Refugee flown out of Lesbos by pope says it "feels like a dream"

Nour is one of the 12 Syrian refugees taken to Rome Saturday by Pope Francis after his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos. She spoke to reporters soon after landing in the Italian capital with her husband, Hasan, and their 2-year-old son.

"I feel like I am in a dream, I feel overwhelmed. I would like to thank the pope for his nice gift [to] us [...], I appreciate all he did for Syrian refugees and I hope that this gift will influence political opinion," she said.

Nour, whose surname was not released, spoke before entering a hostel run by the Italian Catholic organization Community of Sant'Egidio in central Rome, where the refugees were to spend the next few days ahead of a probable move inside Vatican walls.

The newcomers were greeted by other asylum seekers and Sant'Egidio volunteers and staff with flowers, drum music and a banner that read out "welcome." A throng of TV cameras and microphones also marked their arrival.

Nour, who addressed journalists in English and French, identified herself as a microbiologist trained in France. Her husband is an agricultural engineer, she said. They left Damascus in December after their home was bombed.

After a bus journey through Syrian territory controlled by the Islamic State radical group, they entered Turkey, were caught three times by police but eventually reached Lesbos on March 18, two days before a cut-off date set by a controversial EU-Turkey deal.

Migrants who land on Greek shores after that date are all but guaranteed to be repatriated to Turkey, from where only Syrians are offered a chance to be airlifted to Europe through a relocation programme.

Nour denied reports that the refugees who travelled with the pope were chosen by lottery, and said she found out about having been picked during a late Friday interview. "It happened really, really fast," she said.

All 12 refugees taken out of Lesbos are Muslim. Nour said she thanked Francis and asked him to pray for her family during a brief in-flight exchange.

She had simple plans for the future.

“We have just fled from war. We only want to live like you, a normal life, that’s all we want," she told reporters.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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