Solidarity with refugees: a shared commitment
RAÜL ROMEVA and DOLORS BASSA 10/02/2017 07:28
In today's world, migratory phenomena are undergoing continual growth and experiencing structural changes. There are multiple causes of such developments, though they are largely due to persistent inequality and, all too often, the violence that threaten the lives of thousands of people. Although migrations occur around the world, the eastern Mediterranean is undoubtedly where this harsh reality has become most visible.
The Mediterranean, which together with Europe is Catalonia’s natural area of concern, is presently witnessing the worst humanitarian tragedy since World War II. And although the figures support such a claim, one cannot help drawing parallels between the images that we see now from the other side of our sea and those from Bosnia 25 years ago, or Argelès-sur-Mer beach 77 years ago [where up to 100,000 defeated Spanish Republicans were interned by the French government following the fall of the Spanish Republic]. Then as now, we see ourselves reflected in the faces of refugees from Syria and other countries who have left behind their home and who face an uncertain future. A future which looks uncertain without international aid.
Catalonia has always set a shining example to the world in terms of its contribution to the fields of solidarity and international cooperation. Our history as a country of refuge, and in particular as a country of exile, helps us to comprehend the plight of refugees and calls on us to side with them and assist them.
As a consequence, the Catalan government has worked from the start to put into practice the desire to help which the Catalan people have expressed on numerous occasions. It must be said that the attitude of the governments of the various EU Member States has not been consistent with the founding principles of the European Union and they have failed to provide an acceptable response to the refugees from a legal point of view (since international treaties oblige us to act), and even less so in terms of the respect for human rights, which ought to be the number one priority. In addition, Spain has not shown any interest in the development of an effective refugee programme. In fact, it has limited the extent to which Catalonia has been able to collaborate in the resettlement of refugees.
Nonetheless, these obstacles have not prevented the Catalan government from taking action, always in collaboration with civil society and the organisations which have also mobilized to intervene in this crisis. At the international level, for example, Catalonia has taken every opportunity before numerous institutional forums to express its willingness to resettle refugees. We have simultaneously attempted to reinforce the presence of Catalan aid organisations in the countries bordering Syria, which have received nearly five million refugees from the war. One million are to be found in Lebanon, for example. As a result, the Catalan government has signed agreements between the UN Development Programme and 15 Catalan organizations that are working to improve their actions on the ground. This is in addition to sustained involvement in initiatives for rescuing refugees at sea and caring for them in refugee camps, efforts which are conducted via the third sector.
Likewise, the Catalan government has also designed and implemented mechanisms to improve the reception of refugees in Catalonia, in particular ensuring that they receive the necessary support and guidance. The Catalan Refugee Programme is part of these efforts. Following the model pioneered by countries such as Canada, which are experts in this field, it promotes the creation of community ties between the refugees with the help of a group of mentors, volunteers who offer to accompany and facilitate their integration in our country. In addition, the programme includes help with language learning and access to the labour market, as is the case with the most successful host models around the world.
In short, Catalonia is fully committed to the plight of people seeking refuge and it is deploying resources to meet their needs. It is a desire shared by an active, committed civil society and a government determined to be involved in such good causes. We are convinced that, as history has shown us time and again, if the public and the government share common objectives, as in this instance, we will show that we are a society that respects human rights, that defends human dignity and promotes peace, security and welfare based on the republican values of liberty, equality and solidarity. Values that today, in Europe and the world, need to be defended with greater intensity than ever.