Pope set for Lesbos return 5 years after rescuing 12 Syrian refugees

By Cristina Cabrejas

Rome, Nov 29 (EFE).- When Pope Francis returned to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos on 16 April 2016, he did so with 12 Syrian refugees in tow, all of whom have gone on to forge a new life in the Italian capital.

The Syrian families had been living in the Moria detention center before they were brought to Italy via a humanitarian corridor established by the Catholic charity ??Sant’Egidio, which has since helped to relocate over 5,000 mainly Syrian and Afghan migrants.

The pope is set to return to Lesbos on Sunday, where he will spend an hour at the Kara Tepe camp, which became the main camp on the island after Moria was ravaged by fire, despite being offered visits to more accessible centers, sources close to the pontiff told Efe.

Francis has said 50 refugees would be relocated to Rome this time, although they will arrive a week after the pope visits Greece and Cyprus, sources from the Cypriot embassy to the Holy See told Efe.

Five years ago, however, the pope’s intention to rescue three Syrian families was kept tightly under wraps.

“The pope arrived on a Saturday and we got there on Tuesday,” Daniela Pompei, head of the migration service for the ??Sant’Egidio charity, who was traveling with volunteer Cecilia Pani, says.

Pani adds that the days leading up to the rescue were tense.

The pope’s team did not have permits to visit the camp. Staff working onsite selected the families for the mission.

“Families with young children who had suffered, Syrian families because there were many and they had arrived from a warzone,” the volunteer adds.

Despite the secrecy shrouding the mission, Francis was steadfast in his decision that he would board the plane with the Syrian families in tow, to send a clear message to the world.

Eran Hasan and Nour, in their 30s, and their son Riad, originally from Damascus; Ramy and his wife Suhila, in their 50s, who fled from Deir Ezzor with three children Al Quds, Abdel Majid and Rachid; Osama and Wafaa from Zamalka, a village in Damascus, and their children Omar and Masa, now live and work in Rome.

“The families are happily integrated and are self-sufficient,” Pani says.

“Nour’s family faced the least challenges because they had studied in Europe and spoke English and French. She is a biologist at the pediatric Bambino Gesù hospital and her husband, who is an architect, works for a film production company and they live in a rented house on the outskirts of Rome.”

The other families who had fewer resources are also autonomous now.

They enjoy lower rent prices thanks to subsidies from the San Egidio charity but they have jobs and one of the youngsters has graduated and wants to study nursing in college, she added.

“Quds is an extraordinary little girl,” the volunteer says.

“When the pope invited them round for lunch when they arrived, she handed him a drawing of a butterfly and said: You are like a butterfly because you have brought us to Rome with your wing.”EFE


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