Refugees have been the focus of news and debate in Europe over the last year, with the number of asylum applicants reaching 1.3 million in 2015. Their ever increasing flows, the heated debates and the powerful tensions that this influx has generated in Europe make it more important than ever to mark World Refugee Day, to commemorate the many refugees who have lost their lives while seeking safety and to reflect on how best to respond to a trend which, as studies show, is likely to continue.
Refugees and migrants have been at the heart of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)'s work over the same period, most notably through its round of fact-finding missions resulting in a set of specific recommendations to EU policy makers. On World Refugee Day 2016, EESC President Georges Dassis states: "Over the last two years, war and persecution have forced more than one million people to seek refuge in Europe through dangerous routes where many lost their lives. Granting them asylum is, indeed, a major challenge. But Europe cannot deny these people the protection they need: its values, its deeply-rooted tradition of solidarity and the obligations arising from the Geneva Convention make it imperative for Europe to afford them safety and humane conditions. The EESC offers civil society's full commitment to help political players achieve this goal".
EESC Vice-President Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, initiator of the fact-finding missions and the report, states: "On world Refugee Day the EESC reiterates its call on the EU and its Member States to allocate sufficient resources to the reception and assistance of refugees, work together, in partnership with civil society, to achieve a genuine common asylum system and common criteria for granting refugee status, fight against human smuggling, ensure safe routes to the EU and counter xenophobic discourse by highlighting refugees' positive contribution to European society – and there many interesting examples of this. The EESC stresses the need to improve refugee integration policies by facilitating access to education and new skill acquisition, taking on board the new challenges of the labour market. In concluding agreements with third or partner countries, the EU should adopt a rights-based approach, ensuring protection to persons seeking protection."
To mark World Refugee Day 2016 the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), in cooperation with the United Nations and the International Organisation for Migration, is organising a screening of the film Fire at Sea (Fuoco Ammare) by acclaimed Italian director Gianfranco Rosi, winner of the 2016 Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear Award, at the Italian Cultural Institute in Brussels on 21 June at 7:00 p.m. The film will be introduced by Eugenio Ambrosi, regional director of the International Organization for Migration's office to the EU, EESC Vice-President Gonçalo Lobo Xavier and Deborah Seward, director of the UN Regional Information Centre for Western Europe.
Gonçalo Lobo Xavier will take this opportunity to encourage applications for the EESC Civil Society Prize 2016, with a grant awards amounting to 50 000 EUR, which will be awarded to associations or individuals who have made a significant contribution in helping refugees and migrants – rescuing them, providing food and shelter and supporting their integration process. He will also help raise awareness of the European Commission's #SupportRefugees campaign, involving international football stars Marouane Fellaini and Anja Mittag.
Journalists wishing to attend the event and/or arrange interviews with Gonçalo Lobo Xavier can contact:
Daniela Marangoni - EESC Press Unit
Email: presseesc [dot] europa [dot] eu
Tel: +32 2 546 8422