France takes first group of Syrian Christian refugees under deal to reduce sea crossings
By ROMINA MCGUINNESS
UP to 30 Syrian Christian refugees will be flown from Lebanon to France next week as part of a “humanitarian corridor” project helping those fleeing conflict and persecution start new lives abroad, the French national airline company Air France said on Wednesday.
The refugees – for the most part families – will arrive in France early July and will be landing at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, a spokesperson for Air France said.
An accord signed in March between the French government and an alliance of Christian charities states that up to 500 Syrian Christian refugees are to be brought over from Lebanon – where they have been living in refugee camps – over the next 18 months.
Air France, which is 17.6 per cent government owned, will be flying all 500 refugees over to France.
The aim of the project, which was spearheaded by the Italian Sant’Egidio Christian charity and peace group, is to provide an alternative to Syrian refugees to undertaking perilous sea journeys across the Mediterranean.
The charities will support the refugees financially once they arrive in their host country, while government officials will help them with their visa and asylum applications.
Air France stressed that the deal between the French government and the charities “prioritised families and vulnerable people,” adding that families would “not be separated” and that refugees would travel with an aid worker or with an Air France employee “if needed”.
A spokesperson for the airline said the refugees will arrive in France early July
France is the second European country after Italy to open a so-called “humanitarian corridor” to Middle Eastern refugees escaping the conflict in Syria in an ambitious bid to dissuade them from turning to people smugglers for help.
Sant’Egidio has already helped hundreds of refugees reintegrate back into society, helping children get back to school, and finding housing, jobs and language classes for the parents.