Reportage. Between January 29 and March 10, 157 Palestinians from Gaza arrived in Italy. But the management has been flawed. The Palestinian embassy is looking for its compatriots, family by family. It doesn’t even know the selection criteria: who is leaving for Italy and why.

Rescued and abandoned: Palestinians in limbo

An 18-year-old Palestinian boy is hospitalized at San Camillo Hospital in Rome: he was injured in the bombing of his home in Gaza, lost 25 of his relatives and has fractured vertebrae. At another Roman hospital, there is a woman who lost a leg, an arm and two children. She was pregnant when an Israeli raid hit her home. A few days ago, she finally heard from her husband and her two other children: they are still alive, in Rafah.

Between January 29 and March 10, 157 Palestinians from Gaza arrived in Italy. Three groups came aboard an Italian Air Force C-130, and a fourth group arrived on the Vulcano vessel. The evacuation missions for 62 chronically ill and war-wounded adults and children and 95 carers were sponsored by the Italian government. These are the numbers provided by the Defense Ministry; however, according to the Interior Ministry, the numbers are different: 148 people: 78 ill, 70 carers.

The confusion in the data can also be seen in the matter of the status to be accorded to the evacuees: their management could have been different, as it appears to have been a propaganda maneuver rather than a real reception.

While he was cutting off funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and taking away support from the Italian Cooperation working in Palestine, Foreign Minister Tajani was also launching potential international initiatives (Food for Gaza) and touting Italy’s role in aiding people that have lost everything in the Israeli offensive. For the most part, the Palestinians in need of care are chronically ill people who have experienced the crumbling of Gaza’s health care system with the start of the offensive: hospitals closed due to bombs and lack of equipment, medicine not getting in, treatments suspended.

Others are war casualties. They have been admitted to several Italian hospitals: in Rome at Bambin Gesù, Sant’Andrea, San Camillo and Sant’Eugenio, Gaslini in Genoa, Meyer in Florence, Niguarda in Milan and Rizzoli in Bologna. For many of them, these were “quick” hospitalizations: once they received the new treatment, they were discharged. Only 10% are still in hospital.

Tracking down where they went is not easy. They have been spread all over the country, and the Italian government has not provided a complete list or the dates of arrival of the missions to the institution representing them, the Palestinian Embassy in Rome. The Italian embassies in Cairo and Jerusalem have been coordinating the departures. The Palestinian embassy is looking for its compatriots, family by family. It doesn’t even know the selection criteria: who is leaving for Italy and why.

On the first flights, there were larger family units; on the last ones, each sick person had one carer with them. Those who are following them are also reporting cases of separations: families split in half, some in Italy and some in Turkey or the UAE.

The Italian embassy in Cairo urgently issued 90-day tourist visas for those 148 (or 157) Palestinians. The first ones will expire at the end of April. What will happen next? Those who are taking care of them at the moment are third-sector NGOs. The first flight, on January 29, had already landed when the phones rang at ARCI, Sant’Egidio, the Italian Evangelical Churches and Caritas, announcing that there were families to take in.

“We were called by the Crisis Unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” explains Valentina Itri from ARCI’s Immigration Office, which is following two families in Genoa and two in Rome, “It was the Health Ministry that placed them in the various hospitals. The problem was where the carers should go. They were sent to the third sector; in some cases, such in Genoa, they were brought to the Extraordinary Reception Facility (CAS) through the prefecture.”

The Interior Ministry convened discussions with the NGOs, which asked that “the evacuated Palestinians be granted protected status, as has been done in other previous cases, so that they would be immediately inserted into the reception process. After 90 days, they will be illegal on Italian soil and will lose access to the health system.”

As a result, many are saying that pressure is being exerted on the Palestinians to apply for political asylum. Some have done so, a couple of families followed by ARCI and a dozen followed by Sant’Egidio. Others haven’t, fearing that once the war is over they will not be able to return to Gaza.

“They are disoriented, they are afraid,” Itri adds. “The state had time to get organized. The most scandalous roadblock is the Interior Ministry one: it doesn’t give them a status and has turned them over to the third sector. And we are without resources, they don’t give us financial support.”

The Interior Minister is saying that work is underway to convince families to apply for international protection, while what is holding them back is the fear of not being able to return to Gaza. According to the Minister, as they are vulnerable individuals, they could access the SAI shelter system once they are discharged from hospitals. At least, as soon as places free up: 16 have been accepted into SAI projects in Bologna and Milan – but for the process to begin, he insists that an application for international protection must be made.

If there was political will to do so, the right instruments would have been found. While for the Ukrainian refugees there is a European directive, No. 55, which allowed special protected status to be recognized immediately in each of the 27 member countries, in the case of Gaza, Brussels has not activated the same procedure.

“Still, Italy could do it autonomously,” jurist Alessandra Annoni explains. “There is Article 20 of the Consolidated Text on Immigration, used during the Arab Springs for Libyans and Tunisians, or for the Balkans. It provides for reception measures for exceptional events: with a decree, the Prime Minister can establish special protection, indicating the duration of the permit, the membership in the health service, the possibilities of converting it, etc. In the case of Gaza, all prerequisites are there, it makes no sense to wait for the Territorial Commission to evaluate individual asylum applications. Months and months will pass and applicants will have their passports taken away in the meantime.”

“Italy is the only European country to have evacuated ill people,” says Daniela Pompei from the Community of Sant’Egidio, which follows 24 people in Rome. “We need the support of civil society, but also a structural solution: we have legislation that provides for special protection.”

Behind the bureaucratic procedures are many individual stories. In Genoa, Leila from the BDS group, which tries to keep in touch with the nine families in the Ligurian capital, tells us that some families ended up in the local CAS: “One family of two adults and three minors, one of whom is disabled, lives in a 16-square-meter room in poor sanitary conditions. The food is spoiled and they have not been provided with legal assistance in applying for documents. After learning that we were following their cases, the CAS banned visits and insists on them applying for asylum.” In the same city, a mother with a daughter in a wheelchair ended up in a fourth-floor apartment with no elevator. In Rome, they had found an Egyptian translator to follow the hospitalized. She shuttled back-and-forth between hospitals in the capital, then she eventually quit: it’s impossible to do this work alone.

Yousef Salman, president of the Red Crescent and the Palestinian Community of Rome and Lazio, is trying to raise funds. Helping him are Sanitari per Gaza (“Health Workers for Gaza”), an organization set up after October 7 with dozens of health workers scattered throughout Italy: “We’re organizing initiatives to raise money. The state doesn’t give them anything. But they need everything: food, clothes, diapers for the children.”

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