Pope Francis says his gesture is “a drop of water in the sea” of Europe’s migration crisis. Yet for 12 Syrian refugees, the Pope’s decision to fly them back to Italy from Greece is an act of kindness that will resonate for the rest of their lives.
“Thanks be to God,” exulted Wafa, mother of two children who made the trip with her husband Osama as she arrived in Rome. “I thank the Pope for this very human gesture.”
The three Muslim families, which include six children, were plucked from a refugee camp on Lesbos, where they have been stranded for weeks. They were chosen because they had their documents in order, not to make a political point to Europe about the need to better integrate Muslims, the Pope said.
“Their privilege is that they are children of God,” Francis said.
The Catholic charity Sant’Egidio, which is providing the refugees with preliminary assistance, welcomed them at their headquarters in Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood.
Hasan and Nour, both engineers, and their 2-year-old son fled their home in Zabadani, a mountainous area on the outskirts of Damascus that has been heavily bombed. They headed to Turkey and took a boat across the Aegean Sea to Lesbos.Sant’Egidio released some details about the refugees but didn’t give any of their last names because of privacy concerns.
Ramy and Suhila, a couple in their 50s, came from Deir el-Zour, a Syrian city close to the Iraqi border which has been devastated in street-by-street fighting between Isis (Islamic State) militants and government troops.
They arrived in Greece with their three children in February via Turkey. Ramy is a teacher, Suhila a tailor, Sant’Egidio said.
Osama and Wafa hail from the Damascus suburb of Zamalka.
Pope Francis said the idea of bringing some refugees back came to him only a week ago from a Vatican official.
He said he accepted it immediately because it was in keeping with the message of humanity he wanted to send with his trip to Lesbos. The Vatican would take full responsibility for the 12 Syrians. He said two Christian families had been on the original list, but they didn’t have their documents in order. Hundreds of migrants have died in the Aegean Sea this year as the flimsy dinghies supplied by smuggling gangs sink or capsize.
The Pope cited Mother Teresa in responding to a question about whether his gesture of bringing 12 refugees to Italy would change the debate about Europe’s migrant crisis.
“It’s a drop of water in the sea. But after this drop, the sea will never be the same,” he said.