The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

Historically a popular destination amongst tourists, in recent years the Greek island of Lesbos has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Their already treacherous journey was compounded by the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal in 2016. This deal resulted in Turkey blocking refugees from reaching and crossing EU borders and, in return, the EU would grant visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and provide a financial aid package of six billion euros. Critics of this deal have argued that this violates human rights and international law. As Amnesty International outlines, there are fundamental flaws regarding how the conditions of this deal have been implemented. However, it has not deterred those seeking refuge. Many arrive in Lesbos by 4-hour boat ride from the Turkish coast and some die attempting the crossing. Most are unaware of the conditions and cycle of containment that they face, as they await their asylum cases to be heard. 

 

Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny. Originally built to house 3,000 people, it’s population increased to approximately 5,000 in July 2019. It now houses around 20,000 refugees, with more arriving daily. The living conditions have worsened due to overcrowding and policies both the Greek government and the European Union have adopted. In July 2019, the Greek Government revoked access to public healthcare for refugees and undocumented migrants. This includes those, among them children, who suffer from serious conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes. 

 

In January 2020, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) called for the immediate evacuation of refugees suffering from serious, complex or chronic illnesses to the Greek mainland, an opinion echoed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The president of MSF, Dr. Christos Christou, described the living conditions in Moria as ‘comparable to what we see in war zones’ in an open letter released to European Leaders on the 27th November 2019. He details the impact these conditions have on those trapped in Moria, with many, including children, turning to self-harm and suicide. Violence in the camp has become widespread, particularly sexual assaults and stabbings. Similar conditions can be found in refugee camps across the Aegean Islands of Greece. The calls for emergency intervention from UNHCR and MSF have, to date, been ignored by the Greek government. Meanwhile, the number of refugees across these islands has risen to over 42,000.

 

 

I spoke to Fellipe Lopez, a 33-year-old Brazilian filmmaker and photographer living in Ireland for the past 8 years. He aims to highlight social issues, refugee crises and climate change issues through his work and in December 2019 he travelled to Moria refugee camp. In discussing the conditions he witnessed, he expressed how hard it is to prepare for the level of violence within the camp. ‘It is a place that has no hope… the energy in the camp is really tense’ Fellipe said, echoing the concerns of MSF, before adding that ‘people feel unsafe in the camp, most parents are afraid to let their kids go around the camp because they could be raped… they could receive aggression from other people… a lot of murders happen in the camp, a lot of stabbings. When I was there it happened twice… It feels like a post-war zone’. I asked Fellipe: what could be done to alleviate the suffering of these refugees? ‘[The] EU should stand up and say we are going to relocate these people straight away…the refugee crisis is not stopping. The numbers, unfortunately, is going to keep increasing…those people are dying over there [in Moria]’.

 

Lesbos, in particular, has seen mounting tensions in the past month. The start of February saw protests by refugees residing in Moria, aiming to highlight the dire living conditions in the camp. They were met by riot police, multiple people were arrested and those protesting, including children, were teargassed. Mid-February saw Greek residents on Lesbos also clashing with riot police, whilst protesting against the proposal to build more camps on the island, rather than relocating refugees to the mainland.

 

On 28 February, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he was opening the western border to Greece to allow refugees to proceed into the EU. This, he claimed, was in response to a lack of support from the EU and a delay in providing financial aid under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal. Many travelled on transport provided by the Turkish government and were met by Greek border patrols firing teargas and denying entry for these refugees. In response, the Greek government has increased the number of ships patrolling waters around Lesbos in an effort to deter further boat crossings. Despite this show of force, on 1 March, as many as 400 refugees arrived on the shores of Lesbos. Meanwhile, thousands more are attempting to brave the crossing as the news of the first fatality surfaces due to a capsized boat, a Syrian boy aged just four years old.

 

Since early March, multiple fires have broken out in the camp. One of which, on March 16th, resulted in a child perishing in the fire. Meanwhile, MSF have intensified calls for the evacuation of refugees from these ‘squalid’ camps amid the coronavirus outbreak, as the first case on Lesbos is confirmed. The Greek government has stated that the coronavirus risk on the island is less than that on the mainland. The fragile atmosphere on the island has prompted NGOs to limit their services and volunteers to evacuate. The urgent needs of these refugees have been lost amongst the panic caused by the coronavirus outbreak, resulting in the residents of Moria taking matters into their own hands and sewing their own facemasks.

