A new movement is growing across Europe, but it doesn’t contain the bitter tasting exclusionary or xenophobic facets of populism. It is radically welcoming and poised for the delivery of justice. It seeks to transform the rhetoric of dignity for every human being into a reality and see to it that those in power are held accountable for how they look after the marginalised in society. Europe Must Act is a grassroots movement demanding the more humane treatment of refugees, particularly calling on the resettlement of the inhabitants of the vastly overcrowded camps in the Aegean Islands.
There is a long history of Greece functioning as a ‘shield’ for Europe, this role being particularly amplified by media outlets since 2015 when the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ hit. Greece has been treated as a shock-absorber for the rest of Europe in terms of the number of displaced people it receives, other European states ceding responsibility of welcoming them into their own countries. Greek mismanagement and poor policies combined with a woeful show of solidarity by other states has meant that over time, the situation for displaced people in Greece has degenerated further and further. There is horrific overcrowding in refugee camps, with around 40,000 people inhabiting spaces designed for as few as 6,000 across the Aegean Islands; the EU and state provisions for the inhabitants are meagre, NGOs having to step in to fulfil their supposed duties. Indeed, in Moria – the largest refugee camp holding around 20,000 people - the distribution of tents, basic clothing packs and the maintenance of sanitation is all dependent on voluntary contributions to various NGOs operating inside.
Needless to say, coronavirus measures are impossible to uphold in spaces so heavily overpopulated, rendering the already vulnerable people within these camps even more so. As lockdown was announced and social distancing measures enforced across the UK and Europe, my main lurking concern was for the people stuck in camps. Would anybody remember them? In the haze of self-centred worry about what our new realities would look like at home, would anybody still care about those without a place called home? Would states turn inwards and provide only for those they deem ‘true citizens’?
I wasn’t the only one with these fears. A devoted group of people from the Europe Must Act movement have been working and campaigning tirelessly to respond to the current situation. They have been demanding the decongestion of the Aegean Islands through a process of relocating the most vulnerable in the camps. There have been systematic calls on city authorities across at least 12 different European states, to make the bold commitment of welcoming and offering sanctuary to refugees - Cambridge is one of those cities. It is vital for states to recognise that whilst the needs of their own citizens seem paramount at this time, such an approach to policy-making and the formation of legal measures omits those who are considered ‘citizens of nowhere’. It denies them the rights regarded as fundamental to all people.
The truth is, God doesn’t differentiate between His children based on nationality, skin-colour or possession of citizenship. Where political leaders across Europe make decisions forgetting the very real needs of refugees on the fringes of Europe and actively burden the lives of asylum-seekers and immigrants within their societies, God’s vision offers a very different picture. As God’s deeply beloved children created in His image, all human beings are worthy of dignity and love – all equally valued. The Human Rights so elevated across Europe are, in fact, founded on this very truth. A vision of the world where this truth is put into practice is radically transformative and deeply compels me to campaign and work towards it being materialised. Where displaced people are treated and spoken about in an undignified manner, I’m committed to challenging these norms and shifting the tone of conversations; where governments regard it as acceptable to allow refugees to live in squalid, overcrowded conditions for months on end, I’m urged to call on them to fulfil their responsibilities; where authorities fail to care for the most vulnerable, I’m prompted to stand up to them. During lockdown, this looks like not just settling into my comfortable, privileged bubble of safety at home, but staying informed, engaged and active in working towards this ultimately more just vision of the world.
Europe Must Act has captured a degree of the high demands which realising such a truth of human value generates: at a time of crisis when local authorities are already stretched in dealing with their own communities, they are pushed to consider and support those who have nobody else advocating for their rights. Justice is at the heart of the movement as it pursues a fairer and more humane migration policy. It is underpinned by the belief that all humans deserve equal dignity by campaigning for the people stuck in camps across the Aegean Islands to have access to safe and fulfilling livelihoods. Working together to deliver on the aspirations of movements with these principles of justice, radical equality and just love at their epicentre is fundamental to defying the ugliness of human selfishness. Let’s cultivate these movements and watch them flourish.