SOLIDAR discusses migration & rights in South Eastern Europe

On 10 November I attended a roundtable by SOLIDAR on migration and fundamental rights, linked to their EU-funded project to improve the provision of social service delivery in South Eastern Europe through the empowerment of national and regional CSOs.

Brenda King (member of the European Economic and Social Committee from UK, and rapporteur of the Committee’s opinion on the EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling) stated that globalisation and migration is two sides of the same coin; While much has been done for the move of goods and services, little has been done for people. As Oxfam shows half of the world’s wealth is still owned by just 1% of the population. Marina Skrabalo (member of the EESC from Croatia) made the point that we need to tirelessly lobby our governments that there is no dichotomy between responsibility and solidarity; Human rights and EU asylum and migration policy is inseparable, and we should not be seduced by any compromises.

MEP Ulrike Lunacek (Greens and Vice-president of the European Parliament) send a video message that refugees pay for lack of solidarity and political will, and NGOs and citizens compensate by helping, when in fact governments should reimburse these efforts. MEP Tanja Fajon (S&D) called for a change of European mind-set that refugees and migrants are no threat; Welcoming them may be difficult but we have no choice, the cost of failing is far greater. Politicians are afraid of tackling the issues because they do not want to endanger their popularity among their voters.

Liane Adler from the European Commission (DG NEAR, Western Balkans Regional Cooperation and Programmes Unit) told that the Commission last year published a call for EU funds for regional networks on different thematic areas, including for migration and refugees. They received few applicants with low quality, and Ms Adler asked whether it was due to lack of involvement of NGOs, lack of capacity to apply or lack of information about the call itself. For future funding for service delivery in emergency response these questions has to be answered. The issue relates to Social Platform’s meeting with DG Migration and Home Affairs on how to make EU funding for migration integration easier. Enabling NGOs to apply for EU funding in an accessible way seems to be a transversal issue with room for improvement across all the Commission’s DGs. Ionut Sibian (member of EESC from Serbia) encouraged the Commission to consult with its stakeholders before launching a call for proposal, and to consider not only supporting projects but also to provide operational grants for networks to work on both civic and social rights.

SOLIDAR members and activists shared their experiences. Raffaella Bolini from Italy talked about activists civil disobedience against walls and wires, by walking with the refugees along their Balkan route. She referred to Oxfam’s recent statement that the EU Trust Fund for Africa ‘intended to address migration, risks being used more for border security purposes, rather than fighting poverty and inequality’. What is needed is alliances, coordination and exchange of good practices. Mitre Georgiev from Croatia told it’s a political crisis of the EU, and not a migrant; If the silent majority speak up in support of the asylum cause and fundamental values, they will be heard louder than the ones shouting racism and xenophobia. Martin Rozumek testified about growing islamophobia and xenophobia in Czech Republic. As most refugees do not want to stay, the EU quota system won’t work, and the only way to force people to stay is to detain them. Ms King commented that it is understandable that people do not want to go where they are not welcome and their rights not respected. Borče Jankuloski from Macedonia made an interesting remark that our digital age offers an opportunity to communicate with migrants through their own channels as they e.g. use smartphones to navigate their routes and networks. Ivan Marin from Serbia told what a woman, preparing sandwiches at the Balkan border, said: ‘I am not doing this because it happened to us 20 years ago, nor because it can happen to us in the future, I am doing it because this is happening to people now.’