Friday, December 09, 2016

New humanitarian corridor between Italy and Ethiopia to open soon

A new humanitarian corridor between Italy and Ethiopia is to open soon. 

This time, the initiative sees the direct involvement of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), the Community of Sant’ Egidio, which is among the main endorsers of the humanitarian corridor initiative and two organisations linked to CEI, that work in the migration field: Migrantes and Caritas. 

They will play a key role in hosting refugees. A new protocol is to be signed very soon by all of these organisations, along with the ministries for interior and foreign affairs, based on the existing model for welcoming Syrian refugees coming from transit camps in Lebanon but with the additional participation of the Waldensian Church and the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy as well as the Community of Sant’Egidio. 

The ambitious aim is to establish a safe and legal corridor to allow the passage of at least 500 African refugees into Italy. Ethiopia is the African country bearing the brunt of the migration flow, as it takes in the highest number of refugees fleeing conflict, famine, persecution and environmental disasters. 

The country is home to four large refugee camps and the plan is to welcome people of three nationalities: Eritreans, Somalis and people from South Sudan. The situation in these countries is critical; naturally, once the protocol is agreed with the Italian government, a complex organisation phase will follow: fruitful communication and relationships will need to be established with Ethiopian authorities, the government, the police and with the Ethiopian agency that runs the refugee camps. 

A similar collaboration was established with Lebanon – where the domestic institutional framework was by no means simple – but in this case, the situation was even more complex given how fragile the institutions are and especially given the pressure from other humanitarian crises and the conflicts underway across the entire Sub-Saharan region. 

This is why contact has already been established with organisations and personnel present on the ground. The Italian Church has also played an important role in this and will be making a substantial economic contribution. After all, most of the migrants arriving in Italy hail from Eritrea and Somalia. 

Humanitarian corridors have also been consolidated with Lebanon. Another 100 refugees arrived in recent days, reaching a total of 500 people since the initiative was launched last December. Now it is Ethiopia’s turn and the process for opening a Moroccan route still needs to be completed. Meanwhile, humanitarian corridors are setting the example on an international level: the UN, the European Parliament and various countries look at the Italian model with keen interest. 

In fact, a similar initiative is about to be launched in France, with the Community of Sant’Egidio, Caritas France and the country’s evangelical churches; in this case too, the focus is on Lebanon, which also hosts a vast number of Syrian refugees (around 400,000 people). Interestingly, as the Community of Sant’Egidio explains, “the initiative is mustering consensus and an ever broader participation. Many associations, parishes and local entities want to take part, even individual families. This is a sign that the importance of the initiative has been understood.” 

On the other hand, the need to create legal humanitarian channels to manage the flow of refugees, with a view to putting an end to deaths at sea and exploitation by human traffickers, has been felt for some time now. The aim of the initiative is to combat the “trafficking” of people fleeing wars, “to make it possible for people in vulnerable conditions (as well as victims of persecution, torture and violence, there are families with children, elderly, sick and disable people) to legally enter Italian territory with a humanitarian visa and the chance to then apply for asylum”; This way refugees can enter Italy in a way that is safe for themselves and for everyone because in order for them to obtain a humanitarian visa, they will have to undergo all necessary checks by Italian authorities.

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