Pope welcomes refugees through humanitarian corridors in audience
Pope Francis on Saturday welcomed thousands of refugees brought to Europe by Christian organizations through humanitarian corridors, acknowledging their desire to “live free of fear and insecurity”.
During an audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, the 86-year-old pope thanked organizations that had helped the refugees, stressing that the reception represented “the first step towards peace”. Many of the 6,000 refugees have been able to reach Europe thanks to “humanitarian corridors” set up by Christian organizations since 2016.
This system, started by the Catholic community Sant’Egidio in Italy, then in France and Belgium, deals with refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Libya and Ukraine.
“Each one of you deserves attention for your difficult history,” the Pope told the refugees. “You have shown a strong will to live free of fear and insecurity”.
François particularly paid tribute to survivors of harsh living conditions in detention camps in Libya, which is the preferred departure point for thousands of migrants who attempt to cross the Mediterranean each year to reach Europe.
Humanitarian corridors were established to offer an alternative to dangerous journeys by sea, which claim thousands of lives every year, and the possibility of legal entry to Europe through the granting of humanitarian visas.
The European governments involved in the scheme issue visas for humanitarian purposes which NGOs legally use to transport the most vulnerable, families with children, victims of persecution, the elderly or the sick.
Upon their arrival, refugees are looked after by associations – housing, language learning, professional training – who help them submit asylum applications.
The first humanitarian corridor was established in Lebanon, with visas granted by the Italian government to thousands of Syrians who had taken refuge there.
Anna, a Syrian, described on Saturday her family’s journey from Aleppo (Syria) to Lebanon, then to Italy. “It was like a dream, a possibility to live in peace,” she said.
More than 5,000 refugees have arrived in Italy since 2016 thanks to the system, managed by the Sant’Edigio Community, the Union of Evangelical Churches in Italy, and the Waldensian Church. According to Sant’Egidio, some 600 more have reached France.