Assise FCEI 2018. Mediterranean Hope: the challenge of remaining true to ourselves

Roma, 29/02/2016: i rifugiati siriani in attesa delle operazioni di identificazione all'aereoporto di Fiumicino arrivati con un regolare volo di linea Beirut- Roma, organizzato nell’ambito dell’iniziativa dei corridoi umanitari da Sant’Egidio, Tavola valdese e Chiese evangeliche - the Syrian refugees arrived this morning at Fiumicino Airport with a regular flight of Beirut- line Rome, organized under the initiative of Sant'Egidio humanitarian corridors, Waldensian Board and Evangelical Churches.


(NEV) An interview with Paolo Naso: “defend human rights, effectively communicate what we do and not waver from our vocation to serve in the name of Christ”

As part of the in-depth studies proposed by the NEV Press Agency for the upcoming “Assise” of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) to be held in Pomezia on 16-18 November 2018, we interviewed Paolo Naso, coordinator of Mediterranean Hope – MHthe refugee and migrant programme organised by the FCEI.  MH is the newest migration project conceived by FCEI. It was created in early 2014, after the massacre of 3 October 2013 in which 368 migrants died a few miles off the coast of Lampedusa.

How has the migration situation changed since the birth of MH?

There have been many important transformations, and the FCEI wants to equip itself with a new migration programme because it feels like we are up against fluid processes, which change constantly and which require a constant reinterpretation of the geopolitical situation and, therefore, great agility in changing the objectives and strategies.

The contradiction of European policies has exploded over the last five years with the closing of borders and the so-called “economic migrants” and asylum seekers, hundreds and thousands of whom will find themselves trapped in Turkey or Libya which have now become the borders of Europe. Italy has fully aligned itself with this policy by entrusting the role of “Mediterranean border police” to Libya, that is still divided and unable to guarantee basic humanitarian standards.

The war waged by the Government against NGOs has worsened this scenario and, in the face of fewer and fewer landings, the risk of deaths at sea has increased significantly.

Finally – and this is the most serious – the widespread feeling of Italians has changed, who increasingly identify themselves with rhetorical slogans such as “Let’s help them at home” or “Italians first”, ignoring the fact that “their home” has been burned, destroyed or bombed and that the Italian Constitution requires us to guarantee and promote the right to seek asylum.

But positive things have also happened in the last five years, such as the Humanitarian Corridors, promoted and implemented by FCEI together with the Community of Sant’Egidio and the support of the “8 per mille” funds of the Methodist and Waldensian churches; or the organisation of “widespread” reception models such as the famous Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) which they now want to destroy, or the experience of Riace that set an example in Europe. I would also like to mention Medical Hope, the healthcare action that we carry out in Lebanon and that, thanks to a partnership with Terres des Hommes, we plan to bring to Libya in the coming months, targeting children in need of medical treatment abroad, in Italy or in Tunisia.

You said: “Humanitarian Corridors are also a model of integration”. Can you give us an overview of this model? What do you think are the good points, bad points, grey areas, tools and requirements for an effective integration?

The experience of Humanitarian Corridors has allowed us to understand that we need to focus on a “widespread” model that favours small settlements and avoids the concentration of migrants in “centres” which have a negative impact on the surrounding population. At the same time, we have come to realise that the actual activity of reception must be “accompanied.” In other words, fraternal and friendly support networks are needed for people who come out of very serious traumas – war, conflict, torture, trafficking, detention in refugee camps, dramatic journeys – and are regaining possession of their lives. Finally, we have realised that, right from the beginning of each project, reception must be geared towards autonomy, i.e. the self-sufficiency of the beneficiaries. All this requires professionalism, empathy, but also vocation to work together, which the churches should be able to express better than anyone else.

Can interreligious dialogue and ecumenism contribute to creating a new way of conceiving identity and reception?

One of the most important discoveries of recent years has been that it is better when Catholics and Protestants work together; the action is more fruitful and more in compliance with the Gospel. In the organisation of humanitarian corridors with Catholic brothers and sisters, we have discovered the joy of “practical” ecumenism, of working together in the name of the Gospel that unites us. As for interreligious dialogue, our work with refugees and beneficiaries of the Humanitarian Corridors has led us to the discovery of a new informal and “everyday” dimension which showed us that dialogue is not between religions but between people.

What are the challenges and upcoming goals of Mediterranean Hope?

We are convinced that “Humanitarian Corridors” is a good practice and that it can be extended to other European countries besides Italy, France, Belgium and Andorra where they already exist. At the same time, we are trying to understand how to continue supporting the NGOs that carry out monitoring and rescue operations at sea. Some of our operators climb aboard Proactiva Open Arms ships and others collaborate with the associations of small aircraft pilots based in Lampedusa. The problem is that the closure of the ports prevents this humanitarian action, which instead should be strengthened and supported also by the government, as it was until a few months ago.

As for the challenges, the main one is to remain faithful to ourselves, to our convictions and to our mission in a time when those who shout the loudest are heard, and those who are working for humanitarian purposes risk criminalisation or derision because they go against “common sense.” Our aim is to defend human rights, effectively communicate what we do and not waver from our vocation to serve Christ.

What can churches and people of faith do to cooperate more with the MH programme?  

They can continue to do what they are doing: praying, offering financial support to the various programmes put in place in recent years, providing accommodation, spreading accurate and unbiased information on the reality – and not on emotions – of global migration. But I would like to say that, above all, the churches must “act like churches.” They must be places that preach the message that Jesus does not distinguish between Italian or foreigner, or an illegal immigrant or a refugee subject to “Dublin Regulation” because we are all God’s creatures, called to welcome and support each other.