“It was just a project but it became THE project, the way of the future,” said Mario Morcone of the Italian interior ministry.
The 25 men, women and children from Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan arrived in Rome before dawn on a flight from Ethiopia. They will be moved to centres across the country.
“We want to ensure that people do not risk their lives in the desert and at sea,” Morcone said. “This is an important turning point in the politics of our country. You are witness to this turning point and we will not go back.”
The evacuation of displaced Syrians from Lebanon to Italy was launched in February 2016 by the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, the Italian Federation of Evangelical Churches and the Waldensian Church.
The programme, which is open to vulnerable Muslims and Christians alike, is an alternative to dangerous smuggling routes.
It has so far facilitated the arrival of 1,000 displaced Syrians from Lebanon, and plans are under way to bring in another 1,000 Syrians as well as 500 African refugees currently in Ethiopia.
A similar project is being set up in France and Belgium.
The charities behind the so-called corridor help new arrivals with housing, Italian language courses and skills training.