Call for unified action: Solutions, not violence, for refugees and migrants trapped at borders

Refugee children offer flowers to riot police after clashes outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Saturday, April 6, 2019. Clashes between hundreds of protesting migrants and police continue for a third day outside an overcrowded migrant camp, with migrants throwing rocks at police and the latter responding with tear gas and stun grenades. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
Refugee children offer flowers to riot police after clashes outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Saturday, April 6, 2019. Clashes between hundreds of protesting migrants and police continue for a third day outside an overcrowded migrant camp, with migrants throwing rocks at police and the latter responding with tear gas and stun grenades. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

The Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) stands in solidarity with the following statement by its member organization the NGO Committee on Migration, in the global response to this growing humanitarian crisis.

30 November 2021

In light of current events and reports highlighting State violence against refugees and migrants, the NGO Committee on Migration released a statement calling on States to make better choices, to turn to solutions that are practical and humane, encouraging compliance with international law and implementation of commitments.

The NGO Committee on Migration calls on States on all borders to immediately:

  • Stop the violence, including force-backs on land and on sea and entrapment on borders.
  • Stop the bleeding, the freezing, the starving and the dying among the men, women and children trapped without adequate shelter and life-support on any side of any border, and stop punishing humanitarian actors working to save and provide basic assistance.
  • Turn to non-violent solutions that comply with international obligations and commitments.
  • Reject responses based on xenophobia and racism.
  • Address with determination the drivers that force people to move, including the wars, inequalities, discrimination and poor governance in which so many States are involved.

NGO Committee on Migration statement

Solutions, not violence with refugees and migrants trapped at borders of Poland-Belarus, Greece, Italy, France-UK, the US, etc. etc. etc.

The ECPC has been granted permission to reproduce the following statement by its member organization, the NGO Committee on Migration.

In this handout photo released by State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere stand near near the barbed wire gathering at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus. Thousands of migrants have flocked to Belarus’ border with Poland, hoping to get to Western Europe, and many of them are now stranded at the frontier. (State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus via AP)
In this handout photo released by State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere stand near near the barbed wire gathering at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus. Thousands of migrants have flocked to Belarus’ border with Poland, hoping to get to Western Europe, and many of them are now stranded at the frontier, setting up makeshift camps as Polish security forces watch them from behind a razor-wire fence and prevent them from entering the country. (State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus via AP)

Policies must turn around, not the refugees.

Not just in Poland and Belarus, why are so many governments choosing violence against people trapped at borders, instead of legal obligations, and solutions, that are practical and humane?

Some 42 years ago, soldiers ordered to prevent Cambodian refugees fleeing the “killing fields” from entering Thailand forced 45,000 of them back from the border, down a cliff into a minefield. Creating a new killing field, thousands were shot, blown up by mines and died.

Today, other spasms of violence against refugees and migrants are creating a ring of new killing fields, on the land and sea borders of not one or two but many countries: Poland-Belarus, Greece, Italy, France-United Kingdom, the US, Australia and others

The headlines and countries vary, but the story is the same: lethal State violence against refugees fleeing war and human rights cataclysms back home, and against migrants forced to leave home because there is no food, water or work there to support them or their families.

Riot police sprays tear gas toward protesting migrants during a rally outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Thursday, April 4, 2019. Clashes broke out between migrants and Greek police outside a camp in northern Greece, where hundreds gathered following anonymous social media calls for a long trek through heavily guarded Balkan borders to seek asylum in Europe’s prosperous heartland. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
Riot police sprays tear gas toward protesting migrants during a rally outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Thursday, April 4, 2019. Clashes broke out between migrants and Greek police outside a camp in northern Greece, where hundreds gathered following anonymous social media calls for a long trek through heavily guarded Balkan borders to seek asylum in Europe’s prosperous heartland. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

States are choosing violence as a response. Poland has chosen to use tear gas, and water cannons — in freezing weather — against 2,000 refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq, whom Belarus has chosen for its own purposes to fly or bus into such danger. What choice are leaders of Europe making, or Russia? Instead of acting urgently to save lives and stop further hurt to human beings already victimized by governments time and time again, leaders of Europe refer abstractly to the human beings they have trapped as “weapons” in a “war”; warning darkly of an “invasion”.

