“Open societies need open borders” was for a long time our driving conviction as civil society and human rights activists. The death toll from last weekend alone stands at about 175, all of whom died in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to reach Europe while placing their lives in the hands of human traffickers. We have known this for a decade and yet the debate continues as to whether humanitarian corridors can be set up or whether we should accommodate regular migration within a legal framework. Humanitarian considerations seem to be ever increasingly overlooked, with the result that NGO ships trying to save lives are criminalised, as happened in the case of the captain of Lifeline who was jailed in Malta.
Instead of looking for solutions, as CSOs and NGOs are doing on the ground through social service provision, there has been a discernible turn rightwards in public debate as evidenced by newly coined terms such as asylum tourism, asylum business, welfare tourists and pragmatic humanism, which have “enriched” our dictionaries while polluting mindsets.
Europe will always remain an important destination for people in search of a better live. Nonetheless the principal migration pattern continues to be South-South migration, sometimes accompanied by the same unpleasant side effects of racism, xenophobia and exclusion, exploitation and more. Shrinking civic space gives rise not only to decreased freedom of assembly and diminished freedom of speech, or to attacks on the rule of law and freedom of the media. In point of fact, shrinking civic space has also left its mark on public opinion as the progress of civilisation is undermined by hate speech, defamation and populism. The glue holding societies together continues to grow thinner and the speed at which we are approaching a breakdown continues to increase.
With only ten months remaining before the next European elections, civil society has to act instead of contenting itself with honest proposals and opinions or nice manifestos and slogans. What is most important is our capacity to mobilise, taking into account the statement of the leader of AVAAZ that the majority of our population is not in favour of right-wing extremism and populist propaganda. That being said, they may well be tempted by it if we do not act in time!
Secretary-general of Solidar
Co-Chair of the Liaison Group