 

In examining the humanitarian situation in Lesbos, it is clear that refugees are being used as a pawn in a geopolitical game. Those seeking refuge stand to lose the most, with uncertainty surrounding the life that awaits them, whether that be in the EU or Turkey.

 

 

Photo credit: Moria camp, Lesbos, 12/2019 – 01/2020, Fellipe Lopes

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

In recent years the Greek island of Lesbos has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny.

7 Common Myths About Migration

Studying migration makes you face a lot of assumptions that you have about the scary and controversial topic that it is. Migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. In this article, we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The outbreak of the coronavirus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency?

Conversations from Calais: The Poster Project Bringing Humanity Back Into the Refugee Crisis

In October 2016, bulldozers came into the refugee camp known as the Calais Jungle and tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction, it’s estimated that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors.

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

On the 7th of March 2020, the organisation ‘Abolish Direct Provision’ hosted the first Asylum Seekers Feminist Conference, with the aim of uniting and empowering women in Direct Provision. The event, held in DCU, was attended by asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres all around the country.

7 Common Myths About Migration

7 Common Myths About Migration

Studying migration makes you face a lot of assumptions that you have about the scary and controversial topic that it is. The politicised nature of migration and the way discourse is manipulated means that migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. Below we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

 

 

1. Most migration is from developing countries to developed countries.

You would be forgiven for thinking this if you just looked at the media. Discussions about migration are often about refugees coming to Europe, irregular border crossings, and deportations to migrant-sending countries. All of this portrays migration as a Global South-to-Global North phenomenon. But the reality is very different. As you can see from the infographic below this flow only represents around 35% of overall migration. The biggest migration flow is from South-to-South. The next biggest flow is from North-to-North, and furthermore there are about 14 million North-to-South migrants. North-to-North, South-to-South, and North-to-South flows get very little media coverage or public attention. While migration is perceived as a problem when it’s from a ‘developing’ country to a ‘developed’ country, despite migrants undertaking key roles in labour markets in developed countries, it is not perceived as a problem when the flow is reversed. It could also be argued that those from ‘developed’ countries take key opportunities away from those in the countries to which they migrate.

 

 

This is, even more, the case when we talk about refugees. Around 84% of refugees live in the Global South, because most refugees find safety in neighbouring countries. Although we talk about refugees in Europe, the vast majority of refugees have not travelled a long distance from their countries of origin, and many live in extremely poor conditions in camps in neighbouring countries.

 

 

2. Migration is a problem to be solved.

We hear this narrative of migration a lot. How do we solve the problem of migration? How do we stop migrants from coming to Europe? But migration is not really a problem to be solved. Migration is a fact of life, it has always happened, and it will always happen. Irish people have migrated around the world for centuries, and we still do. For some reason, we don’t perceive this as a problem with the same level of concern. Migration can be managed, just like any other area of public life. Like infrastructure development or public education, it is neither desirable nor possible to stop it from happening, so the real question is: how do we manage it so that it works for everyone, and so that we uphold the values that we profess?

 

 

3. Europe is experiencing a migration crisis (or experienced a migration crisis in 2015). 

In 2015, about 1 million people arrived in Europe, often irregularly (without travel documents). As many of our readers know, Europe panicked: countries stopped rescuing those drowning, , confidence in the system was lost, the extreme right rose to prominence for the first time since World War II, and countries like Italy and Greece who had little capacity and the largest numbers of refugees and asylum seekers were more or less abandoned. Many people referred to this as a ‘migration crisis’.

 

The European Union has a population of around 500 million people. It is one of the largest economies in the world, with incredible resources at its disposal. 1 million people arriving in Europe is not a crisis. At the time that Europe was talking about a migration crisis, Lebanon had opened its border to Syrians fleeing civil war, eventually accommodating about 1-1.5 million refugees. This is in a country of around 5 million people (excluding half a million Palestinian refugees who were already in the country), with already struggling infrastructure, and resources that were not even a fraction of those available to the EU. This arrival put a severe strain on vital public services such as healthcare, education, and electricity. Many Lebanese schools started a second shift in their schools to educate the new population. That is a crisis.

