Free the ‘prisoners’ of Moria now!

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Asylum seekers protest against the new camp at Kara Tepe on Lesbos island, Greece, 11 September 2020 [Orestis Panagiotou/EPA/EFE]

Europeans frightened by migration must be shown concretely that their security will not be at risk if reasonable programmes are implemented with the direct help of organised civil society, writes Marco Impagliazzo.

Marco Impagliazzo is the president of the community of Sant’Egidio.

European legal culture is not allowing people, whether they are citizens from member states or from third states, to be held in captivity against their will or without knowing for how long. No European citizen would accept it for himself.

We in Europe are daily denouncing violations of the basic human right of freedom in countries all over the world. But today, that very human right is violated on Lesbos, EU territory. Are we accepting it?

The tragic story of the burning of a shantytown that served as a refuge for about 12,000 asylum seekers in Moria was covered on front pages in all European media and it was called a scandalous situation. But has it not been going on for a long time already? And has that ever triggered our consciences before?

What is happening in Moria since years is far beyond the terms of our civilization: people who fled difficult situations are treated like animals though they have committed no crime. Those many people are not provided with proper food nor a decent place to sleep, not with a shelter for bad weather or family intimacy.

They are not given any future perspective neither. Those are human rights violations. Once we accept that someone on European soil is deprived of human rights, we are preparing to deny them to ourselves.

Meanwhile, the European public opinion has been induced to close its eyes and to comply with a conspiracy of silence. Instead of considering how we treat refugees, we Europeans prefer to play the victim, to quarrel and to feed all kind of migratory obsessions.

One of the leitmotivs in the debates is the accusation made to Turkey of its intention to open the dam and to dump all its migrants in Europe. Turkey indeed has taken in about 3 million refugees, but it is treating them in a certainly more humane way than what is going on on Lesvos.

The accusation toward the Turks derives from the disputes with Europe on the Mediterranean Sea, which are belonging to completely different political matters. But the culture of fearing the enemy is always a good pretext for avoiding one’s responsibility.

The Community of Sant’Egidio has recently launched an appeal to all European Union member states to urgently welcome the refugees who have lost everything in the campfire.

Let’s look at them face to face: they are asylum seekers who have been living in extremely precarious conditions for months, some for years, after having made very risky trips to escape from war or other unsustainable situations; most of them are coming from Afghanistan and almost all are Hazara, a strongly repressed ethnic group.

A majority amongst them are families with a percentage of minors of 40%. This is not an army of invaders. If Europe is still living up to its tradition of civilization and humanity, it must take responsibility for it through an act of collective commitment.

For some years now, volunteers from various European countries have been going regularly to Lesbos to help refugees. Organising this, we want also to show our solidarity with the Greek inhabitants of the island, they have not to bear the burden alone.

This commitment comes in addition to the humanitarian corridors that San’Egidio has started since 2016 both from Lebanon and Ethiopia and finally from Lesbos itself.

The legal basis of the corridors is article 25 of the European Union Visa Regulation, which provides for the possibility for each member state to issue visas for humanitarian or national interest reasons or by virtue of international obligations.

To date, 2550 Syrians and 625 refugees from Ethiopia have been allowed to arrive in Italy. Small but significant numbers. Moreover, the refugees are at no cost to the State and are taken care of by civil society.

Similar protocols have been signed by Sant’Egidio and its partners with France (500 arrivals), Belgium and other countries.

Also from Lesbos a corridor was inaugurated in April 2016 by Pope Francis who took some refugees with him in his plane on his return from his visit to the island, entrusting them to Sant’Egidio in Rome. We intend to proceed for another 300 departures from Moria by 2021.

For us, Christians, these acts of hospitality towards foreigners are the answers to an explicit command of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, itself reflecting the old Jewish tradition of hospitality as commanded in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

But you don’t have to be Christian to be concerned by the human rights of refugees or to want to respond to the many human tragedies happening in front of our European shores.

The fight against hatred is carried out through those kinds of concrete solidarity, combined with guarantees in security matters.

Europeans frightened by migration must be shown concretely that their security will not be at risk if reasonable programmes are implemented with the direct help of organised civil society and in connection with civil authorities.

Thus, our appeal to free the prisoners of Lesbos is not ideological, it is above all a pragmatic response to matters of living together, combining human security and protection of human rights.

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