A girl stands next to the Belarusian fence as several Polish police officers stand guard at the Bruzgi-Kuznica Bialostocka border crossing, near the Belarusian-Polish border, on November 15, 2021, in Bruzgi, Belarus. thousands of people seeking to continue their advance towards the European Union have been crowding in, where in addition to living in the cold and in the open, attacks and altercations are taking place. Viktor Tolochko/Sputnik (Europa Press via AP)
A girl stands next to the Belarusian fence as several Polish police officers stand guard at the Bruzgi-Kuznica Bialostocka border crossing, near the Belarusian-Polish border, on November 15, 2021, in Bruzgi, Belarus. Tension has risen on the border between Poland and Belarus, as thousands of people seeking to continue their advance towards the European Union have been crowding in, where in addition to living in the cold and in the open, attacks and altercations are taking place. What has happened is a new episode in the current tension on the border, the result, according to the European Union, of a retaliation by the Belarusian authorities against the sanctions issued after last year’s elections in the country, which Brussels considered fraudulent. Viktor Tolochko/Sputnik (Europa Press via AP)

It is shameful to call an unarmed victim of violence a weapon, and to say that a human being fleeing war is an agent of war. In fact, who has the weapons — and what choice are they making? Armies and border guards lined up with guns against unarmed refugees and migrants — carrying only what little they have been able to bring with them, and in some cases, their children.

Greece is in court on charges of forcing small groups of boat people back to sea despite their manifest vulnerability and that of their boats, even as, like Italy, it is prosecuting in its own courts increasing numbers of humanitarian workers saving lives. Germany and Italy each initiated huge financial deals with Turkey and Libya for them to keep refugees and migrants away from Europe; in July, the United Kingdom promised France USD $74,000,000 to increase even further the aggressive force it uses to stop small numbers of refugees and migrants from crossing to England.

No surprise that the number of refugees and migrants dying on Europe’s borders, at European hands, is rising. The huge European Union of 450,000,0000 people — many of whom are the children and grandchildren of refugees and others displaced in two World Wars — can do better.

An Haitian migrant holds his baby as he uses a cellphone at an improvised refugee shelter in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, across the Rio Grand river from Del Rio, Texas. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
An Haitian migrant holds his baby as he uses a cellphone at an improvised refugee shelter in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, across the Rio Grand river from Del Rio, Texas. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Elsewhere, the US continues to mobilize against the arrival of mostly Haitian, Central and South American refugees and migrants, employing a sweeping “Remain in Mexico” policy and military-level enforcement, that trap — and regularly force back — men, women and children from the border who have claims to protection under international law. The US can do better.

Choosing this violence violates legal obligations. States all have legal obligations — and practical choices — other than this kind of lethal violence. Foremost is the binding obligation under international law to not force back human beings who have a claim to asylum on the grounds of fleeing persecution or serious human rights violations in their home country. And further legal obligations are binding under the many widely ratified international treaties on human rights, refugees and human trafficking that States have signed (many seeking solutions after the World Wars) to carefully identify and protect refugees, children and victims of torture or trafficking.

