Individuals and volunteers arrested and fined for acts of solidarity

When we launched our campaign ‘Decriminalising Solidarity’ in 2015 we stated that Member States should not be allowed to punish those who provide humanitarian assistance to undocumented migrants. While we knew that the relevant law was not clear for individuals and civil society organisations and that they might be afraid to help irregular migrants when risking sanctions, we did not have many concrete testimonies that showed the consequences of such ambiguous legislation. However, recent cases show that this is not only a risk in theory but a danger in practice.

In Denmark, the former children’s ombudsman was heavily fined for giving a Syrian family a ride to Copenhagen: “I thought smuggling was when you pass a border and when you take money or benefit from it – not driving inside the country,” she said. In Greece, five NGO volunteers were arrested while offering life-saving assistance to refugees who otherwise would have drowned.

Reminding Member States – via the latest Justice and Home Affairs Council Conclusions – that they have the possibility “to exempt persons facilitating irregular entry and transit in order to offer humanitarian assistance…” is not enough. What is needed is a state obligation to ensure that individuals and organisations have a right to provide humanitarian assistance on a not-for-profit basis to all people, regardless of their residence status.

As Social Platform, with our 45 pan-European NGO networks, we have a clear position on revising the EU Facilitation Directive, and we are not the only one. Similar initiatives have been formed, such as a petition to the European Commission calling for an end to criminalising those offering humanitarian assistance. We encourage organisations and citizens to respond to the European Commission’s public consultation by 6 April (in particular question 10). Don’t hesitate to email me – I am happy to assist with explaining what the EU jargon actually means!

If you are interested in learning more I recommend that you read a recent publication by the Centre for European Policy Studies where the criminalisation of facilitating irregular entry and stay and humanitarian assistance are widely discussed by several interesting scholars.

The topic remains high on our agenda, and we will continue to influence European decision-makers in the right direction!

Read my previous blog about the European Parliament’s report on the Facilitation Directive.