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Right now, up to 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide according to the UN Refugee Agency. As the refugee crisis continues to make headlines and have detrimental effects on people all around the world, Refugee Rights Europe (RRE) is fighting to protect the human rights and living conditions of those affected. Here, member of Impact Hub Kings Cross and inspiration to our network, RRE founding Director Marta Welander contributes a guest article sharing RRE’s work, their findings, and their approach to a more sustainable, humane future for all…
The Rise of Inequalities
It is well documented that income inequality is on the rise, with the richest 10% earning up to 40% of total global income whilst the poorest 10% earn only some 2-7%. In developing countries, inequality has increased by 11% if we take into account population growth.
What is more seldom spoken about in Europe are the vast inequalities unfolding on European soil. As European countries grapple with unprecedented national and regional struggles regarding its asylum and migratory policies, people in displacement – arriving in Europe in search of sanctuary – are often experiencing sub-par living conditions whilst trapped in border zones and overcrowded camps, living with untreated health conditions and being subjected to violence and abuse.
Within this dire context, Refugee Rights Europe (RRE) turns up the volume on human rights work through evidence-based advocacy efforts.
The Research-Led Approach
RRE believes that a different reality is possible, and contributes to a constructive debate where concrete recommendations emerge from in-depth field research, shedding light on specific problems and potential solutions within the European refugee response.
Having interviewed more than 4,000 refugees across Europe since 2016, RRE is uniquely placed to bring refugee voices and lived experiences to the corridors of power, in search for sustainable change.
For instance, following its research in Paris in January 2018, which found that living conditions remained wholly inadequate amongst newly arrived displaced people in the city, RRE shared its findings and recommendations with French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, and asked the public to do the same.
The organization highlighted to the Minister that as many as 85.5% of the individuals interviewed were living in complete destitution in Paris, with little access to appropriate sanitation facilities, relying on food distribution points by local organizations and civil society.
Importantly, RRE clarified to the Government that a number of the respondents reported having submitted an asylum application in France but were forced to remain on the streets as the few asylum accommodation centres in the area were full. This is in direct contravention with the EU Directive on Reception Conditions.
Meanwhile, in Ventimiglia, at the French-Italian border, having unveiled horrific living conditions characterised by an acute lack of clean drinking water or sanitation facilities, RRE stepped up its efforts to promote a solution for the hundreds of minors being stuck in limbo.
The organization thus asserted pressure on the British Home Office regarding the rights of the child and the importance of reinstating the Dubs amendment, which would essentially enable children to be transferred to safety in Britain from places like Ventimiglia.
RRE did so by co-drafting letter and evidence alongside Help Refugees, Lord Dubs, and other refugee rights champions, obtaining more than 140 signatures of support from cross-party MPs and charities, all calling for change. Such collective and decisive actions could have a tangible impact on the lives of children trapped in settings like Ventimiglia, where an alarming 82.1% of respondents did not have enough water to drink and 69.9% only had access to one meal a day.
On The Ground
Similarly, in the Greek islands of Chios and Lesvos, RRE found overcrowded living arrangements, deteriorating mental and physical health, and an overall lack of resource allocation to handle the situation.
Large numbers of displaced people in Chios and Lesvos were residing in small and fragile tents. Because camps were often overcrowded, many individuals were forced to settle in the street or on the beach. Camps were falling short of adequate health standards: the Souda camp in Chios attracted rats and insects, due to its proximity to a drainage pipe extracting dirty water from the city. Hot water was only available for a few hours per day, while in some camps it was altogether unavailable.
In light of such findings, RRE joined a 22-strong charity coalition calling on EU leaders and the Greek government to bring an end to the containment policy which keeps refugees trapped in such horrific conditions for extended periods of time – which led to a landmark court ruling and hopefully helps to chip away at the social injustices and inequalities unfolding before us.
By the same token, having documented the inhumane living conditions in Calais and Dunkirk in northern France since early 2016, RRE submitted evidence towards a civil society-led court case in France in summer of 2017, which led to a positive ruling stating that food distributions and access to showers for refugees must be permitted by the French government.
Indeed, RRE believes that European governments have a moral and legal duty to ensure the urgent provision of basic shelter to all refugees and displaced people arriving on European territory. To achieve its vision, the organization takes concrete action in line with international human rights provisions such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, which states that the realization of the right to an adequate standard of living requires adequate food and nutrition, clothing, housing and care when required.
As such, by bringing its up-to-date, fact-based arguments to policy debates, RRE hopes to promote meaningful change, aiming to achieve a reduction in inequalities, in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reducing Inequalities, and remains optimistic about the potential to bring about an alternative reality in which the human rights are upheld for all.
To discover more about the Impact Hub Network and how our community is working to ensure a more sustainable future for all, get in touch with your local Impact Hub. In the meantime, stay tuned to our blog, and check out why we need to focus on reducing inequalities.
Written by: Marta Welander
Marta is the Executive Director of RRE. Prior to founding it, Marta worked as Deputy Director of a small international human rights and peace-building organization. Before that, she facilitated collaboration between member NGOs of a vast global partnership, and was a founding member of a women’s rights coalition in the Middle East & North Africa. She holds an MA in Human Rights & Democratic Governance, and an MA in International Relations. She is currently a doctoral researcher in the Department of Politics and International relations at University of Westminster. RRE’s work contributes to the following SDGs: