Italy greets first refugees since border lockdown

Italy greets first refugees since border lockdown
Pope Francis greets migrants and refugees at Moria Refugee Camp, near Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos, April 16, 2016. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 17 July 2020

Italy greets first refugees since border lockdown

Italy greets first refugees since border lockdown
  • Ten refugees — members of four families — traveled via a humanitarian corridor organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio
  • The refugees, originally from Afghanistan and Syria, arrived from the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos

ROME: Italy has welcomed the first group of refugees to arrive in the country since its borders were closed due to the pandemic.

Ten refugees — members of four families — traveled via a humanitarian corridor organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay Catholic group dedicated to social service, together with Greek and Italian authorities. 

The refugees, originally from Afghanistan and Syria, arrived from the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, a site originally intended to hold 3,000 refugees but now with more than 19,000 people.

“Moria is known as the hell of Europe,” Razieh Gholami, one of the refugees, told journalists after arriving in Rome four months after Italy closed its borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“The refugees staying in Moria live in difficult, frightening conditions where fundamental rights are ignored and they have no way of returning or moving forward,” she said. “Such a difficult situation has become even harder with the pandemic. People are just stuck there.”

Andrea Riccardi, founder of Sant’Egidio, told Arab News: “The reception of these 10 refugees today is a stimulus. In times of confinement, other EU countries should not forget these forgotten people, who are at the gates of Europe. Lesbos is their symbol.”

The Rome-based charity will help the refugees integrate into Italian society with language programs, as it has done with 57 other exiles who have come to Italy via the same path. The first group arrived in April 2016, traveling on the same plane as Pope Francis when he returned to Rome from a visit to the Lesbos refugee camp.

The humanitarian corridors project offers people who flee from conflict in their countries legal and safe ways to reach Europe. It aims to stop refugees risking their lives at the hands of human traffickers and dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea.

According to figures from the Community of Sant’Egidio, more than 3,000 refugees have arrived in Europe from the Middle East and Africa under the scheme. The NGO claims that all have been relocated and now live normal lives in several Italian cities, mainly in the center and south of the country.

“I have been in a refugee camp in Greece for two years. The situation for those living in Greece is not good,” said Gholami, who arrived in Italy with her children, Eshan Khavari, 4, and Sajad Khavari, 10, and husband Mohammad Khavari.

Gholami, who has been recognized for her artworks inside the refugee camp, presented the Sant’Egidio community with a painting showing Christ sending an angel from heaven to fly to the refugee camp.

“I dedicate this painting to those angels of the Sant’Egidio community who help the desperate like me,” she said.

Some previously relocated refugees in Italy welcomed the new arrivals with a volunteer-made lunch at Sant’Egidio’s headquarters in Trastevere in central Rome.

Among them was Syrian Majid Alshakarji, 19, who escaped the civil war in 2016.  He and his family fled from Aleppo to Tunisia, but then returned to Syria and left for Turkey before finally going to Greece.

Alshakarji’s family was one of the three Syrian refugee families who came to Rome with Pope Francis. He has now lived in the capital for four years and is studying to become a dentist.

“We have been allowed to have a new life in a new country — it is a beautiful experience,” he said.


Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
Updated 54 min 32 sec ago

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
  • The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia
  • Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed”

MOSCOW: Russian police detained dozens of protesters on Saturday as supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Putin’s most vocal domestic critic called for mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed.
The rallies — planned for dozens of cities across Russia — are expected to be a major test of the opposition’s ability to mobilize despite the increasing Kremlin pressure on critics and the coronavirus pandemic.
The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Chita where several thousand took to the streets, Navalny supporters said.
OVD Info, which monitors detentions at opposition rallies, said around 50 people were detained in 10 cities.
Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed.”
In Moscow, which usually mobilizes the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in the central Pushkin Square at 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) and then march toward the Kremlin.

On the eve of the rallies, Navalny, who is being held in Moscow’s high-security Matrosskaya Tishina jail, thanked his supporters.
“I know perfectly well that there are lots of good people outside of my prison’s walls and help will come,” he said on Friday.
Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow. “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share,” she said on Instagram.
Ahead of the demonstrations several key Navalny aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences to keep them away from the rallies.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said Friday it launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorized protests.
A hastily organized court on Monday jailed Navalny for 30 days, and his supporters fear that authorities are preparing to sentence him to a long prison term to silence him.
Navalny’s team this week released an investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The “Putin’s palace” report alleges the Russian leader owns a 17,691 square meter mansion that sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino along with a theater and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.
The two-hour video report had been viewed more than 65 million times since Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
The Kremlin has denied the property belongs to Putin.
Many Russians took to social media — including video sharing app TikTok hugely popular with teens — to voice support and urge a large turnout on Saturday.
A hashtag demanding freedom for Navalny was trending on TikTok as Russians flooded the Chinese app with thousands of videos.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty fines.
The watchdog said on Friday that media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, removed content at its request.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate the protests in different cities.
But a number of public figures — including those who usually steer clear of politics — have spoken out in Navalny’s support.
Navalny, 44, rose to prominence a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
His arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.