Hope For Tomorrow – by Fr Cedric Prakash Sj
Beirut-Lebanon: Jamal Makawi is no ordinary person; besides May 2nd 2016 was a very special day in his life and for seven other members of his family. They had just arrived in Beirut from Tripoli (North Lebanon) where they have been living as refugees for almost two years. Thanks to the ‘Humanitarian Corridors” initiative led by the Sant’Egido Community(www.santegido.org) of Rome, in a few hours they will fly out to Rome as part of a group of one hundred and one refugees. Jamal’s eyes are moist as he awaits tomorrow: a new beginning in their lives.
Jamal goes back the past four years. An enterprising Syrian from the city of Homs who had a flourishing business in ‘auto spares’. He travelled to several countries on business –including India. Knowing that I am from India he adds, “I love India very much.” His eldest daughter Talat (who is by our side feeding her one-year old son Tariq) chips in, “I love Indian films- Oh they are so good!” and she reels out the big names of Bollywood. Tragedy struck, when his business in Homs was bombed. “I lost everything in a matter of minutes!” he says. To make matters he was soon thrown into prison as a ‘suspect’ “They tortured me terribly!” he laments with pain in his eyes and scars in his psyche, which perhaps may never heal. Over a period of time, he was arrested thrice- having to spend more than a hundred days in jail – and each time subject to great brutality. They finally managed to escape from Homs. How? He would rather not share this; it was a difficult and long journey- but it was certainly a relief for him and his family when they finally reached Lebanon and given refugee status.
Some months ago, his family (his wife, three daughters, two teenage sons and grandson Tariq) was identified by members of Sant’Egido Community to be among those who would be provided safe passage and secure rehabilitation in Italy! Jamal just cannot wait for tomorrow! They do not know what has happened to Tariq’s father. He left home more than eight months ago to join them in Lebanon, but they have no news of him ever since. “My beloved wife” (as he puts his arm around her) “and my children are here with me today. That makes me happy!”
“Humanitarian Corridors” is a joint project of the Sant’Egido Community, the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy and the Waldensian Church. The desire to do something concrete to address the refugee crisis emerged after several Ecumenical prayer gatherings entitled “Dying of Hope” to remember the many refugees who had died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to cross into Europe. The prayer was also a form of protest against the indifference of Governments and nations to respond in a humanitarian way to what was happening. Finding a loop- hole in the European Constitution, the members realized that it was the duty of the Government to permit refugees into Italy on “humanitarian visas”. The Italian Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministries agreed to this and to co-operate (after a due protocol was signed) with the three institutions on this laudable venture. It allows refugees to enter Italy without risking their lives in ‘journeys of death’ or falling prey to unscrupulous human traffickers.
The project will, for the moment, permit one thousand refugees – currently in Morocco, Lebanon and Ethiopia – to travel to Italy with a humanitarian visa, the costs of which will be covered by the associations themselves. The idea is to allow entry to refugees who are fleeing war and persecution and regarded as “vulnerable”, (women left alone with their children, potential victims of human trafficking, elderly and disabled people, individuals with serious health conditions), or who are recognized as refugees by UNHCR. Earlier in March, ninety-five Syrian refugees were taken from Beirut to Rome and in May, a further fifty-four will be taken.
In this ‘Jubilee Year of Mercy’ the initiative of the Sant’Egido Community and others, is not merely laudable but should be held up as an example worthy of emulation. Tonight, Jamal and one hundred others, eagerly wait to board the plane to freedom. As he cuddles little Tariq in his arms, Jamal hopes and prays that Tariq will never experience the “hell” that the rest of the family has gone through these past years! It is his hope for tomorrow!
The Author – Fr Cedric Prakash SJ, works with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Middle East and is based in Beirut, Lebanon)