Syrian refugees join Pope in return to Vatican

Posted at 10:47 AM, Apr 16, 2016

The Roman Catholic charity group Sant'Egidio has released some details about the 12 Syrian refugees who flew to Rome aboard Pope Francis' plane from Greece and who will get preliminary assistance from the group.

It says one family is made up of two engineers, Hasan and Nour, and their 2-year-old son. Originally from Damascus, they lived in Zabadani, a mountain area near the Lebanese border that has been heavily bombed. They fled to Turkey and took a boat to the Greek island of Lesbos, which the pope visited Saturday.

The family of Ramy and Suhila come from Deir el-Zour, a Syrian city close to the Iraqi border that has been bombed by the Islamic State group. The couple, in their 50s, arrived in Greece with their three children in February via Turkey. The father is a teacher, the mother a tailor.

Osama and Wafa hail from the Damascus suburb of Zamalka. The youngest of their two children still wakes each night — and even stopped speaking for a time.

The Vatican says all three families' homes were bombed in Syria. The charity did not release any of the Syrians' last names due to privacy concerns.

Pope Francis says his decision to bring 12 Syrian refugees to Italy from Greece aboard his plane was a "purely humanitarian" gesture and not a political act.

Francis told reporters Saturday as they flew home from Greece — with the refugees sitting in the aircraft behind him — that the idea came to him only a week ago from a Vatican official. He said he accepted it "immediately" because it was in keeping with the message of humanity that he wanted to send with his trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, a hotspot in Europe's migration crisis.

Francis said all 12 refugees had their documents in order and that the Vatican would take full responsibility for them. The Vatican earlier said they consisted of three families, with six children among them, whose homes had been bombed in Syria