A pilot project intended to relocate 1,000 refugees to Italy on humanitarian visas is being finalized through an Italian ecumenical mission in Lebanon this week. The $1.42 million program is being largely financed by Waldensian Evangelical Church supporters, one of the religious groups that Italian taxpayers can select to receive a small percentage of their federal income taxes.
While organizers of the initiative are Christian, candidates for transfer include both Christians and Muslims, organizers said.
Leaders of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy and the Rome-based Catholic Sant'Egidio Community joined to ask Italian government officials to grant 1,000 humanitarian visas for refugees in camps in Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia, reports Journal Tribune.
The first goal is to airlift an initial group of about 100 of the most vulnerable refugees, most of them Syrians who are sick, disabled or elderly, or women alone with young children, from a Lebanese camp by the end of January or early February, said Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant'Egidio Community.
"It's an exemplary agreement to avoid the 'voyages of death' and exploitation by traffickers," Impagliazzo told The Associated Press. He added that he hoped Italy would offer more such visas, noting that "vulnerable" people can encompass many refugees today, and other European countries follow suit.
After arriving in Italy, refugees will begin the asylum process, and will be provided with housing, health care, educational and vocational services.
Aid groups on-site will be needed to help identify candidates and take them to the Italian Consulate in Beirut for fingerprinting.
Once the Italians have conducted the required security checks, the consulate then processes the visas, and the first "humanitarian corridor" will open, with the refugees taking a commercial flight to Italy, Impagliazzo said.
Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for UNHCR in southern Europe, said they hope more countries will follow this example.
U.N. refugee agency representatives said they welcome private sponsorship initiatives that enable vulnerable or needy refugees to reach safety and start new lives in third countries.