Nowadays, more than 100 million people are displaced around the world with the status of ‘refugee’; this term refers to all those people who are outside their country of origin because they would be at serious risk of human rights violations and persecution.
Every year, on the 20th of June, we commemorate the World Refugee Day, an international day designed by the United Nations to celebrate the right of refugees to seek safety, protection and receive help, “whoever they are, wherever they come from and whenever they are forced to flee.” It is a way to honour the courage and the strength of millions of people, who, every year, are forced to leave their home countries due to conflicts, persecutions and violent contexts.
At the same time, this day offers an occasion to raise awareness on this very sensitive topic, build empathy and understanding and protect human rights, which must be at the core of every discussion when talking about people in danger. The right of safety is declined into:
- The right to seek asylum. This is actually a human right, declared in Article 14.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum and protection from persecution in other countries.
- The need for safe access, which means that international borders must remain free and open to all people forced to flee. Indeed, when countries close borders, this can force people seeking asylum to choose other, more dangerous routes.
- No one should be pushbacked. People cannot be forced to come back to a county where their safety and freedom are at risk. If someone has fled their home to seek safety, it is illegal to force them to return to that country if their life or freedom would be at risk.
- No discrimination. People should not be discriminated against when crossing borders; they must be given fair treatment, regardless of factors like race, religion, gender, or country of origin.
- Humane treatment. Dignity and respect must be the core values when dealing with human beings.
Despite the existence of these rights, unfortunately, the fact that they are respected is not so obvious and reality does not always comply with rules. This is demonstrated for example by the current Greek situation. Many reports collected by NGOs and rights groups have documented the practice by which, when crossing from Turkey to Greece, migrants are detained by Greek authorities, with little or no access to food and water, sometimes beaten, forced to strip their clothes, stolen of their money or other belongings and finally pushed back to Turkey through the Evros River.
It has been reported that Greek law enforcement officers arrested asylum seekers within hours after their landing and expelled them to Turkey, first onto large Coast Guard boats and then on small inflatable rescue rafts near the Turkish border.
Based on reports, Greek authorities would have forced about 42,000 asylum seekers to return to Turkey from 2020 to May 2022, and this situation has been going on since 2008.
This means that refugees have been stolen their right to seek asylum, safety and protection at Europe’s borders and, today more than ever these violations must be reported and condemned. This is being done daily by many independent organisations that are documenting these situations and raising awareness about these abuses committed by the authorities and the police as well as third parties. Therefore, it can be stated that despite the brutalities and violations, there is fortunately also the other side of the coin, made up of those who denounce the abuses, those who keep high the attention on these issues, those who raise awareness, who believe in human rights and respect them, who help concretely and put refugees’ safety first.
They are mainly NGOs that, in their own small way, try to do whatever they can to guarantee human rights, humane treatment and protection, by rescuing people in need, helping them in the integration post-arrival or simply reporting these brutal situations. Their main priority is to ensure that human rights are guaranteed and to make refugee communities’ voices be heard, not only on this day or this week but also the whole year-round.
Despite the importance of the work carried out by NGOs, protecting those people should be felt like a collective responsibility, where everyone can engage and play his/her own part. There are many ways to be useful: keeping informed on migration issues, being informed about the activities of local NGOs, disseminating information, actively collaborating, making donations, etc. Only in this way can we ensure that this day is an opportunity for refugee communities to be seen, heard, respected and helped, and not just remains a mark on the calendar.