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From the South-Sudanese war to the sea of Sorrento, the first flight of 113 refugees under the humanitarian corridors program

Tonight they will take their first plane to Europe and at 4.30 am tomorrow they will land at Rome-Fiumicino airport to face a new, major challenge: a group of 113 Eritreans, Somalis and South Sudanese refugees will be received by 18 diocesan Caritas from the North to the South of the Peninsula, through safe and legal "transfer" channels to Italy thanks to the humanitarian corridors program promoted under the Memorandum of Understanding with the Italian State, signed by the Community of Sant'Egidio and CEI, financed with eight per thousand tax devolutions to the Italian Church, which acts through Caritas Italy and the Migrantes Foundation. After the first arrivals in November (about twenty refugees), the program envisages the arrival of 500 refugees from Ethiopian refugee camps by the end of the year


(from Addis Abeba) –The Tuy Tuy family – father, mother and eight children from South Sudan, – have never seen the sea and never ate an authentic “pizza napoletana.” The mother is nursing her 3-month-and-a-half baby, the youngest in the group of 113 refugees expected to land in Italy on February 27 through the humanitarian corridors. Their eyes are wide open with wonder and amazement when Caritas Italy and St. Egidio Community workers show them, on a tablet, the images of their destination, Sorrento, where the diocesan Caritas will host them for a year as part of the project: “Protected. Refugees in my home.” In Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, the last preparatory interviews are taking place with so-called “urban refugees”: refugees who were forced to flee their Countries several years ago. After having spent many years in refugee camps – where 800 thousand people from South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, continue to live – the ARRA Agency (the local organization in charge of the care of refugees) transferred themto the capital of Ethiopia because they were considered too vulnerable or risked being victims of violence and persecution. Half of the 113 humanitarian corridor refugees are children.

 “Are you ready to leave for Italy?” They were asked by Daniele Albanese , coordinator of humanitarian corridors for Caritas Italy, during the meetings prior to their departure. They all determinedly answered: “Yes”. They listened to Caritas’ and St. Egidio’s information on the flight details, the press conference in Fiumicino (on February 27 at 11.30. The meeting with local the press in Addis Abeba is taking place today) and what awaits them upon their arrival. They are all emotionally-charged. They are wearing their finest clothes, for special occasions. Every now and then a glimmer shines in their sad eyes; deep down there is a sea of sadness, deprivation and hardships they wish to leave behind.

“We are giving you an opportunity, a new beginning. For a year we will help you integrate into our Country. You will study Italian, your children will go to school and you will have free medical treatment. We are asking you to respect the rules, and consult Caritas experts for advice in case of problems.”

“We cannot give you a job because employment is lacking also for Italian citizens but we will support you so you may become independent.”

Cecilia Pani, volunteer worker of the St. Egidio Community in charge of the humanitarian corridors with her husband Giancarlo Penza, explained asylum request procedures: “Please do not leave Italy after obtaining humanitarian protection, for you would be considered undocumented migrants.” The volunteer workers gave a brief overview of the towns and cities where they will be given hospitality, although many refugees are only familiar with the names of Italian football teams. “Temperatures will be very low”, they warned.

The Tuy Tuy family will see the seacoast of Sorrento.  Daniel Tuy Tuy, 49, South-Sudanese farmer of Nuer ethnicity, is the head of the household. His forehead is crossed with deep lines. They are not wrinkles but small cuts, which in their tradition represent initiation into adult life, at 15, after which they are considered worthy of respect. His son Nhial, 28 is the only young adult of his 8 children (5 girls including the 3-month baby, and 3 boys). The rest of the family was born in Ethiopia. Nhial does not have the same deep lines of his father because they were forced to flee their village Kirk in the Malakal region 23 years ago, in the midst of the civil war between Sudan and South Sudan (at the time it hadn’t yet been proclaimed an independent State). But sadly on his forehead is visible a deep scar. “They tried to kill me with a stone at the Intang refugee camp – he said, after asking his father’s permission to speak in first person -. There were internal enmities. My leg was paralysed for a long time, it still needs treatment.” For the above reasons humanitarian organizations decided to transfer them to

Addis Abeba, that hosts at least 20.000 “urban refugees”. They receive a monthly subsidy of 70 to 130 Euros – according to the number of family members.

But this sum is not even sufficient to cover the costs of renting a house or a room. Futhermore, owing to their status, they cannot work. The Jesuit Refugee Service signalled their case to the humanitarian corridor project. “It’s hard to live so many years without being useful – said the father, Daniel -. I want to work in Italy and offer my children the possibility of having an education.” Nhial can’t wait to finish university studies that are free also for refugees. “I would like to be a manager. But I am willing to do any job.” They are Catholic, and the father wished to point out: “As soon as we arrive into Italy I will go to church to give thanks.”

The largest family, 12 in Foligno. The largest South-Sudanese family in the group, consisting of 12 people, encompasses three generations of lonely women (including the grandmother) with many children who only know the life of refugees in Ethiopia. Olami and Sara Simon are respectively 21 and 25. They are brother and sister. They were both born in the refugee camp of Gambella, in the south of the Country.

They were transferred to Addis Abeba after the mother was victim of attempted rape and murder. “It’s hard to live here without a job – they said -. We don’t have enough money to buy food for everyone.”  

Their destination is Foligno, in the Umbria region. Like most of them, they never heard about Italy. “We can’t imagine what it will be like. We shall see.”

18 Italian dioceses are awaiting them. Arefaine, 36, is one of the single men selected for the humanitarian corridors owing to the gravity of their personal experience. He was a pilot in the Eritrean air force. He fled with the airplane he was piloting and landed in Ethiopia to seek political asylum. He was granted special protection. He speaks good English, he is calm and collected, but smiles with emotion while Caritas and St.Egidio workers describe his future in the diocese of Sorrento. At the end of the interview they greet each other according to Ethiopian tradition, shaking hands and touching each other’s right shoulders.

He has just been told, probably for the first time in his life: “In Italy there are people waiting for you.”  

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