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March 4 2016

“Humanitarian corridors to prevent deaths at sea”

The Italian online news medium IlGiornale.it interviewed Daniela Pompei, creator of the project 'humanitarian corridors' of the Community of Sant'Egidio which, with the arrival of refugees in Italy, offers a new form of reception through regular channels: "So that we can avoid deaths at sea and crime"

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 At the core of this initiative is the desire to put an end to the deaths in the Mediterranean and the exploitation of human traffickers who make money out of the lives of these people. But also the need for more security: through the cooperation with a network of NGOs, organizations and institutions that are present in the countries of origin, preventive controls can determine who exactly enters Europe and in this case Italy. 

In a Europe of walls and 'jungles', Italy became this week the first country to accomplish 'humanitarian corridors'. An initiative of the Community of Sant'Egidio, the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy and the Valdensic church in Italy (Tavola Valdese). In cooperation with the Italian Ministers of Foreign and Internal Affairs, this project provides the transfer of thousands of asylum seekers to Italy in a span of 24 months.

IlGiornale.it, interviewed Daniela Pompei, responsible for the activities of the Community of Sant'Egidio with refugees and creator of this project which aims to expand to all EU countries.

The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni called your project "a message for Europe" in the field of migration policy. Why can humanitarian corridors be a solution?

Migration can’t be stopped by walls. We are facing a historic challenge resulting from serious issues such as the war in Syria and Iraq. Worldwide, these conflicts are responsible for the largest number of refugees. Therefore, we must provide help in the Mediterranean region, particularly in countries such as Lebanon, Morocco and Eritrea, which, for various reasons, have the largest number of people leaving for Europe. In these places we must try to give access to Europe to those who are in need of help through ‘Safe Passages’.

You talk about people who are fleeing from conflict areas, but there are also many migrants who come to Europe for economic reasons. What do you do with them?

It is true that migrants are coming to Europe for several reasons. With our project we want to focus on the people who are in extremely vulnerable situations: people who fled from war or who are in urgent need of medical care.

But also for economic migrants there is a need to organize regular ways of access. The European countries are facing a process of aging and are in need of economic contributions of migrant workers. Therefore, it is desirable to introduce a system that regulates the access by means of quota for each country and perhaps a European agency that regulates labour migration.

This way they can arrive in Italy more safely and not through boats. And on the other hand it is also more secure for us, because we know beforehand who is about to enter our country

Christians are the most persecuted in Syria and Iraq. Have you thought of giving them priority?

It is an element that can be considered. The war affects both Muslims and Christians, but it is true that the latter is particularly vulnerable. In the group of people that arrived this week there are both Christians and Muslims. Also in the following groups that will arrive there will be Christians. Our project is experimental, but has already produced its first results: with the arrival of the refugees on Monday for example we were able to completely evacuate a small refugee camp in Homs.

Is there anyone who has said they wish to return to their country when the war is over?

Many just want to heal, care for their children and return. Many of them are really forced to come to Europe. This is due to the fact that many Syrians only began to flee two years after the start of the conflict. First they actually fled to neighbouring countries to wait for the end of the hostilities. Many say they want to return to Syria, but there are also others, those who fled with the whole family, that on the other hand wish to remain in Italy because they have accepted the fact that the situation in their country will not change. Each one of them, however, has asked to follow Italian courses, which shows a strong desire to integrate. 

Who finances the projects of reception and integration?

Currently there are two channels: One of ‘otto per mille’ (the aid that Italian taxpayers can give to recognized churches, Ed.) of the Tavola Valdese who is putting one million euros into the project and the collections organized by Sant'Egidio in Italy. The Community of Sant'Egidio has also assigned its ‘cinque per mille’ (the aid of Italian taxpayers for non-profit organisations) to this project. The Italian Government however does not bear any costs for this initiative. And then we also have other sponsorships, such as that of Alitalia that only asked us to pay the airport tax for the flights from Beirut to Rome. 

Who will shelter these 93 refugees? 

The refugees are housed in facilities that were made available by associations, communities, dioceses and parishes. The Autonomous Province of Trento for example, has made funds available for this project and the Diocese of Trent provided homes and volunteers. This is also an answer to what Pope Francis asked us.

When will be the next corridor?

Next month we have already organized another flight for Syrian and Iraqi refugees of a refugee camp in Lebanon.

The size of the refugee crisis remains alarming. Do you think we should put limits on the reception of refugees or not?

In 2015, one million people reached a Europe of 508 million inhabitants. That is only two out of a thousand inhabitants in the European Union. For now we are answering only a small number but we are ready to expand our project to larger numbers, extending it to all EU countries. It is actually a pilot project that can be replicated at a European level. To do so there is no need to create new laws it is sufficient to use Article 25 of the EU visa regulations.

The migration problem is complex and requires different answers. However, offering 'Safe Passage' and 'regular channels' is necessary to defeat the existing criminal channels. Furthermore, there is a need for a quota system, so the responsibility not only falls on the most southern countries like Italy, Greece or Spain. With our alternative we can avoid future situations such as in Macedonia or in Calais and we can assure the European countries security and integration.

March, 1, 2016 (translated by the web staff) 

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