For the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy (FCEI), it was the trigger for diverting resources and energy to a project whose focus would be the plight of those at the border. That project would be called Mediterranean Hope.
The very direct response made then was to send a team of two to Lampedusa, expressing solidarity not only with the desperate people arriving on inadequate boats but also with the 6,000 overwhelmed inhabitants of an island which, by geographical fluke, is the first staging post for those trying to reach Europe.
Six years later, MH still has a small team working there in our “Migration Observatory”, gathering data and stories, thereby restoring humanity to those who might otherwise become mere statistics. The team is still present to meet those who reach the dock and projects with and for locals continue, as does the annual ecumenical service on 3rd October to commemorate the dead – and living.
MH has since established two reception centres on Sicily: the Casa dei Mirti for unaccompanied minors and the “House of Many Cultures” where the most vulnerable live together in their own flats, supported by volunteers from the local Methodist community and by trained professionals. Importantly, the House has become a community hub where locals and migrants can come together for events, exhibitions, discussions and meals.
Preoccupied by the desperate need to find alternatives to the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean, the team at MH’s Rome HQ turned its attention to safe passage. The result was the pioneering Humanitarian Corridors programme, an ecumenical project with the Comunità di Sant’Egidio which has now brought over 2,000 people safely and legally from Lebanon to Italy and spawned legacy corridors to France, Belgium and Andorra and from Ethiopia, Niger and Jordan. We are currently advocating for the model to be adopted Europe-wide through a network of safe pathways which provide legal admission and concrete support for participants in the months following arrival.
MH continues to respond to extreme situations, implementing practical and creative projects which meet immediate needs and leave a lasting legacy. Its work in Calabria is an example of this. In this impoverished but fertile region, squads of seasonal workers, mainly migrants, are routinely exploited by gangmasters and producers as they harvest tomatoes, citrus fruits and olives for a pittance, without contracts, rights or decent living conditions.
Aside from direct action to improve the condition of workers, the MH team is championing the “Etika” brand, a fair-trade initiative which makes it viable for local producers to improve their workers’ situation. A proportion of profit is ploughed back into linked projects, such as lighting the dark roads along which workers cycle to reach the fields.
The pandemic has, if anything, stiffened the resolve of MH to continue to work on behalf of the marginalised. As always, we adapt our approach in response to need. For me, it’s a privilege to work within such an agile team, driven by the simple imperative to welcome the stranger.