On Wednesday, 21 October, an IOM charter flight left Rome’s Ciampino Airport for Finland and Sweden. On board were 68 asylum seekers – 19 from Syria and 49 from Eritrea.
Members of IOM’s team in Rome accompanied the asylum seekers on the flight and monitored the disembarkation of the Eritreans in Finland. The 19 Syrians then disembarked in Sweden. IOM also monitored their transfer from Villa Sikania, a relocation centre in Sicily, to a reception centre in Rome, where they were processed.
In both Finland and Sweden the asylum seekers were taken to reception centres, where they will be staying for approximately 24 hours before being moved to host communities.
The 68 asylum seekers were relocated from Italy to Sweden and Finland under a new European Union (EU) relocation programme after arriving in Italy by sea over the past few weeks.
They agreed to relocate on learning about the programme from Italian authorities and European Asylum Support Office (EASO) officers working in Lampedusa, whose reception centre has become the first relocation “hotspot” in Italy.
Angelino Alfano, the Italian Minister of Interior met the asylum seekers in Rome shortly before their departure.
The Eritreans will be relocated in Tornio, Northern Finland, while the Syrians will be welcomed in Lulea, Sweden. On reaching their respective destinations, the asylum seekers will be made welcome by local authorities and their asylum claims will be processed.
“This is not an easy choice for them because the programme is new and they were not expecting to be relocated,” said Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean. “But we know that many migrants, in particular Syrians and Eritreans, see Italy as a country of transit. Once they arrive in Sicily, they normally continue their journey, sometimes with families and children, to northern Europe.”
Soda warned that sometimes migrants and refugees may fall into the hands of smugglers inside the EU. “Relocation offers them the opportunity to reach other EU countries in a safe and orderly way. It is also a mechanism that the EU has established to share the responsibility of the refugee crisis among member states,” he added.
“I came from Syria with my family because soldiers came to our house and we had to flee,” said Mahmoud, a Syrian who came to Italy with his wife and two children and has been relocated to Sweden. “I am looking for a new life. I want to be safe. I am extremely happy to go to Sweden. But my home country is Syria. When the war ends, I’ll definitely go back.”
“It is the first time for me in an airport,” said Aman, an Eritrean, as he left for Finland. “It took five days to get from Eritrea to Ethiopia, and then three months to get to Europe. I was in Libya and took a boat to Italy. It was a terrible experience. When they told me that I could go to Northern Europe, I was very happy.”
The EU’s migrant relocation scheme was launched on Friday 9 October, when 19 Eritreans left Italy on a flight to Lulea in Sweden. The EU’s plan includes the relocation of 160,000 asylum seekers in the EU and the Italian government has announced that other relocation operations will be carried out in the coming weeks and months.
As stated by the European Commission, those eligible for relocation are applicants with nationalities who have an average EU recognition rate for international protection that is equal to or above 75 per cent, according to the latest available EU-wide Eurostat data. Nationalities with a recognition rate this high across EU Member States currently include Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis.