PLEASE CIRCULATE WIDELY – AND ACT NOW

Dear Supporter,

I am writing to you about the refugee situation in Lesvos and EU plans to criminalise charities and individuals for helping war refugees.

In 2015, over 500,000 refugees landed on the 10 miles of coast near their home in Efthalou, Molyvos, and many bodies were washed up – all of which is a bit hard to just walk past and ignore. There are currently up to 2,000 arrivals each day at Lesvos with 50,000 arrivals in Janu8ary alone.

The world’s press has reported extensively on the role of Greek islanders and volunteers who were “risking their own lives” to help arriving refugees. Momentum appears to be also growing for Lesvos to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In stark contrast to praising the efforts of the volunteers, it has now been revealed in confidential reports that the European Union are proposing the criminalisation of charities, volunteers and locals who are helping to save refugees.

Our charity, Positive Action in Housing (SC027577), began working with Eric and Philippa Kempson [1] who spearheaded a major relief effort a year ago in Lesvos where they have lived for sixteen years. Since October 2015, we have been providing medical and general volunteers in Lesvos. In November 2015, Eric Kempson gave a keynote speech in Scotland and moved the audience of over 200 to tears with his testimony of drownings in front of his home throughout 2015.  We have since raised £44,000 for the Refugee Crisis Appeal. We have given significant donations to Proactivia (Spanish lifeguards) and Lifeguards Hellas (Greek Lifeguards). We are funding the rental of the newly opened Hope Centre at Lesvos to provide a reception and warming/medical facility to stabilise refugees before they continue their long journey. The Centre received its first 120 refugees on Saturday, at the request of the UNHCR.
We are therefore frankly disgusted that EU Interior Ministers are drawing up plans to criminalise as “smugglers”, charities like ours, local people and volunteers who have been helping refugees arriving on Greek islands[2].  Previous EU legislation has given exemptions for “humanitarian assistance”, to protect charities and voluntary or non-profit groups from accusations of helping smugglers.

This news comes only a few days after the Greek Immigration Minister, Ioannis Mouzalas told BBC Newsnight that “The Minister of Interior of Belgium said Greece has to do push-backs into the sea. He said “go against the law, I don’t care if you drown them, we want push-backs”.

EU Ministers claim that by helping refugees we are encouraging more to come. We would respectfully remind them that refugees are taking unsafe boats on dangerous seas in order to escape torture, bombings, starvation and degradation, often to re-join family members already in Europe. They are taking those journeys because they are desperate, not because we are “helping”.  The reason that we are doing anything at all is because the EU is operating a de facto policy of letting refugees drown.

The Mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos, today stated that the Island of Lesvos decided to put humanity first. Islanders rallied, non-governmental organizations arrived, and the Greek government, floundering after years of economic crisis, pleaded for help in handling the humanitarian crisis. But instead of financial support, the European Union is now slamming Greece, claiming that it has not acted properly to patrol the continent’s borders. Mayor Galinos said:

“The Schengen countries are just watching this crime happening in the world and they didn’t take action when it was happening. And they think that Greece is responsible for this when we are victims too.”

We now call on everyone who supports this work to take action now to circulate this urgent call to action and take action yourself to help make a difference in the world.

ACT NOW

Write to your MP and more importantly to MEPs, to protest these moves and ask them to provide a safe humanitarian corridor for war refugees. Ask them what they are doing to help refugees trying to reach Europe. Call on them to demand that the EU amend its anti-smuggling laws so that no one giving such vital humanitarian assistance can ever be penalised for it. Write in your own words and email a copy of your letter to [email protected] . Publish their replies on social media. Make them accountable. You can find out who your MP/MEP is at this link https://www.writetothem.com/

Kind regards,

Robina Qureshi
Director
Positive Action in Housing (SC027577)

www.paih.org

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6 Responses to URGENT CALL TO ACTION: EU plans to criminalise charities and individuals for helping war refugees in Greek Islands

  1. I take it, however, that you uphold the laws, especially those which prohibit transfers to and across borders. Last year, many ‘private’ Austrians helped to ‘smuggle’ refugees through Hungary and across the Austrian border within Schengen, although the Hungarian government had already laid on buses to take the migrants to the border. Of course, those not wanting to claim asylum preferred to go with these private citizens to avoid having to register and show passports. This undermined the work being done by churches and aid workers, which I fully support.

  2. Evelyn S says:

    Hi, I’d like to urge some caution in the use of language. Talking about the ‘EU’ interchangeably with Member States’ Ministers is inaccurate and inflammatory, especially in the context of the current debate about the future of the EU project. As people who value peace, I feel it is important that we support those organisations that work hard to make it a reality. The fact of the matter is that the EU’s Commission has done and continues to do a huge amount to help refugees arriving in the EU, but its powers are severely restricted – and it is certainly in no position to use language like ‘criminalise’. However, member states have blocked support for refugees frequently (Germany being a notable exception), and ARE able to call for criminalisation. Anti-human-trafficking measures make sense – whether these specific ones do is another matter, and I don’t know enough about them to comment. But in discussing this, please be as accurate and un-inflammatory as possible in your use of language: is it the Commission, the Council, Parliament or individual member states being discussed? It would be a great shame if the good work of the Commission (which in the popular imagination is incorrectly seen as ‘the EU’) was undermined when in fact member states in the Council need to be challenged!

  3. Evelyn S says:

    Have done some research:
    1. This is a Council (i.e. member state’s ministers) thing, not a Commission thing, and it would be good to be clear about that. It means writing to national justice and home affairs ministers would be most helpful.
    2. A useful summary of the issue & current laws, as well as excerpts from the Council’s proposals can be found here: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2016/jan/eu-med-crisis-criminalising-civil-society.htm
    3. Scroll further and the Commission’s position (what most people think is the EU position) is made clear: “The Commission will make, in 2016, proposals to improve the existing EU legal framework to tackle migrant smuggling which defines the offence of facilitation of unauthorized entry and residence, and strengthen the penal framework. It will seek to ensure that appropriate criminal sanctions are in place while avoiding risks of criminalisation of those who provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in distress”
    4. The second recital also makes clear that NGOs are seen as part of the solution. In light of that and the above, it’s unlikely that the Council seeks actively to criminalise aid workers.
    5. In conclusion, let’s point out the missing exemption and ask for it to be made explicit, but please let’s avoid the charged language.

  4. Loriana Pauli says:

    Please, provide a safe humanitarian corridor for war refugees. Please, amend the EU’s anti-smuggling laws so that no one giving such vital humanitarian assistance can ever be penalised for it.

  5. Ruth Nelson says:

    I don’t care of the rights and wrongs of war, but I DO care about people made homeless by senseless bombing, but to go after charities for helping people? Has the World gone mad??? The refugees will come regardless and they won’t care if the charities are there or not, they made it that far, so not a lot will stop them carrying on. Don’t blame the charities, blame the Government who send bombs!

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