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Refugees Who Left Lesbos With Pope in 2016 Settle Into Rome Life

After Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos in April 2016, he took 12 Muslim refugees from Syria, together with six kids, with him again to Rome aboard the papal airplane. It was an act that punctuated his pleas for sympathy towards refugees simply as European attitudes have been hardening towards them.

5 years later, the three households who traveled with Francis — two from Damascus and one from Deir al-Zour — have made lives for themselves in Rome, although they are saying that their ideas are continuously with these they left behind in Syria.

“Once we acquired on that airplane with him, we felt a way of peace that we hadn’t felt for a really very long time,” stated Wafaa Eid, 35, recalling a “dreamlike” journey that swept them from years of warfare in Syria and a fraught five-month journey to achieve Europe, to a rousing welcome provided by a Catholic charity in Rome.

“There have been flowers and music — it felt like a marriage,” she stated. “It was nice.”

Adapting to a brand new life, a brand new tradition, has not at all times been simple, she stated, however her household has discovered assist and generosity in Rome. Each she and her husband, Osama Kawkji, 42, work in a trip residence run by a non secular congregation in Rome, and their kids — Masa, 13, and Omar, 11 — are in center faculty within the metropolis.

“At any time when I’ve requested for assist, folks have reached out,” she stated, together with dad and mom of her kids’s buddies and volunteers from the charity that helped them after they first arrived. She additionally stated that they had made “many Italian buddies.”

All three households “have settled in very effectively,” stated Cecilia Pani, who coordinates migration initiatives for the Community of St. Egidio charity, which works with susceptible folks in Rome and elsewhere. She was in Lesbos in 2016 to help the households who traveled on the papal flight and has additionally helped them in Rome.

She stated that they had been capable of finding jobs and housing that enable them to dwell independently.

With other churches, charities and nongovernmental organizations, St. Egidio has helped facilitate the arrival to Italy of greater than 3,600 refugees over the previous 5 years.

Studying Italian has come simply to Ms. Eid, who taught herself utilizing her son’s elementary faculty books.

“I studied, after which I might assist him,” she stated.

Work additionally helped. Earlier than beginning on the trip residence, she labored as a cleaner in a Rome hospital.

By hook or by crook, she stated of the language, “I needed to study.”

In July, her household moved to a brand new condo, the place they dwell with their cat, Lulu. Within the fall, the kids began at a brand new faculty, the place they stated they preferred their courses — when bouts of coronavirus amongst classmates didn’t maintain them at residence.

Requested whether or not he was pleased residing in Rome, Mr. Kawjki appeared shocked.

“Sure, in fact,” he stated. “In any other case we wouldn’t keep.”

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