Berlin Charter pledges greater support for migrants in Europe

تم النشر: 19 أبريل 2002 0:00 CET

Marie-Françoise Borel and John Sparrow in Berlin

The Red Cross Red Crescent in fifty countries throughout Europe are pledging themselves to provide greater support to migrants regardless of their legal status, including advocating on their behalf with European governments.

The 6th European Regional Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference ended in Berlin on April 18, with the adoption of a regional strategy on migration and health aiming to reach millions of people deprived of care and social justice.

The plight of migrants and people infected with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis were prioritised at the meeting which brought 50 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to Berlin this week. Some 350 participants produced the "Berlin Charter" as well as two plans of action to help those who face abuse and vulnerability in what the Red Cross and Red Crescent defined as "the shadowlands" of Europe.

On the closing day, Didier Cherpitel, Secretary General of the International Federation, said : "Stigma and discrimination force people into the shadows. The sex trade takes place and drugs are injected in the shadows. We must reach into the shadows to help those who are marginalized, sick, destitute or who have lost hope, and to do that we renew our support to the millions of volunteers on whom the success of our community-based actions rests."

The Red Cross and Red Crescent already assists and protects migrants, among them so-called illegal migrants of whom there are an estimated three million in Western Europe, and 20 to 40 million worldwide.

Migration specialist Helene Lackenbauer of the Swedish Red Cross told the conference, "Because of their illegal status, certain migrants are invisible before the law and are often denied even their most basic rights. Following our principles of humanity and impartiality we cannot duck this issue. If we ignore these people, we deny them the right to a voice and the possibility of contributing positively to their communities."

A Red Cross Red Crescent network is to be created across Europe in countries of origin, transit and destination to better support migrants and their families, the Conference participants agreed, and there was a call for European governments develop humane and fair domestic and international migration policies and to ratify the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and their families.

In his closing address, Didier Cherpitel noted that increasing migration, both into Europe and within Europe, is a certainty. "Attempts by governments, therefore, to contain migration solely through tighter asylum rules, tougher policing and more stringent legal and judicial processes do not stop or slow migration - they merely drive it underground. Instead, if such control measures are complemented by expanding official migration schemes granting temporary or longer-term residence, then the abuse of the asylum system will be reduced. This, in turn, will reduce the trafficking of illegal migrants and the terrible exploitation of hundreds of thousands of people every year."

Following the death of a 25-year-old Kurdish man in the French Red Cross centre for migrants at Sangatte, in northern France on April 15, European Union Red Cross Societies gathered in Berlin issued a call to their governments and to the EU institutions to speed up the harmonization of laws on migration and immigration.

Prof. Marc Gentilini, President of the French Red Cross said, "This death underlines once more the untenable and inhumane situation endured by migrants fleeing poverty, social and political instability in their homelands."

The Chairman of the Berlin Conference, Prof Knut Ipsen, stated : "Disparity in the legislation of European countries and the absence of harmonized rules in the European Union encourage the growth of human trafficking and are contributing to the migrations of these vulnerable people." Ali Sharif died in a violent knife fight in which two other young Kurds were injured, in front of the centre, which has been chronically overcrowded since it opened in 1999.

The Berlin Charter approved by the Conference contains policy on a range of migration and health issues which will be implemented by two plans of action. The plans include measures to ensure people's basic right to health and access to basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, water and medical help, and to strengthen and develop partnerships inside and outside of the Movement.

The Conference also took note of the fact that the incidence of HIV is rising in Eastern Europe faster than anywhere else in the world - there were an estimated 250,000 new cases last year alone. It called for an integrated approach to fight the combination of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. More people will die of tuberculosis in 2002 than at any other time in history;

There was a need to strengthen community-based programmes to fight tuberculosis as in the example of the Russian Red Cross visiting nurses programme which helps ensure those infected take their medicine and have adequate food.

The Conference also approved the setting-up of harm-reduction programmes, such as the exchange of syringes and the provision of drug substitutes to limit the spread of HIV infection among intravenous drug-users. Youth programme particularly should be re-focussed to reach vulnerable people where they are, where the sex trade takes place and where drugs are injected.