 

What Europe experienced was a policy crisis, and a confidence crisis, both of which were, in my opinion, completely avoidable. The crisis was caused by terrible EU regulation that put all of the burden of accommodating and deciding on the asylum processes of the arrivals on some of the poorest countries in the EU. These countries (understandably) felt abandoned, disillusioned and out of control, and turned to strongmen politicians. It experienced a confidence crisis on multiple counts. Many people lost confidence in both the EU and their member states to cope with stressors such as neighbouring conflicts and to respect human rights in the process. Those who came at the problem from the perspective of the migrants were disgusted at countries that professed to uphold human rights but watched men, women, and children drowning in their seas, and didn’t save them because they were somehow labelled as undesirable. Those who came at the problem from the perspective of the nation and national security were disgusted at the fact that camps filled Europe’s cities, homeless people filled its streets, and the systems that had been built were overwhelmed, with the EU’s ‘burden-sharing’ mechanism exposed as useless when it was really needed.

 

 

4. Illegal border crossing is a big problem.

When we think about migration, conversations about illegal border crossings often dominate the conversation. While many policymakers do perceive irregular migration to be a problem (both for the destination societies and for the migrants themselves), the vast majority of these cases involve overstaying visas. Illegal border crossings actually play quite a minor role in irregular illegal migration. The story often goes like this: somebody gets a visa, be it for tourism, study, or work. Eventually, the visa expires, but the person doesn’t leave. Voila – this person is now residing illegally.

 

 

5. There is more migration now than ever before.

As migration becomes increasingly politicised, people have the perception that there is more migration now than before. But this is contradicted by the figures. Although in absolute numbers, there are more international migrants than ever before, the percentage of the population that has migrated has hovered at around 3% for decades. So in relative terms, international migration hasn’t really changed.

 

 

6. Refugees and asylum seekers are the majority of migrants.

Like the issues outlined above, media discourse about migration (especially in recent years) is dominated by a discussion of refugees and asylum seekers. But refugees only represent around 10% of the global population of international migrants, with around 26 million refugees around the world.

 

 

7. Closing borders will stop migration.

This is a pretty popular myth among politicians (especially the populist ones). Migration is perceived as a very simple problem with a very simple solution: close the borders. Of course, no politician is advocating for actual closed borders – the only country that has this is North Korea, and even then a few slip through, and they allow tourists in on guided tours. This rhetoric is usually aimed at stopping clandestine border crossings – which as discussed earlier, really are not a big problem or even a significant source of illegal residents. There are several problems with this, one of which is that it just doesn’t work.

 

Migration between two places that border each other is pretty natural: US-Mexico migration has been happening for centuries. Often Mexicans moved seasonally to the US to fill temporary gaps in the labour market, for example during harvest or planting seasons or during a particularly busy manufacturing period – and Mexicans were often recruited by US firms. When they closed the border, they presented Mexicans with à dilemma: they could not support themselves entirely in Mexico, and had been relying on cross-border working, seasonal migration, or selling their crops across the border. Now, if they wanted to continue to provide the same standard of living for their families, they had no choice but to move permanently to the US. So when countries close borders, often permanent immigration goes up. This was the same for Moroccans in Europe (especially Spain) in the 1990s, when European countries introduced visa requirements for Moroccans: they stopped going back. Moroccans also used to come as seasonal workers to Europe, filling key gaps in the agriculture sector. With visa restrictions, once you’re in, you don’t leave because there’s a chance you won’t be able to come back, especially if you’ve overstayed your visa. This leads to more permanent migration, and more illegal migration because people who can’t afford visas or who have been refused no longer have a legal means of arriving.

 

So overall, closing borders doesn’t stop illegal migration, and it increases permanent migration. But it also makes migration much more dangerous. The fact that over one thousand migrants died in the Mediterranean last year attests to this. Closing borders does not do away with people’s desire to improve the lives of them and their family by migrating. It just makes the journey much more dangerous for them.

 

 

 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

In recent years the Greek island of Lesbos has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny.

7 Common Myths About Migration

Studying migration makes you face a lot of assumptions that you have about the scary and controversial topic that it is. Migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. In this article, we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The outbreak of the coronavirus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency?

