Embrace solidarity, not walls and violence

Caritas Europa has released a statement for International Migrants’ Day, 17 December 2021.

On the occasion of International Migrants Day, Caritas Europa calls on policymakers to facilitate human mobility instead of treating migrants as a threat or weapons. People on the move are human beings, crossing borders for different reasons – to seek protection, work, study, reunite with family members, among others. They should be treated with dignity instead of scorn. Safe regular pathways to Europe are needed, rather than higher walls and violence.

Migrants and those defending their rights are facing a particularly challenging moment in Europe, where policies of panic and reject dominate and too often kill. Fatal shipwrecks in the English Channel and the Mediterranean Sea, people used as pawns at the border with Belarus and left dying in frozen woods at the EU’s doorstep, countless pushbacks and refoulement in Greece and along the Balkan route are just a few examples.

Ms. Manou Ballyn coordinates a project at Caritas Belgium-CAP Brabantia, which provides support to unaccompanied minors from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia in transit through Belgium to the UK. She explains the difficult journey that many unaccompanied minors experience:

“Many have been through Libya, for example, where they were subjected to sexual violence, slavery, and terrible and very traumatic mistreatment. It’s far from over in Europe – many report police violence and theft of their personal belongings.”

In this context, we urge European leaders to resist attempts to water down the Refugee Convention, legalise pushbacks and introduce derogations to EU law, the latter of which was recently proposed by the European Commission in relation to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. We also strongly echo Pope Francis’s message, delivered during his visit to Lesbos on 5 December, calling to attention the existing conditions unworthy of human beings:

“It is distressing to hear of proposals that common funds be used to build walls and barbed wire as a solution. […] Yet problems are not resolved and coexistence improved by building walls higher, but by joining forces to care for others according to the concrete possibilities of each and in respect for the law, always giving primacy to the inalienable value of the life of every human being.”

Maria Nyman, Caritas Europa Secretary General, said:

“As we celebrate International Migrants Day, it is urgent to overcome fear and instead embrace human mobility, as a natural phenomenon that should be facilitated in an organised way. People have always crossed borders, be it to find peace, love or better opportunities, and this will not stop, regardless of how high the fences are. We call for a drastic shift of migration policies: instead of financing expensive walls and militarising our borders to stop people’s movements, let us invest in safe and regular pathways, decent reception centres and more welcoming societies that facilitate social inclusion for the common good.”

Finally, we insist on stressing the positive contributions migration makes to our societies and paying tribute to the countless people who help migrants in one way or another, choosing encounter and compassion over fear. Solidarity and welcoming societies should be encouraged, rather than stoking hatred and division.

Caritas Europa is the network of Caritas organisations on the European continent. The united strength of its 49 members including CSAN and CAFOD for England and Wales, present in 46 European countries, makes of Caritas Europa one of the major social actors in Europe.