Jesuits call for Europe to uphold rights of all migrants

The rights of all migrants must be protected, regardless of their legal status. This was the central message expressed by participants at a Jesuit Refugee Services conference held yesterday in Brussels on the destitution of migrants in Europe.

More than 100 representatives from trade unions, migration organisations, governments, as well as education and medical associations, criticised EU government policies that exclude migrants from society and make them destitute.

In a keynote speech, Ms Jean Lambert, MEP, called on member states to “stop criminalizing people for wanting to meet their basic needs”. Solutions to stem migrant destitution include amending EU law to grant asylum seekers means to become more self-sufficient, and monitoring member state legal and social practices towards undocumented migrants.  Including migrants within the EU’s anti-poverty strategy is an absolute necessity. “Governments ought to understand the risks that destitution poses to public policy. It is a pan-European problem, and we have to do something about it”.

Mr Simon Tesfamichael, an Eritrean refugee living in Italy, presented his personal experiences of living destitute in Rome. After a treacherous journey through Sudan and Libya, where conditions were as unsafe as in Eritrea, he arrived to Lampedusa and found his way to Rome, where he was granted refugee status. “I got my freedom. But I had no support from the Italian government. In Rome, I joined a group of 500 migrants living under a bridge. My medical condition worsened, but JRS Italy helped me to access medical treatment”. He learned Italian on his own, but since the Italian state offers no integration support to refugees, he remained mired in destitution. “I lived in a wooden shack. I learned the language but could not become self-sufficient. I didn’t have help to find a job.  In Italy, refugees have no rights”, says Mr Tesfamichael.

The destitution of migrants in Europe is caused by a variety of factors. In Germany and Romania, holders of a ‘toleration’ status have little to no access to public housing and healthcare. Asylum seekers in the United Kingdom cannot work while they await a decision on their application, which can take many months. Migrants living in Italy fear seeking medical treatment since medical personnel might report them to local authorities.

The solution, according to Mr Stefan Kessler of JRS, lies with creating networks that can place pressure on EU governments. “The destitution of migrants concerns all sectors of civil society, from employers to educators, doctors and to policy makers. Together we agreed that human rights should not depend on one’s legal status. The EU and its member states are obligated to care for all persons within their territory”.

JRS is present in 50 countries around the world. The 12 offices in Europe provide direct services to destitute migrants and their families, including material help such as food or shelter, as well as legal advice and social support.

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