Conversations from Calais: The Poster Project Bringing Humanity Back Into the Refugee Crisis

In October 2016, bulldozers came into the refugee camp known as the Calais Jungle and tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction, it’s estimated that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors.

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

On the 7th of March 2020, the organisation ‘Abolish Direct Provision’ hosted the first Asylum Seekers Feminist Conference, with the aim of uniting and empowering women in Direct Provision. The event, held in DCU, was attended by asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres all around the country.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

It is with tears in my eyes, shocked, that I discovered the crimes against humanity perpetuated by the Chinese government in Xinjiang. The Uyghurs, one of the largest ethnic groups present in the northwestern region, have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party since the end of the Cold war. In one of the rare videos capturing the current horrific situation, you can see hundreds of lined Uyghurs men with their shaved heads down, black blindfolds on their eyes, handcuffed while wearing detention clothes. They then walk up to a train that will bring them to the internment camps.

 

It is an unknown number of Uyghurs (for obvious reasons), who are being imprisoned in “re-education camps” but, according to a Reuters report, it ranges from a million up to 3 million. Patrick Poon, a former researcher for Amnesty International, explains that the existence of these overpopulated camps in which Uyghurs face numerous acts of psychological and physical violence makes it difficult to manage the impact of Covid-19 in the region. As we know, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends maintaining physical distance due to the easy transmission of Covid-19 through close physical contact and in low hygiene environments. However, these internment camps are far from places where Uyghurs would be treated in accordance with the WHO guidelines.

 

Uyghurs are persecuted by the Chinese regime because of  the language they speak, which is comparable to a mix of Uzbek and Turkish, as well as for their Muslim religion – both of which are important markers of their identity. It is their very existence that the regime aims to erase in these “re-education” camps. Within the high-security enclosure of the camps, internees are forced to study Mandarin Chinese and the regime ideology, hence depriving them of their own culture. But the camps are not only the scene of generalised  brainwashing and indoctrination. According to survivors, internees also undergo torture and are almost completely alienated from their basic needs by being refused sufficient nutrition or basic health care. 

 

In a recent interview conducted by the Irish Times,  the Chinese ambassador He Xiangdong states that he “personally” does “not accept the word ‘camps’, because it will remind people of the camps at the time of Nazi Germany.” However, the removal of Uyghurs from society and the construction of internment camps that increased in size by around 400% between 2016 and 2018, demonstrates definite similarity with the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes. Professor Jörg Friedrichs, from St. Cross College, Oxford notes the similarities with the Stalinist model in “systematically erasing the history, culture and identity” of Uyghurs.

 

In response, the Uyghurs have been conducting rebellious political actions since their forceful inclusion to the Chinese territory under Mao. From their fight for independence by the East Turkestan People’s Party  to protests during 1995 in Yining or murderous riots such as in 2009 in Urumqi, Xinjiang has been the scene of growing resistance. This has led China to characterize Uyghurs as a “terrorist threat”, prioritised in the regime that launched the “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism” in 2014. Moving away from trying to manage the region through economic development, the systematic repression of the Uyghurs is unprecedented. Such measures include the generalized use of advanced surveillance technology with face recognition that tracks individuals and the people they are in contact with in order to predict their future activities. The regime also collects DNA samples, fingerprints and voice recordings of Uyghurs, according to Professor Chung. Calling out the regime for its violent repression and disregard of basic human rights, as formerly done by Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, puts whistle-blowers at risk of “disappearing” or facing life sentences in internment camps. 

 

It is for its mountainous geographics, working as a natural barrier to invasion, and for its resources – namely Xinjiang’s qualification as the “national energy strategy base” – that the region is of strategic importance. Additionally, Uyghurs have been “used” as additional labour force through their transfer from internment camps to what can be considered forced labour factories. According to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, around 80,000 Uyghurs were moved to such factories between 2017 and 2019. Should the production of goods for tech companies such as Apple and Samsung, car constructors like BMW or other well-known brands such as Nike be revealed, we, as consumers, are testifying that economic interests prevail over the protection of basic human rights. 

