Migration, the time for words is over

Publié: 20 juin 2014 12:43 CET

Geneva, 20 June 2014. There is no more time for empty declarations of intent, tears or half-hearted complaints. Since the beginning of this year more than 40,000 migrants have arrived in Italy and thousands more having reached other countries in southern Europe. Tragedies on the Mediterranean migration route continue, causing hundreds of deaths. In the Middle East, since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, more than 2.6 million people have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. Most of them have experienced multiple displacements – first within Syria and then across borders. Lost children and lost families are common; coping mechanisms are stretched to their limits.

Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Central African Republic and Mali are some of the countries from which migrants are forced to set out on journeys that may last days, weeks or years. They will almost always bring peril and hardship  to these families. We see migrants risking their lives on a daily basis by embarking on the dangerous journey between the coasts of Libya and Italy, and the European shores of the Mediterranean.

Whether they are from Homs or Mogadishu, whether they have crossed the Sahara or the river Evros, or have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean, many have horrific stories to tell of blackmail, rape, violence, torture and death. Criminal networks that organize these trips are often interested only in profit and not in helping people or saving lives. Yet, in the absence of any legal avenues for travelling to a safe place, these networks and the illegal routes they offer may be the only chance that vulnerable migrants have to get away and ask for help, refuge and protection.

We need to ensure that everyone – especially people fleeing conflict and insecurity – has access to protection, health care, education and social services, at all points of their journey.

In the current economic and political contexts, there are substantial challenges for our day-to-day work with migrants: increasing xenophobia, reduced funding for services, and less willingness from governmental agencies to recognize the fundamental human rights of migrants.

As judicial measures are strengthened to deter immigration, those who provide humanitarian assistance may fear punishment, as may fishermen who rescue migrants in distress at sea.

Today, more than ever, the role of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and its member National Societies is fundamental in both advocating for, and providing essential and life saving services to, migrants, and we are committed to continue our cooperation with governments in our role as auxiliary to the public authorities in humanitarian field.

The time for words is over. We need action!

In cooperation with national authorities, we must ensure adequate safeguards to protect the dignity and safety of all migrants. This includes guaranteeing appropriate international protection for migrants, and their safe and effective access to urgent humanitarian services such as health care, shelter or assistance in contacting their families.

Governments can and should urgently hear our call and deal with this matter. They need to take decisive action to positively address the issue of migration, working on integration into host societies and local communities, fighting racism and prejudice, and above all, preventing the unacceptable numbers of people dying.

Migrants should be empowered and given a voice: for their voice to be heard they need to have access to courts, tribunals and human rights mechanisms. Victims of trafficking should not be considered criminals, nor should those who provide them humanitarian assistance.

We need to do more by providing migrants with safe and effective legal avenues for travelling and asking for international protection, without forcing them to make use of the dangerous and expensive services of smugglers. We also need to re-engage in effective cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination, with a priority given to ensuring humanitarian protection of migrants and tackling human trafficking.

Responding adequately to the needs of migrants in today’s complex economic and political climate is obviously not a simple challenge. We need to work together, and with our governments to ensure a new humanitarian space where the services of smugglers are no longer necessary. A space where traffickers have no chance of luring unsuspecting migrants into of slavery and exploitation, and where humanitarian organizations have effective access to all migrants and can freely respond to the needs of vulnerable migrants in the best possible way.