European countries need to return to humanitarian principles


As world leaders and humanitarian actors meet in Istanbul for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit European countries need to look at themselves and step up to uphold human rights in the migration crisis argues Claire Seaward, Humanitarian Campaign Manager. From an interview with Catherine Meredith.

What needs are you seeing on the ground in Europe?

In Greece recently I met a mother from Palmyra in Syria, she said to me: ‘my home is gone, my city doesn’t exist, where am I supposed to go?’

This woman like so many others has arrived in Europe after immense suffering and a dangerous journey only to find that the process for seeking asylum is unclear and the humanitarian provision is inadequate to meet even basic needs for safety, shelter, food, water and information.

The hypocrisy of the European approach to migration is gob-smacking. It is not too much to ask that European countries take in more people on the move. Poorer countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Tanzania are already hosting so many more displaced people. The hypocrisy of the European approach to migration is gob-smacking. Europe is failing to deliver on its own soil while it is also calling on other governments to do more. It is not providing fair and transparent asylum processes, nor is it meeting the humanitarian needs of people on the move as
outlined in the refugee convention and the 1967 protocol on refugees which European countries helped to write. Europe needs to step up and deliver safety, support and asylum procedures that meet international law and standards.

What are the challenges for Oxfam and our partners in the Europe crisis response?

It’s incredibly challenging for Oxfam and our partners to ensure people have their basic needs met and have essential information about how to access the asylum process. Many people who intend to travel on to Northern Europe are stuck in Italy and Greece, trying to work out what to do next. We are working with 3,000 people in five camps in northern Greece to provide food, water and shelter as well as information on the registration and asylum procedures. We face the challenge of constantly adapting to changes in policies, procedures and border controls that affect the flow of

we don’t support a system that denies people a fair asylum process One of our big dilemmas is how to maintain humanitarian principles in the face of European policies that are tied to a political agenda that doesn’t put human rights first. For example, Oxfam withdrew from Moria centre in Greece when it was turned into a closed facility, because we don’t support a system that denies people a fair asylum process. At the same time we know that there are still great humanitarian needs in Moria so this is a difficult decision to make,
choosing between the principles which exist to protect people and responding to immediate needs.

Oxfam is working with legal and human rights organisations. As in other emergencies working through local partners is key and in Europe our partners bring knowledge of the legal systems in each country.

Protection is the biggest issue.  Many people can’t get over the initial hurdle of getting registered and put into the asylum system. They risk being sent back to their home countries or abandoned on the streets with no support. The work of our partners is crucial in helping people to access information.

How will migration issues be dealt with, and what outcomes would you like to see?

There are several sessions on migration at the summit with different points of view represented. European governments are currently making agreements with countries in the Middle East and North Africa to deter people from coming to Europe. Funding for humanitarian and development work in these countries is a good thing, but it should be focussed purely on responding to needs rather than on an agenda to ‘keep people out’ of Europe.

Europe’s relocation and asylum processes are also discriminating against people from North, West and the Horn of Africa, disregarding people’s asylum claims because of nationality.

Currently European leaders are on a race to the bottom. We need to see a complete U-turn. This should involve:

  • resettling more people from war torn countries,
  • providing safe and legal routes to Europe,
  • increasing support for search and rescue operations, (did you know that the Mediterranean crossing is one of the most dangerous in the world?),
  • improving basic services and conditions in facilities and camps,
  • and welcoming people with fair and transparent registration and asylum processes without making assumptions about rights to asylum based on nationality alone.

If we got these five things happening it would show that European countries take humanitarian principles seriously and that they are really committed to upholding rights rather than eroding them.

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Mazen* (30 years old) and Sara (19 years old). Aleppo, Syria.  Mazen is Muslim and Sara is Christian, and their marriage is not seen as acceptable in Syria. Their respective families have come to terms with it, but other people do not approve. “They are very closed-minded,” says Sara. She studied English literature in the University of Aleppo and Mazen worked in a mobile phone shop. They left Aleppo two months ago. “We love our country, but you cannot live there anymore. You hear bombs all the time. Every minute, an explosion. The first night in Turkey surprised me
because you heard no bombing. Total silence. At first, when I saw airplanes, I got scared,” says Sara. Mazen and Sara were married in Turkey and after a month trying to make a living there, they decided to move on. “In Turkey life was very difficult. Everything is very expensive. Both of us worked in a café, but even with that, we could not afford to live. Everything was very expensive.” *Names have been changed to help protect identities. Credit: Pablo Toso/Oxfam

Author: Claire Seaward
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.