 

China’s economic liberalisation was not followed by political democratisation. Instead, the regime is committing a form of genocide as shown by the reduction in the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, diminishing from  82% in 1949 to only 46% in 2010. As shown by Professor Fallon, multiple articles of the  Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are violated by the Chinese government. They have colonized the region, implemented  measures to forcefully separate families and have taken other physically and psychologically traumatic measures aiming at making Uyghurs a minority in their own homeland.

 

How can we claim to have learned the lessons from the past when we choose  to look away from this reality in order to carry on economic activities? While Turkey is regularly blamed for not recognising the Armenian genocide, we ourselves are not taking action to prevent the Chinese regime from conducting one. Although in December 2019 the European Parliament condemned the Chinese “anti-terrorist” actions, this is not enough. Awarding the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti, who undertook a life sentence in one of the many Uyghur camps, did not lead yet to any concrete actions against the Chinese dictatorship. 

 

While US lawmakers try to respond to the forced labour factories by imposing a trade ban on Xinjiang, European democracies must take the responsibility of protecting the Uyghurs in and out of China. Even beyond the Chinese borders, the Uyghur diaspora is not protected, as shown by several dozens of students in Egypt who were deported back to China, as well as Uyghurs living in France and Australia who received  anonymous calls asking them to pick up a package in the Chinese embassy. Leaders must prevent the massacre of ethnic groups from happening again. They must prioritise human lives and human rights protection over economic interests with China.  

 

 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

7 Things to do While we’re Stuck in Isolation

With a week and a half of quarantine already under our belts, it would be fair to say that most of you reading this have had your lives flipped over in a very short period of time. We have put together a list of things for you to occupy yourself with during this ever so strange time in our lives.

A Student’s Perspective: Sweden is Playing With Fire

I write from Sweden, a country which has chosen not to take strict measures as other European countries to fight COVID-19. I am an Irish masters student at Lund University and find the lack of movement worrying. If the virus is not contained here, we will encounter a health emergency as we have seen in Italy.

FGM: An Ever-Lasting Fight?

FGM is the perfect example of the inequality many women and girls still have to suffer in today’s world. It stands for Female Genital Mutilation. The procedure entails the cutting and damaging of the female genitals and is also known as female circumcision. Although there haven’t been many cases of FGM in Ireland, it is still an issue here.

A Student’s Call to Action on Climate Change

Climate change and environment issues, in general, are the most talked about topics these days, and for good reason. With all this news of despair and disaster regarding climate change it is easy to think that no matter what we do, nothing is enough. But this isn’t necessarily the case.

Xenophobic Ideas Spread Along with the Novel Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus now has 75,000 reported cases and has claimed over 2,000 lives in China. In the midst of this recent outbreak, we might find ourselves more germaphobic than usual. While paying extra attention to hygiene is normal and even healthy, there is an insidious side to this newfound germaphobia.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

It is a dangerous time to be living in Europe. As of 29 March 2020, of the ten countries with the most covid-19 related deaths in the world, seven are European, and medical experts and epidemiologists believe the continent could be as far as two weeks away from the peak. The EU has produced a €37 billion emergency fund for sectors impacted by the coronavirus. The outbreak of this virus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. Measures like social distancing, or indeed, cocooning, are necessary and have obvious and immediate implications to ‘flatten the curve’. It is understandable that citizen’s rights such as free movement and public assembly have been temporarily curtailed.

 

But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency? In China, citizens have been instructed to install an app which tracks one’s movement and proximity to others using facial recognition, while in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frozen courts, including postponing his own trial concerning three counts of corruption. Across the world, from Somalia to Lesbos to the Mexican border, those living in refugee camps await with bated breath for the potential arrival of the coronavirus. 

 

This month, concerns have been raised regarding the emergency measures introduced by some European democracies. Six European countries – Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova and Romania – have notified the Council of Europe that during this outbreak they will forgo commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 15 which allows derogation during “public emergency threatening the life of the nation.” Yet it seems unlikely that non-compliance with the ECHR will, in any case, save more lives than continuing compliance. Derogation by these countries could be seen as attempts to limit freedom of the media or freedom of information. 

