Syrian refugees arrive in Rome airport from Lebanon

FM calls it 'message to EU', 'on the verge of the abyss'

29 February, 18:54

    (by Stefano de Paolis) (ANSAmed) - ROME, FEBRUARY 29 - Wrapped in a peace flag with his son in his arms was how the first Syrian refugee transferred to the Italian capital from Lebanon entered Terminal 5 of Fiumicino airport, as part of a pilot project for 'humanitarian corridors' bringing refugees to Italy. Some 93 people including 41 under the age of 18 came after the man (24 families total). Awaiting them was Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who after warning in an interview with Handeslblatt that Europe was ''on the verge of the abyss'', said Monday that he was pleased with this initiative - by civil society in coordination with government institutions - that enables the most vulnerable refugees ''to arrive without having to suffer violence and blackmailing at the hands of human traffickers''.

    He added that it was a ''message'' to Europe, made possible by a Protocol of Understanding signed by the foreign ministry, interior ministry, the Comunità di Sant'Egidio, the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy and Tavola Valdese. It marks the first step of a project that foresees the arrival of a thousand refugees in two years: 600 from Lebanon, 150 from Morocco, and 250 from Ethiopia, all of whom particularly vulnerable refugees. The 93 Syrian refugees that arrived on Monday left the airport on five coaches: 30 headed for Trento, where local dioceses will provide accommodation for them, and another two groups towards Reggio Emilia and Turin, where parishes from the dioceses will provide accommodation; and 23 towards Aprilia, where the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy will be responsible for them (they will also provide accommodation for those hosted in Florence). Another group will remain in Rome, hosted by the Comunità di Sant'Egidio. Some of the refugees smiled on arrival and others were overcome by tears, as was the case with two parents holding five small children (4 boys and a girl) by hand. Gentiloni said that their arrival sends a ''message'' to Europe that ''large migration flows cannot be handled through unilateral decisions, erecting walls or fences'', which only ''pose a risk to Europe''. ''To truly deal with the migration issue,'' he said, ''we need different things.'' ''Of course we need peace in Syria,'' he added, ''and a glimmer of hope has been seen with the ceasefire that began on Saturday'', however we ''also need to increase cooperation with Africa. We need to support countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which are at the center of refugee reception. We need joint efforts at the European level.'' ''Behind this range of initiatives, there are humanitarian corridors, which in this case are financed by the '8 per Mille' (through which Italian taxpayers can elect to donate part of their taxes to specific causes, Ed.) from NGOs supporting the initiative,'' the minister noted, adding that he hoped the ''message sent today by Rome will prove contagious, and that other European countries will decide to follow the example.'' (ANSAmed).

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