted "to make a further gesture of solidarity" by hosting "young refugees and families from Afghanistan, Cameroon and Togo."
More cooperation needed
The Catholic newspaper Avvenire reported that the Pope is preparing a conference for February 2020 in the Italian city of Bari in which he hopes to discuss cooperation with countries around the Mediterranean. In the same article, the Catholic Archbishop of Athens Sevastianos Rossolatos, said that the Church in Greece was at the frontline of helping with the migrant situation. "We have rented houses and former hotels in order to provide a place to stay for refugees."Archbishop Rossolatos added that the Catholic Churches are being refilled on the Greek islands, predominantly by African migrants. However, the Archbishop pointed out that sometimes being Catholic can be a source of discrimination in the camps where, at the moment, the majority are Muslim. He said the Greek Catholic church was working together with international Catholic charities and governments in order to help integrate the new arrivals into Greek society. However, he noted that in Greece there is a strong feeling that the rest of Europe has turned its back on the country and in some respects is leaving it to cope alone.