While several European governments reinforced their walls, reinstated border controls, and implemented repressive policies against refugees from the Middle East and Africa, two ambitious initiatives aim to offer alternatives to the dangerous journeys undertaken by those fleeing wars and oppression.
The Berlin-based Center for Political Beauty has proposed the building of a 230km bridge linking the continents of Africa and Europe. While another initiative, working in parallel with the bridge proposal, aims to open the first humanitarian corridors for safe passage into Europe.
The second project was initiated by two organizations, the Federation of Evangelical Churches and the Sant’Egidio Community. The Italian government has agreed to participate in the scheme, which hopes to begin flying refugees from Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia to safety in Italy by the end of January.
In an attempt to lower the number of death and to limit the need for refugees to resort to traffickers, the proposed Jean-Monnet Bridge, named after the founding father of the European Union, would connect the coast of al-Huwariyah, Tunisia, to Agrigento, Italy.
The organization has submitted the bridge project plan to the EU’s Internal Security Fund for consideration. They estimate the project will cost around 230bn euros ($254bn) and, if approved, they hope to start work in 2017, with a projected completion date in 2030.
In the meantime, the organization hopes to place 1,000 rescue platforms in the waters between Africa and Europe. These platforms would be equipped with life vests, emergency call devices, anchors, navigation lights, food reserves and solar panels. The organization has managed to install one such platform in the international waters of the Mediterranean. At a cost of 50,000 euros ($55,000), raised through a fundraising campaign, the Center for Political Beauty installed a six-by-six-metre platform, named Aylan 1 after the refugee toddler who drowned in September. They hope to be able to raise money for more platforms soon.
The project aims to counteract the influence and power of smugglers over refugees, which they see as the result of increasingly tight border controls that expand the demand for human traffickers. Vulnerable refugees are often forced to resort to criminal organizations for help to cross the Mediterranean, risking their lives in the process. But while these criminal networks place little value on human life, they do benefit from selling a wide range of services to the refugees, including physical transportation, illegal border crossings and the procurement of false identity documents.
This is where the second initiative, which proposes the creation of a humanitarian pipeline, would play a crucial role in saving lives. It would provide a legal and safe route that allows migrants to travel to Italy by plane, directly from Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia with humanitarian visas from the Italian government. The pilot project will target vulnerable refugees based in the three countries where partner organizations, such as Operazione Colomba in Lebanon, can help identify those most in need, regardless of their religion.
The Italian government has agreed to issue 1,000 humanitarian visas to enable refugees to travel via plane to Italy safely and legally. The pipeline would be financed entirely by the Federation of Evangelical churches and the Sant’Egidio community in the hope of providing an alternative to what they call “death journeys”.
Partnering communities will cover the travel costs with funding coming from donations regulated by the “otto per mille” law, which allows Italian taxpayers to donate 0.8% of their annual income tax to any state-recognized organization.
The religious communities would then organize the resettlement and integration processes. More than anything, the organizers of the humanitarian bridge and pipeline initiatives hope that the projects can lead by example, pushing other institutions and organizations to act.