Refugees and migrants are risking their lives to enter Europe illegally. Wouldn’t you, too, if you had to fight for a better life? asks writer and poet Stella Pierides.
This is the second of our three favourite blog posts tweeted to @AmnestyOnline on Blog Action Day 2013, when thousands of people came together worldwide to blog about human rights. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
Every year, thousands of people try to enter Europe without permission. The last two years the numbers have increased. War, civil war, terrorism, famine, drought make their livelihoods untenable, their lives precarious. One of the major routes to the continent used to be via Evros, the river boundary between Greece and Turkey. Since 2012, however, when a fence was erected to block this entry point and after Frontex police increased their presence, new routes were followed: sea routes to Italy and Spain that are even more dangerous and deadly.
The rickety boats these refugees use to come in often sink; the borders they try to cross get more hazardous than the journeys. The European countries they enter, ignore or criminalize them, and often send them to holding centers where they are subjected to demeaning, abusive situations, torture, or worse; or sent back to the countries they fled from. And yet, they keep coming.
I saw some of those who made it. In Venice, Italy, without support, they bend down hiding their faces, and beg.
city of masks
the beggar hides
They hide and live in fear, yet they find this preferable to staying in countries where torture or death awaits them. Unlike those chosen to enter in one of the rare legal, though miniscule, programs of some European countries, these people exist in dire and life-threatening circumstances.
promising the earth
This odyssey is acted out all over the world, sometimes by people seeking work to improve their situation in places where they would not normally be entitled to work; most often by people fleeing conflict and persecution. In the Mediterranean countries, the recent conflicts have multiplied the magnitude of this problem.
Lately, hundreds of people arrived in Lampedusa and the Italian shores*: alive or dead, they reached this other country where those who survived the journey would have at least the opportunity to fight for a chance of a better life. Wouldn’t you too, in their position?
Wouldn’t you? If chance or circumstance placed you in such a predicament? The European Union, though, would not look favorably on your efforts to enter its borders with need and despair as the only passport. For instance, while the talk of new urgent measures is all about increasing funding towards detection of people in flight, as well as (allegedly) improved rescue at sea,* there is also the urge to repatriate and keep the refugees in the place they come from. An out of sight, out of mind approach. Except that the situation in their home countries is so desperate that repatriated people try crossing the sea again, and again.
for hunter’s moon
A lot more is needed for the nations that make up Europe to acknowledge and accept the plight of the people affected by extreme poverty and poverty-driven wars, often the result of our aggressive policies, economic exploitation, and environmental abuse.
Out of this awareness, the Europeans themselves would be able to develop better policies than this drive to isolate, separate, and remove the perceived problem: a concerted European asylum seeker and immigration policy, grounded on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and the full United Nations Charter), with a budget and facilities for care and integration (rather than just border control) to back it up.
The first models to help us think and plan are already here: A tiny Italian village opened its doors to migrants who braved the sea offering them jobs and homes, creating in the process jobs for the entire village.
Even though there is no ideal solution, and new problems arise in new situations, the will, the means, the examples and the aspiration are already here.
*Gazmend Kapplani, Albanian-born journalist, poet, and writer, in one of his Facebook posts suggests the least the EU could do would be to erect a Monument of the Unknown Refugee. Kapplani’s excellent book, A Short Border Handbook, relates the experiences of Albanian people crossing the border to Greece.
**Frontex, the European Agency for external border control, according to a statement on its site, “promotes, coordinates and develops European border management in line with the EU fundamental rights charter applying the concept of Integrated Border Management”. Unfortunately, what this comes down to is that the management of borders takes precedence over human rights. Frontex has expanded the number of countries where it can send the people it ‘rescues’. Nobody, however, is monitoring what exactly Frontex is doing in these countries of transit and origin with the goal of “stemming migration”. There is a serious risk of human rights simply being breached or refugees dying in places that are farther away from our attention.
Our own #BAD13 blog post on Kenya: ‘I’ve witnessed a million and one forced evictions’.