Greece: Pope Brings 46 Migrants From Lesbos to Italy

December 30, 2021

Pope Francis visited Cyprus and Greece from December 2-6, 2021, on an apostolic journey, one of the main themes of which was support for migrants.

Two days before departure, at the request of the Holy Father, the Community of Sant' Egidio brought to Italian soil 46 migrants from Lesbos, Greece. While the Vatican has neither a consulate, nor a migration policy, Max-Savi Carmel of the agency wonders about the undersides of such an operation.

These 46 asylum seekers from the island of Lesbos refugee camp arrived in Rome on November 30, 2021, Vatican News reported on December 1. They come from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan; with three minors - including a 12-year-old Syrian boy.

An operation that is part of the humanitarian corridors program created by the Sant' Egidio Community. It was carried out in agreement with the Greek and Italian authorities, in the continuity of the action carried out by Pope Francis during his previous trip to Lesbos in 2016. That time he returned by plane to Rome with 12 Syrian migrants who were then entrusted to the Community of Sant' Egidio.

The Pope acts here as the Vatican head of state, thanks to the Lateran Agreements signed in 1929. According to these agreements, non-European guests of the Pope need a visa issued by Italy.

Once in Rome, these refugees must submit an exceptional asylum request to the Questura, the Italian territorial police, which is supposed to grant their request “at short notice.” This act then changes them from the status of asylum seekers, which they had in Lesbos or Nicosia, to that of refugees.

This grants them subsidiary international protection, in return for which they undertake not to return to their country of origin “until further notice.” Thus they will have 10-year residence permits.

“People in good standing” are preselected, says Sant’ Egidio. The local security services then certify that the beneficiaries “do not constitute a danger to security.” They therefore have a valid asylum application or a valid provisional residence permit.

This is the reason for which, in 2016, when the public criticized him for having “preferred Muslims,” the Pope replied “to have had no choice: there were two Christian families but they were not in good standing,” he implied.

A convention obliges Italy to accept on its territory “any guest of the Holy See” and to guarantee to it the advantages which it grants to each of its citizens. The country provides new refugees with individual assistance of around 450 euros for living expenses and lodging.

“That is twice what we got in Greece,” one of them said happily. Especially since Sant’ Egidio takes care of housing them with families where meals are guaranteed. “Our challenge is to lead them to autonomy within a reasonable period of time,” assures the community.

This requires training and employment. According to Sant’ Egidio, “those who arrived from Lesbos in 2016 regained their autonomy after a few months and are fully integrated.”

All migrants will be spread over several regions in Italy and will have the opportunity to learn Italian. Once their refugee status is obtained, they will benefit from a work integration program.