“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” is what’s written in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to seek asylum is a basic human right. Yet, people fleeing war, conflict, persecution and climate disasters are facing an increasingly difficult journey to safety – even when they believe they’ve reached their final destinations in Europe.
Despite this acknowledged human right, Europe and European countries continuously neglect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.
Since 2014, 24,152 migrants have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean, while attempting to find a safety in Europe. In April 2022, Fabrice Leggeri, the Executive Director of Frontex (the European Union’s border agency), resigned after reports that the agency has enforced illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers at EU borders.
Individual European countries are also going to extreme measures to neglect everyone’s right to asylum. Racist rhetoric with colonial roots demonizes refugees (often young men) from the global south. In several countries, politicians and leaders take a strong stand the human rights of asylum seekers.
Case: The United Kingdom-Rwanda Agreement
In April 2022, the United Kingdom signed an agreement with Rwanda, to send asylum seekers from Britain to the East African nation. The agreement specifically targets young men from the Middle East and Africa.
“Men from the Global South are the subject of this policy because they are often demonized by alarmist media and policy discourses across Europe, including in the UK. These discourses often invoke colonial tropes such as Black African men being inherently patriarchal, “brutish,” “criminal,” “promiscuous,” and carriers of disease, or stereotypes of Islam as the embodiment of unfathomable extremism and excessive violence. In this sense, their identities are not only understood as inherently threatening, but also incompatible with the vulnerability that could secure them refugeehood in the UK.”
UNHCR was granted permission by the UK High Court today to intervene in our capacity as the UN Refugee Agency and a friend of the court.
— UNHCR United Kingdom (@UNHCRUK) June 10, 2022
Case: Italian Prosecution of Humanitarian Aid Workers
Despite the ongoing tragedy of deaths in the Mediterranean, Italian courts are prosecuting activists that have saved thousands of lives. Despite their life saving efforts, the crew members of rescue ships are facing up to 20 years in prison in Italy on trafficking charges.
Over 500 refugees in the Mediterranean wait on European authorities to provide them with safety
Meanwhile, the pretrial against the Iuventa rescue workers is put on hold due to Italian prosecution’s procedural errors
— The Civil Fleet (@FleetCivil) June 16, 2022
Case: Sweden’s Weapons Export
In Sweden, politicians talk about “decreasing refugee streams” because in their simplified rhetoric, large migration equates increased criminality and insecurity. In this racist ideology, it’s people who’ve fled war, terror, conflict and famine, from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia that Swedes are supposed to fear.
Yet, what Swedes tend to forget is its country’s contributions to the wars and conflicts people are forced to flee from. For decades, Swedish weapons, explosives and warfare technology have been legally exported to countries engaged in armed conflicts and war. Countries like the United Arab Emirates, a leading actor in the war and the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, have received exports of Swedish weapons.
Swedish weapons export increased by 40 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year. The business is lucrative and Sweden continues to export weapons to countries that neglect human rights. Swedish weapons have been spotted in the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Somalia.
5 Things You Can Do to Defend the Right to Asylum in Europe
1. Know your European history.
Many points in European history have shown how white supremacy reigns in Europe. The continent has its roots in colonialism and the slave trade and after the Evian Conference in 1938 many European countries restricted the migration of Jews from Germany. This failed event can be seen as Europe’s green light to Nazi Germany and the holocaust.
We must examine our history to understand how these events continue to unfold in Europe. Time and time again, we see how extremism gets its power from the normalization of anti-rights rhetoric. Learn about your country’s history to avoid participating in its repetition.
2. Understand your country’s responsibility for refugees around the world.
How is your country involved in, contributing to or financing the conflicts and disasters that people are forced to flee from? This may involve weapons export, as in the case of Sweden above. Or it may be importing products from companies tied to the Myanmar junta or from countries directly involved in war, like Russia. In our globalized world, most countries are not neutral.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that millions are forced to flee due to weather related disasters. European countries need to take responsibility to invest in our climate. What is your country doing to decrease climate disasters and humanitarian emergencies around the world?
3. Get involved or Invest in grassroots organizations advocating for the rights of refugees.
It’s in times of great need that civil society mobilizes and shows us the power of collaboration and compassion. Many organizations supporting the rights of refugees lack resources and are in need of your skills, time and money. Grassroots organizations are powerful actors in providing safe shelter or legal support. A quick online search can put you in touch with amazing organizations to support in your country and community.
4. Vote consciously for our climate and human rights.
Safeguarding the right to asylum means electing politicians and leaders that will take action for everyone’s human rights. We need to use our democratic systems to push for the rights of refugees and the climate crisis to be prioritized. It’s our responsibility as citizens to do so.
5. Take an active stand against racism.
The dismantling of refugees’ rights goes hand in hand with white supremacy and racism. If we are to defend essential human rights – including the right to asylum – we must take an active stand against racism. That means speaking out against racist slurs and jokes. It means holding people accountable and questioning your own privilege.
Solidarity needs to be a building block for a sustainable world. That means that it’s time we take our responsibilities seriously. The time to act is now.