In solidarity with all migrants
The Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support aims to build concrete solidarity with all migrants. It denounces and fights against the current state of Belgian and European migration policies. The right to live in dignity belongs to everyone.
The origins of the Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support
In 2014, 59.5 million people experienced forced displacement – either within their own country or to another country – because of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. In Syria alone, repression followed by war has forced 4 million Syrians to flee to other countries, and the internal displacement of 7.6 million (UNHCR statistics). What’s more, millions of other people around the world have fled from poverty and the consequences of climate change.
Most of these people have found refuge in neighbouring countries. For example, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon have together received around 95% of Syrian refugees. However, only a minority of Syria’s refugees have reached Europe, where, according to the 1951 Refugee Convention, they can submit an asylum application. Since the beginning of this year, several hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers have reached Europe’s borders, where they wait to enter the territory of a EU member state. They have made challenging, and sometimes dangerous, journeys. They have crossed walls, seas and borders and have paid a high price in doing so, risking their lives, health, integrity and whatever was left of their belongings.
Despite this, our country has not been willing to welcome these refugees. The preceding Belgian government, notably under the leadership of former Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Maggie De Block, forced the closure of refugee reception centers with a total capacity of 5,000 places. Her current successor, Theo Francken, eliminated more than a thousand reception center places before July 2015, even while refugee populations fleeing war were already en route. Dozens and then hundreds of asylum seekers found themselves without accommodation and any assistance while they waited to be received by the Immigration Office. Amongst them, Syrians but also Iraqis, Afghans, Eritreans, etc.
For these reasons, a citizen’s movement was created on 2nd September in Brussels. Several associations and an incalculable number of citizen volunteers came together to form the Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support. A variety of responses were urgently organized – meals, healthcare, accommodation, activities, psychological support, education for all ages – at Park Maximilian, situated just in front of the Immigration Office. The park’s new inhabitants and volunteers experienced several difficult weeks with the daily expectation that the government would offer support to address this ‘crisis’.
Solutions were gradually put in place, such as the opening of bed spaces in the WTC III building. Today, the camp has been dismantled. Despite all of the work the Platform has done, it does not wish to replace the Belgian State, which has a series of obligations towards asylum seekers in accordance with European and international law. Nevertheless, the spirit of solidarity that has been shown towards the forcibly displaced, as well as the flaws of Belgian immigration policy, remains.
Our present and our future
Going forward, the Platform aims to incorporate a long-term focus to its work on the basis of the amazing solidarity that has been shown towards asylum seekers and the unprecedented mobilization of citizens. It will seek to investigate the origins of this crisis and what changes will be necessary to ensure that it does not happen again. Convinced that only a sustainable and inclusive solution based on the respect of everyone’s human rights can be used to address the current situation, the Platform takes the following positions.
To guide its actions and reflections, the Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support will adhere to these principles:
- Migrants, which include Geneva Convention refugees, economic migrants and climate refugees, among others, are a source of wealth and not a cost, the latter of which of comes only through division and the exploitation of the oppressed. Belgium and Europe needs migrants for their demography as well as their economy. Arguments that are founded on division and the rejection of the other harm the wellbeing of us all.
- The current influx of migrants to Europe includes people who are candidates for protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention. It is therefore imperative that the Belgian State, at a minimum, lives up to its commitments under international law and takes into account the condemnations it has already received from the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission. The Belgian State must also quickly devote more resources to the registration of asylum seekers and increase its short-term reception capacity, while also working in the long term to improve the overall quality of reception conditions.
- After many years, the European Union seems to have folded on its values by putting in place a series of heavy-handed security measures, such as the construction of walls and the closure of its borders. These responses have not been effective, and nor have they always been legal. But they have pushed away people who have had no other choice than to flee, and to put their lives and that of their children in danger while doing so. This is not the Europe that we want. The European Union must encourage solidarity between member states, and push forward the ideals of peace and democracy that form the foundation of the Treaty of the European Union, and, in so doing, become a place of welcome for migrants.
- The Platform aims to be a place where people can meet and be together, where they can nurture ideas and initiatives that promote solidarity between citizens and migrants. The Platform will work to consolidate the efforts that have been done thus far by the different groups that compose it, including offering support to people during and after their asylum procedure through the provision of legal aid, translation and other services.
- The Platform will engage in awareness-raising activities and mobilize people around issues migration issues. To do this, it will create synergies with organizations already active in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe. In particular, we wish to salute the courage and give our full support to social workers in the reception centers, who come face to face with the misery and violence that are engendered by the inappropriate policies of our governments.
Going forward, the Citizens’ Platform for Refugee Support wishes to open a debate on the following recommendations and disseminate its reflections on these issues to citizens as well as decision-makers:
- The creation of safe and legal migration channels, such as humanitarian corridors, humanitarian visas, or through the activation of the EU Temporary Protection Directive;
- A moratorium on the Dublin Regulation, which requires that an asylum application be examined by the first European country that the applicant arrives to, even if that country is incapable or unwilling to meet the basic needs of asylum seekers and to analyze their applications;
- Greater monitoring of the activities of Frontex, the EU’s border agency, and the redirection of its actions to support member state coast guards involved in search-and- rescue missions, assist member state border authorities with identifying and supporting vulnerable persons, such as minors, and accessing asylum procedures;
- The broadening of EU criteria for granting a protection status;
- Consideration of the recommendations put forth by undocumented migrant associations and collectives, such as the revision of conditions for long-stay in line with the rights and obligations of citizenship;
- The closure of immigration detention centers, which, along with being expensive for society to maintain, are not a solution for people who have committed no crime.
 According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Syrian refugees has surpassed 4 million. By the end of this year, this number will grow to 4.27 million.
 Article 3.5 of the treaty states: “In its relations with the rest of the world, the Union affirms and promotes these values (…). It contributes to peace, security, sustainable global development, solidarity and mutual respect between people, to free and fair commerce, the elimination of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular those of the child, in accordance to the strict respect and development of international law, and to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”