ROME • A Syrian child with eye cancer has been flown into Italy for treatment, becoming the first to benefit from a new humanitarian corridor aimed at stopping refugees from attempting an often deadly Mediterranean crossing to Europe.
"So happy because we come to Italy, from Syria... by humanitarian corridor, direct to Rome!" Ms Yasmine Al Hourani, mother of Falek, a seven-year-old girl, said in halting English at Rome's Fiumicino airport on Thursday.
Falek, one eye covered with a patch, stood shyly beside her brother, six-year-old Hussein. Their mother described the relief at finally making it out of the garage they had been living in in Tripoli, northern Lebanon.
The family, including electrician father Suleyman, fled Syria two years ago as shells fell on their home city of Homs. But they had resisted the idea of a boat crossing, with more than 60 children drowning in the Mediterranean so far this year.
They were picked to be the first to be flown out of Lebanon to Italy as part of a new project organised by the Sant'Egidio Catholic community, the Federation of Evangelical Churches and the Valdese Evangelical Church.
Ms Daniela Pompei, head of immigration for the Sant'Egidio Catholic community, said: "The little girl is seven years old, she has eye cancer and needs urgent care if she's not to lose the other eye too."
She said the "experimental humanitarian corridor", based on a sponsorship system, could be extended to the rest of Europe if successful. It will be presented to Europe's Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos next month.
The programme is aimed at the most vulnerable members of asylum-seeking groups - from single mothers and pregnant women to handicapped people and sick children - and should see 1,000 people of various nationalities taken to safety in Italy over the next two years, Sant'Egidio said.