2-1: Italy’s ‘Humanitarian Corridor’

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece from The Daily Beast.]

Activities at U.S. airports dominated the weekend news and have caused on-going outrage and debate ever since. By way of contrast I offer an alternative piece—not an alternative fact—written by Barbie Latza Nadeau about a contemporaneous incident at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.

Yearning to Breathe Free

In Italy, Saving the Syrian Children

FIUMICINO, Italy — It is just before 11 o’clock on Monday morning at Rome’s Fiumicino airport and Nour Essa is waiting anxiously in the arrivals hall of Terminal Two for a very special flight from Beirut, Lebanon.

From Fear to Hope

The 30-year-old Syrian refugee knows that in a few minutes, 41 other refugees like her will be crossing the threshold, essentially moving from a state of fear and uncertainty to one of hope thanks to Italy’s “Humanitarian Corridors” safe passage program.

Like her, the refugees on the other side of the opaque doors have been hand-picked from refugee camps, vetted and invited to be resettled in Italy. And, as it was with her, they have no idea just what to expect on arrival.

Essa, 30, shared the same sad journey from Syria to Europe as those coming today, even though the last part of her path from to Italy from Lesbos, Greece, last April was the result of very special dispensation: She and her husband and young son were among 12 refugees Pope Francis brought home to Rome with him from an apostolic voyage to the island.

At the time, she told The Daily Beast that she was scared and nervous and didn’t know what to expect. She and her family had been given less than a day to decide whether to go with the pope or wait and try to get to northern Europe to join other Syrians from their village outside of Damascus as they had planned. “I hope we are doing the right thing,” she said at the time.

Now, she knows she and her family made the best decision. That’s why she is at the airport to offer the newcomers comfort and hope.

Churches are not buildings.

Essa, who trained as a microbiologist in Syria, will start a new job as a biologist with the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Rome next month. She and her family have learned Italian and have moved into their own apartment after living in a shelter provided by the Sant’Egidio Catholic Community, which is sponsoring today’s arrival along with the Federation of Protestant Churches, the Waldensian and Methodist Churches in Italy….

Sheltering the Homeless

Most of Monday’s arrivals were from Aleppo and Homs. The youngest was a baby born on December 12. Most were broken families like that of Kiamam Habat, a young mother with four children, age 13, 12, eight and 18 months in tow. Her husband died before her youngest son was born in a refugee camp along the Syrian border with Lebanon. She had no financial or other means to get to Europe on smugglers’ ships with her children. And she had no home to return to in Syria….

“O! woe is me, / To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!” –Shakespeare, Hamlet, III, I, 169

Habat’s eyes, red from exhaustion and emotion, seemed unable to hide the horror she has seen. As she spoke of hope, her children sat quietly around her, the older ones each holding small bouquets of flowers and notes of thanks they planned to give to the caretakers where they will be spending their first night in Italy.

They will be moved to Palermo, Sicily, where they will live in a group home with other widowed Syrian families. “I hope they can return to Syria one day in the future,” Habat says, holding back tears as she looks at her children. “But for now they need to go to school and be normal. And we all need to heal.”

Can any parent, any civilized person, not understand Habat’s plight?

I hope they can return to Syria,” she says. That is home.

But for now they need to go to school,” she says. That is what children do. They go to school.

But for now they need to be normal,” she says. War is not normal. It must never be made to seem normal.

And we all need to heal,” she says.

Let us stop the bleeding so that the healing may begin.


The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

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