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Grateful Syrians headed to Italy from Cyprus thanks to Pope

Syrian national Issa Shamma expressed gratitude and hope as he is getting ready to leave Cyprus to start a new life in Italy barely a week before Christmas.

Pope Francis who visited Cyprus earlier this month, would take 50 migrants from Cyprus to Italy, including Muslims, in a gesture of "solidarity," Cypriot authorities said.

A Vatican source told AFP that the first group would meet the pope on Friday.

Getting ready to leave was Issa Shamma, 37, who fled to Lebanon in 2017 seeking refuge from the war in neighboring Syria.

But there was "no future for my children there", he said.

He said his sons, now 12, nine and two, "had no schooling at all. I came here (to Cyprus) for my children to get an education."

He said they were among dozens of Syrians who boarded a boat from northern Lebanon in August.

Cypriot authorities intercepted them and he was taken for medical attention after his health deteriorated, but the boat -– and his family –- was pushed back, a practice rights groups have criticized.

He said he was looking forward to the prospect of being reunited with his family in Italy.

"I don't know anybody" there, he said, but "the most important thing is that we learn and our children learn."

Also a Muslim, Shamma thanked the pope and his future host community.

"No Arab country has opened their door for us, has accepted us as refugees. Western countries opened their doors for us and our children," he said.


Written by The Levant

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