Technically humanitarian corridors are made possible by an opportunity offered by the 2009 code on European visas. Article 25 allows states to grant exceptional temporary visas for humanitarian reasons. The three religious communities decided to exploit that open window after a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa on Oct. 3, 2013, that killed 366 migrants. After negotiations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Feb. 23, the first group of 93 refugees were brought to Italy, where they were resettled in five regions.
Back in Lebanon, the Tal Abbas settlement, a few kilometers from the Syrian border, consists of two rows of barracks lining a narrow road covered with stones that serve to drain the rain. Fifty Syrian families have rented the land from a Saudi owner with their small earnings working in the fields. The little houses, a little over six feet high, are attached to each other, with corrugated roofs, carpets and tablecloths on the walls and on the floor for insulation. As summer comes on, the heat will become problematic. Each month, UNHCR gives each refugee a card with $30 to buy water and food, plus $100 in each of the four winter months to buy diesel to fuel the stoves. Although they may seem absurd in this situation, each cabin has a satellite dish on the roof; for many it is perhaps their only remaining contact with Syria. Outside, sheep and cows share the fields with children.
Despite her best efforts, Gharade can’t hold back her joy. For two years she has lived here with her husband and their four children: Mater, 11; Ahmed, 9; Manahel, 8; and Raghad, 3. But now it’s over. In a few hours they, too, will leave for Rome. For Gharade, as it is for all the families involved in the humanitarian corridor, being selected was like being born again — almost literally. Because those with serious health problems are prioritized, the chance to live in Italy means deliverance. In Gharade’s family’s case, Raghad is thalassemic, requiring her to have a blood transfusion at least once a month. In the camp that’s a challenge. But in Italy, she can manage the condition.
“The work we are doing shows that humanitarian corridors are possible. It is not necessary for people who are entitled to political asylum to risk their lives in the hands of criminal organizations to get to Europe,” explains Maria Quinto, project manager for the Community of Sant’Egidio. “The corridors can also be a chance for Europe to halt its decline. It is clear that those who enter may change your way of life a little, but we are talking about people willing to integrate into a country where they can finally live free.”