23 October 2015

On 20 October 2015, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) co-hosted, together with the Committee of the Regions, the SHARE Network Conference: ‘Protecting and Welcoming Refugees in Europe: responding to an unprecedented refugee crisis’. On that occasion, good practices and lessons learnt in protecting and welcoming refugees in Europe were presented by representatives from international and European organisations, such as UNHCR and ECRE, as well as from national NGOs and local municipalities that have supported and actively participated in the SHARE project since 2012.

Under the SHARE project, networking, information exchanges, mutual learning practices between local authorities and civil society have demonstrated that the engagement of municipalities, NGOs, volunteers and diaspora groups is crucial for the integration of refugees. This includes access to education, employment and housing. The SHARE project has helped local authorities and other stakeholders to identify and overcome challenges in the implementation of resettlement programmes, local partnerships as well as public awareness activities, such as better understanding, cooperation and coordination between the actors involved.

“We need to involve all kinds of actors, from schools to churches, to doctors, to local services,” urged Michael Diedring, Secretary General of ECRE. “We all have shared responsibility to provide quality and sustainable protection. Civil society and citizens are critical actors and we are prepared to play our role in partnership with all other stakeholders. Our primary concern however, should always be the welfare of persons in need of protection and their desire to find safety and hope in host communities,” he added.

On the current situation in Europe, Diedring reiterated ECRE’s view that the EU should open legal avenues for people seeking refuge in Europe.

“Refugees need to be able to get here safely and legally and Member States need to use all the means at their disposal to make this possible, such as humanitarian visas, family reunification, as well as resettlement and relocation,” he said.

“This is a crisis for refugees, not a refugee crisis,” stressed George Joseph from Caritas Sweden, an ECRE member. “This is a crisis for the European society that face challenges in helping refugees to find safety and protection in Europe.”

Final remarks were made by Cecilia Wikström, Member of the European Parliament (ALDE) and Peter Sutherland, President of the ICMC.

“If someone builds a four meter high wall, somebody else will make a five meter high ladder to climb over. It won’t work. So, we should focus on helping refugees rather than trying to keep them away. In addition, for economic reasons alone, Europe needs more people. Otherwise, it will be a shrinking and sinking continent,” Ms Wikström said.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 23 October 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.