Refugees and migration

Refugee crisis? Global crisis!

Millions of people override Europe's borders, and then the massive rollback: 2015 was a turning point in migration policy. What does this mean for medico's work? We asked Sabine Eckart.

Ten years ago, medico international began to take a closer look at the question of migration. How did this happen?

In 2005 police brutally put down a coordinated attempt by migrants to break through the border fences around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco. Even so, the attempt sparked a panic in Europe, and the EU and individual member states tightened their borders even more. Around this time, the Rabat Process started, with the aim of moving the European border regime further out into Africa. Our goal is to make the public in Germany aware of these processes and the reasons for migration and flight.

In the light of this, how do you see the events of the past year?

There are many places in the world where, over a long period of time, structural factors are  driving people to leave their homes. Flight and many of the reasons for migration have reached catastrophic dimensions. However, we’ve largely ignored this crisis over here for years, because it was externalised and individualised. It was all happening far away. Then came summer 2015. Refugees not only overcame   Europe's borders, they overcame its ignorance. You could say that these people brought the global crisis back to us.

In the area of migration, medico has been working closely with partner organisations for many years, among others in West Africa. How did this cooperation come about?

We wanted to network with the migrant movements in the South and join with them to look for answers and strategies. It was also important to us to establish the link to European politics. In Mauritania and Mali we met politically and strategically thinking organisations, which we still work with today – the Mauritanian Human Rights Association AMDH and the Malian Association for Deportees AME. The two are now cooperating with each other, and trying to set up a network in West Africa. We are assisting such networks by funding workshops in the region. In September 2016, for example, there will be a workshop in Mauritania where activists from Mali, Niger, Morocco, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, Senegal, France and Germany will meet.

How far have the challenges faced by medico changed as a result of last year's developments?

As a direct response we also increased support to projects in Europe, for example the Moving Europe project that supplies refugees on the Balkan route with electricity for cellphones and information for safe travel. At the same time we have to continue identifying and criticising the structural crisis and the reasons for migration and flight. This includes highlighting the responsibility that Germany and Europe bear. We need to think how we can reach a social, economic and ecological balance, not only at the national level but also transnationally. And we need to tackle the new quality of sealing-off borders  that the EU has initiated in recent months. For us, one priority is the policy of externalisation, of incorporating  African states and Turkey in the European border defence, with the aim of making refugees and migratns invisible again.

Many people here welcome these border controls. What role can medico play in a mood of vague fears?

As an organisation working in international networks we can raise the question of proportionality. If we in Germany are going to talk about fears or deprivation, we have to put these in proportion to what other people are leaving behind or what other societies render. Compared to its wealth, for example, Germany is still doing very little, as you can see if you compare it with a country such as Lebanon, which has only four million inhabitants but has taken in 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Our Lebanese partners working on refugee aid have no time at all for ‘German fears’.

Currently, Germany and the European Union seem to feel that almost anything is acceptable if it keeps refugees away. For example, the Deal with Turkey ensures that many refugees are blocked from applying for asylum in Europe.

We can’t simply outsource our responsibility and imagine the problem is resolved. If we pressure or bribe countries to violate human rights on our behalf, that changes the societies there. You can see that in Mexico. There, and on the Central American migration routes, the US policy of blocking and externalisation has long since led to a genuine war on migrants – with the results of more violence, more weapons and more drug dealing. What they are pretending to fight is being fuelled by short-sighted policies. It’s impossible to avoid the impression that Europe hasn’t learned anything from past experience. Desperate people won’t be stopped: they find new ways, or they die in the attempt – and with them go the values that Europe pretends to stand for.

Interview: Ramona Lenz

medico projects in the area of flight and migration

medico supports local partners of and for refugees and migrants in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Germany, Turkey and Greece. In refugee camps in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and West Sahara medico partners supply survival aid in the form of food and basic health services. medico supports deportee organisations in North and Western Africa, migrant hostels in Mexico, Serbia and Morocco, and medical services to refugees in Lebanon and Israel. In Greece, teams supported by medico assist refugees in particular need of protection, such as unaccompanied minors and victims of torture. In Germany, medico has increased its support since 2015 for the work on psychosocial and medical services to refugees. At the same time medico is engaged with its partner organisations throughout the world in the fight against structural causes of flight, such as exploitative trade relations or land grabbing.

Published: 27. July 2016

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