ARDD-Legal Aid attends Euro-Med Rights Network Migration and Asylum Working Group in Athens
Successive closures of borders along the Balkan route led the Macedonian government to finally and firmly close their border. With no way forward, people had little choice but to turn around.
We met a family in Athens walking the graffiti sprayed streets, unsure of where they would go next. They are three out of the estimated 40,000 currently ‘stuck’ in Greece as a consequence of the border closures. On the islands, on the ports, in the streets, people are desperate, unsure and scared for the future.
On the 18th and 19th of March ARDD-Legal Aid attended the Euro-Med Rights Network working group on Migration and Asylum in Athens, Greece.
Joined by other human rights organizations and individuals from Greece, Cyprus, France, Algeria, Morocco, Bulgaria, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Britain and Tunisia, the weekend was filled with the challenges and experiences of trying to support and protect the rights and dignities of refugees and migrants as the crisis continues to unfold. By the end of the meeting, ARDD-Legal Aid was elected as the Gender Focal Point for the working group.
Just as the situation in Greece is untenable, the stories from each organization demonstrated the profound difficulties that each country faces through the chain of migration.
The case of Bulgaria showed the problems people face once they find themselves within the ‘strongest border in Europe’, in many cases they give up on staying in the hope that they can again move forward.
The question from the Spanish Refugee Commission was why no more than a handful of refugees had been relocated to Spain despite a commitment by the government to accept 18,000?
One thing was common across the countries, refugees and migrants did not have sufficient access to information or knowledge about their rights despite many efforts to address this in various contexts, practical difficulties endure. This is something that ARDD-Legal Aid has long worked on through our awareness raising sessions in Jordan.
The meeting was intended to develop strategies of how to address the difficulties of working in shrinking spaces for civil society at the same time as expanding the protection space for refugees and migrants- whether that is in countries of first asylum such as Jordan or Turkey or on the borders of Bulgaria, Macedonia and the shores and ‘hotspots’ of Greece.
The questions we sought to answer were simple as much as they were needed: how do we, diverse human rights organizations, work together? What do we expect from working together? And what, out of the all the major, manifold and serious concerns, should we focus on? A primary point was the need to share information about the situations within each country and to express solidarity in times of difficulty. Through this a culture of exchange, development and strengthening of civil society could be advanced throughout the region.
ARDD-Legal Aid made the case that increased focus on access to economic and social rights is necessary precisely because this is a primary push factor that encourages people to leave countries of first asylum. Importantly focusing on economic and social rights enables consideration of the situation for migrant workers as well, an issue of concern to ARDD-Legal Aid and the other Jordanian NGO present Tamkeen.
With the announcement of the EU-Turkey readmission policy deal our attention turned to questions of how this policy would practically be implemented and whether there would be adequate safeguards to ensure the protection of rights. Can Turkey really be considered a safe country? Are refugees there offered protection?
For many in the meeting, the European Union’s commitment to externalizing and pushing back people on their borders, demonstrated through the EU-Turkey deal, was an indictment on their commitment to human rights. As civil society organizations working in diverse areas we held the common belief that another way to addressing the migration issue is possible. This must be in respect of the fundamental and inalienable human rights of individuals.