Let us be proud of Europe: more than 170 NGOs call on EU to lead by values, not fear, in migration response

Published: 8th March 2017

EU leaders must live up to their commitments to European values in responding to migration and stop copying xenophobic populist recipes, more than 170 NGOs said today in a joint statement. The organizations are calling for strong leadership to uphold the rights and values that have been the founding principles of the European Union for 60 years.

The statement comes ahead of this week’s EU summit, following months of policies aimed at shutting migration routes across the Mediterranean at any cost. Just last month EU leaders in Malta backed an Italian migration deal with Libya that exposes people to suffering and death.

The 172 organizations and networks from more than 20 states – including Oxfam, Save the Children, Care, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) – call for leadership that both defends human rights and addresses people’s fears, rather than fuelling them. It also calls for EU leaders to go beyond rhetoric and deliver on their commitments to defend the human rights of men, women and children on the move. “Strength doesn't mean turning away those most in need. Strength is about showing a way forward that upholds values,” the letter reads.

Oxfam International’s Deputy Director for Advocacy and Campaigns, Natalia Alonso, said:

“EU leaders keep repeating their commitment to European values, but we are not seeing this in their actions. In our work with refugees and other migrants, we see the terrible impact that European migration policies have on the rights and safety of people on the move, in Greece, Italy, the Balkans, and beyond Europe’s shores. Governments need to change their policies radically and immediately.”

Save the Children International’s Director, Ester Asin, said:

“For years, Europe has been turning its back on some of the world’s most vulnerable children – leaving them stranded in squalid conditions on the Greek islands, or failing to offer even basic protections once they reach Europe. Future generations will be ashamed that every year we let hundreds of desperate children drown who escaped war, extreme poverty or religious persecution.”

The head of the CARE International EU office, Céline Mias, said:

“At the brink of the 60th anniversary of the EU, we expect European leaders to do their utmost to uphold the international laws they helped to create. Europe is perfectly capable of hosting more refugees and treating migrants with dignity and respect for human rights. What is needed now are political will and courage”.

According to the NGO coalition, Europe has failed to come together and respond with humanity, dignity and solidarity, when the number of migrants, including refugees, arriving in Europe increased in 2015. Unwilling to respond in line with their obligations under international and European law, governments are doing their utmost to keep people in need out of Europe and out of sight through migration deals with countries like Turkey, Libya and other states in Africa.

At the same time, tens of thousands of migrants in Greece and Italy continue to be housed in degrading and dangerous conditions. European authorities are pushing to expedite asylum procedures in order to facilitate the deportation of asylum seekers. As a result, many people are unable to submit their asylum applications in a fair and effective manner, or access adequate legal assistance.

An approach based on deterrence and border closures cannot override an effective long-term policy, as it will come at a high cost to the EU’s credibility as an international actor, the organizations warn. Europe’s decisions have life and death consequences, and if EU governments continue to lower their standards, countries around the globe will follow suit.

This approach is also in stark contrast to the widespread solidarity many Europeans have shown towards people who are fleeing wars, persecution, human rights violations, instability, and extreme poverty. The NGOs have witnessed people welcoming refugees and migrants into their communities, opening up their homes and giving money, material and time to help. EU governments should follow the lead of their kind citizens.

EU member states must make a drastic U-turn and deliver sustainable, long-term migration policies that guarantee respect for people’s rights rather than pushing them into danger, the NGO coalition said in the open letter. These policies include expanding safe and regular pathways to Europe so people are not forced to risk their lives in search of safety and dignity. “Only a Europe that defends the rights of everyone, without exception, is a Europe we can be proud of,” they added.

Notes to editors

Contact information

Florian Oel | Oxfam | florian.oel@oxfaminternational.org | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

For updates, please follow @Oxfam and @OxfamEU