Choosing non-violent solutions instead. In the case of Thailand years ago, the country chose to abandon violence and instead create shelter for the refugees in camps just inside the border, with the presence and services of the United Nations and non-government organizations, eventually enabling the refugees to return under an international peace treaty 10 years later. Many European countries, the US, Australia, Japan and NGOs themselves helped to fund that response.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — 2021/11/25: A protester is seen holding a placard expressing her opinion, during the demonstration. People gathered outside the Home Office in London to protest against the Nationality and Border Bill and its implications to the refugees in response to the recent channel deaths. (Photo by Hesther Ng/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — 2021/11/25: A protester is seen holding a placard expressing her opinion, during the demonstration. People gathered outside the Home Office in London to protest against the Nationality and Border Bill and its implications to the refugees in response to the recent channel deaths. (Photo by Hesther Ng/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

More recently, we have seen Canada, Colombia and Portugal and, with significant support from the UN, EU, US, NGOs and others, also Bangladesh, Kenya and Uganda making better choices. Rather than violence, the better choice has been of solutions that are practical and humane, and also comply with international law and commitments.

Call for action

Solidarity and cooperation that cares about life is key to these solutions, across Europe and with UN, civil society and local authorities, and it is effective. In that direction, the NGO Committee on Migration
calls on States on all borders to immediately:

  1. Stop the violence, including force-backs on land and on sea and entrapment on borders.
  2. Stop the bleeding, the freezing, the starving and the dying among the men, women and children trapped without adequate shelter and life-support on any side of any border, and stop punishing humanitarian actors working to save and provide basic assistance to them.
  3. Turn to non-violent solutions that comply with international obligations and commitments:
  • Strengthen systems for more consistent assistance, differentiation and referral for protection of all migrants in vulnerable situations, including refugees, children, and those who are victims of or at risk of torture, trafficking, gender-based violence or other trauma. Concrete, replicable example: the Praesidium Project (Italy, Greece; EU, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration, the Red Cross, Save the Children)
  • Increase safe, ordinary and regular channels of migration and admission for refugees and other forced migrants, with fair and gender-sensitive access and recognition of their skills. Concrete,
    replicable examples
    : Humanitarian Corridors (Italy, Sant’Egidio, Federation of Evangelical Churches, Waldensian Church, Caritas, Italy Bishops); community-based sponsorship of resettlement and family reunification (Canada); regularization (Colombia);
  • Expand rights-based alternatives to immigration detention, including community and NGO partnerships, immediately for all children and their accompanying family members or caregivers, and for all vulnerable migrants, in particular victims of or at risk of torture, trafficking, gender-based violence or other trauma. Concrete, replicable examples: Belgium, Spain, United Kingdom.

4. Reject — absolutely, and in every instance — responses based on xenophobia and racism.

5. Address with determination the drivers that force people to move, including the wars, inequalities, discrimination and poor governance in which so many States are involved.

What you can do

Geneva, Switzerland — Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room in UN Geneva used by the United Nations Human Rights Council with ceiling sculpture by the prominent contemporary Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo, Photo 52055638 © Vogelsp | Dreamstime.com
Geneva, Switzerland — Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room in UN Geneva used by the United Nations Human Rights Council with ceiling sculpture by the prominent contemporary Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo, Photo 52055638 © Vogelsp | Dreamstime.com
  1. SHARE this page with your colleagues, follower bases, and networks. Contact key actors with whom you are associated who can advocate the solutions presented in this statement. Mainstream news outlets are not covering this crisis situation as consistently and urgently as is necessary.
  2. READ the NGO Committee on Migration 26 November 2021 eNewsletter to learn more about this campaign, attend virtual events, and access relevant resources.
  3. VISIT the NGO Committee on Migration to learn more about their important work how you can join their global efforts.
  4. SEE also on ECPC MediumTogether we stand: Call on the EU to restore human rights and values at Europe’s borders”, an urgent call by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) on the continuing humanitarian crisis at the EU and Belarus borders.

About the ECPC

The Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) is a global movement of United Nations agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, academia, practitioners, and the private sector focused on sharing scientific and practice-based evidence on how investment in early childhood development (ECD) can contribute to sustainable peace, social cohesion and social justice. We recognize that investing in ECD is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for reducing violence, poverty, and exclusion and for building peaceful societies.

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Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

We can build a just and peaceful world where all children are the stars of today and leaders of tomorrow.

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