 

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, of the right-wing populist Fidesz party, is straddling the line between democracy and authoritarianism after the introduction of an Emergency Powers bill was passed into law this week. It allows Orbán, individually, to rule by decree. He can single-handedly override any existing legislation. As well, the new bill states that the spreading of ‘false’ or ‘true but distorted’ information could lead to a five-year prison sentence, and that all public information concerning government actions must come through him. This clause directly targets freedom of thought and expression, namely anyone – journalist, citizen – critical of Orbán’s actions. Parliament is suspended and there will be no elections while this law is in place. Orbán has been Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010, and in that time has curtailed NGO activity and media independence in Hungary. It is likely his party is taking the ‘opportunity’ afforded by the coronavirus pandemic to implement tighter civic control in line with their populist stance. Because the law has no time period attached to it, MEPs are worried that these measures could continue past the outbreak and curb freedoms for years to come.

 

 

In France, Emmanuel Macron’s new doctrine passed on 22 March has specifically targeted workers’ rights, or “acquis sociaux”, including the right to vacation pay, delaying salary bonuses for low-paid workers, and the power for employers to force overtime work on staff. In Britain, Boris Johnson’s lockdown measures allow for the arrest and detaining of those believed to be infectious, including children, by state authorities. Those detained can be placed in custody facilities for up to 14 days. Doctors can sign death certificates without seeing the patient’s body. Measures like these are a large jump from the Prime Minister’s previous “herd immunity” tactic. For those living hand to mouth across the continent, lockdown measures directly cut through a right to livelihood, food and shelter. In recent days, as Italy enters week 3 of lockdown, a notable increase in social unrest has been reported, stemming from those living in the poorer southern regions where hunger is increasingly rampant. 

Alongside emergency powers aiming to prevent the spread of coronavirus, governments must implement social security measures to help the most vulnerable populations. Citizens can only comply with social distancing and lockdown measures should they have food, shelter, and peace of mind that they will have a livelihood to support themselves and their loved ones once this epidemic is over. We are living in an age of anxiety – and, should you follow President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, a time of war. Covid-19 is the invisible enemy. But, governments should not take this pandemic as an opportunity to over-extend power structures, or exploit humanity. 

 

 

Photo from freepik

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

In recent years the Greek island of Lesbos has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny.

7 Common Myths About Migration

Studying migration makes you face a lot of assumptions that you have about the scary and controversial topic that it is. Migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. In this article, we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The outbreak of the coronavirus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency?

Conversations from Calais: The Poster Project Bringing Humanity Back Into the Refugee Crisis

In October 2016, bulldozers came into the refugee camp known as the Calais Jungle and tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction, it’s estimated that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors.

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

On the 7th of March 2020, the organisation ‘Abolish Direct Provision’ hosted the first Asylum Seekers Feminist Conference, with the aim of uniting and empowering women in Direct Provision. The event, held in DCU, was attended by asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres all around the country.

Seanad Candidate Could Be the First Traveller Woman in the Oireachtas

Seanad Candidate Could Be the First Traveller Woman in the Oireachtas

Eileen Flynn has been nominated to the Labour panel for the upcoming Seanad elections, receiving nominations from Thomas Pringle TD as well as the three People Before Profit TDs. If successful, Flynn, who grew up in the Labre Park Traveller housing site in Ballyfermot, would be the first female Traveller in either House of the Oireachtas. She attended Trinity College Dublin through an access programme for disadvantaged youth, and following her undergraduate degree she trained as a community worker at Maynooth University, moving to Donegal in 2018 with her husband. Flynn has been involved in activism for over a decade, with the Irish Traveller Movement, the National Traveller Women’s Forum and Ballyfermot Traveller Action Programme. While there has been progress in recent years in terms of Traveller visibility in the Oireachtas, speaking to The Irish Times Flynn said she felt it was important to “bring a Traveller voice to the table”. 

 

In March 2017, the Irish State formally recognised Irish Travellers as an ethnicity for the first time. This was a major step for Traveller activists, who had been campaigning for recognition of their ethnicity since the Irish Traveller Movement was established in 1990. Since recognition, the ITM continues to lobby the Irish government on issues such as Traveller equality, accommodation and education. While the recognition of Traveller ethnicity in 2017 was a huge step for Traveller equality, many feel there has not been any real difference to the everyday lives of Travellers in the last three years. A Seanad report in January 2020 outlined more than 30 recommendations which aim to reduce the stigma and prejudices which Travellers face in Irish society, including a permanently reserved seat in the Seanad for Irish Travellers. Other recommendations include a paid internship scheme for Travellers in the Civil & Public Services, hate speech legislation with particular protection for Travellers, and a National Traveller Mental Health Strategy. 

 

It is clear that the strategies implemented by the Irish state across the last few decades have failed to meet the needs of Irish Travellers. The old adage comes to mind, surely familiar to anyone involved in activism; “nothing about us without us”. One of the main issues in creating a workable framework for improving conditions within the Traveller community, is that many of these decisions have been made without the consultation of members of the community. Many strategies, particularly in the realms of education and accommodation, have been rejected by those they were trying to help, simply because they did not meet the needs of the community. It is clear that Traveller children have not been able to benefit from the Irish education system in the same way as ‘settled’ children have, with less than 1% of Travellers going on to third-level education. This lack of success in education also contributes to the fact that the current unemployment rate for Travellers is more than 80%. 

 

A key part of the Traveller ethnicity has always been the ability to live together in a way that respects their nomadic culture and way of life. Many recent Traveller Accommodation Programmes have been developed without consultation of Traveller needs, and therefore they are often forced into housing which does not preserve their cultural identity. Poorly designed halting sites, often on the outskirts of towns and cities, leave Travellers isolated from their communities, making it harder to access health services, jobs or education. Living in poor accommodation has immense effects on both physical and mental health, and this lack of properly maintained sites is a big contributor to the fact that very few Travellers live into their 70s, while the life expectancy for the majority of the population is 82. Social isolation, high rates of homelessness (11% of the Traveller population are officially homeless), as well as discrimination faced in schools, jobs and the rental market; all lead to poor mental health throughout the Traveller population. Suicide accounts for over 10% of all Traveller deaths, with the rate of male Traveller suicide more than six times higher than that of the ‘settled’ male population. 

 

Previous Irish governments’ attempts to absorb the Traveller community into wider Irish culture have clearly failed, and have instead lead to widespread discrimination against members of the Traveller community who are often condemned for struggling to easily assimilate into a culture which does not allow them to express their Traveller identity. If properly implemented, the recommendations of the 2020 Seanad report could see greater representation of Travellers in all levels of Irish government, and could lead to greater opportunities for Travellers to engage with Irish society in a way that facilitates their needs as an ethnic minority to practice their cultural traditions. Candidates such as Eileen Flynn could be at the forefront of improving the relationships between Travellers and settled Irish people, and making it easier for Travellers to thrive in many different walks of life. 

 

 

Photo from Houses of the Oireachtas website

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The outbreak of the coronavirus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency?

Seanad Candidate Could Be the First Traveller Woman in the Oireachtas

Eileen Flynn has been nominated to the Labour panel for the upcoming Seanad elections, receiving nominations from Thomas Pringle TD as well as the three People Before Profit TDs. If successful, Flynn, who grew up in the Labre Park Traveller housing site in Ballyfermot, would be the first female Traveller in either House of the Oireachtas.

Ireland’s First Security Summit Addresses the Need for Increased Safety Measures

On February 25th and 26th 2020, the first National Security Summit met at Dublin City University in the Helix building. The summit focused on four main branches of security to allow for a variety of keynotes, panels, and debates.

Coronavirus: The Lived Experience Throughout Europe

COVID-19 is dominating the news at the moment. It can be quite easy to detach from the current crisis we find ourselves in, even as the panic and restrictions that accompany the spread of COVID-19 slowly seeps into the daily lives of almost every European country. I set out to gain a better understanding of how the virus, and the accompanying measures in place, have altered the daily lives of different people living across Europe.

Airlines’ Responsibility on Climate Change

Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. It generates 600 million tonnes of CO2 a year and other factors are estimated to have an impact even higher than that of CO2. Ryanair claims to be Europe’s “greenest” airline, however, the low-cost carrier was named in a list of Europe’s top 10 CO2 emitters.

The Irish Environment to Have its Day in Court

Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), an Irish charity committed to tackling climate change, have become significant players in Irish climate litigation. Now, they have been granted special permission to go straight to the Supreme Court, to demand that the government do better to protect our environment.