Developments this winter will make you question everything you thought you knew about Europe.

As freezing temperatures have taken hold, French police are reported to be harassing migrants seeking shelter, in Greece and Bulgaria migrants are dying from hypothermia and thousands of people are stranded without access to shelter in Serbia.

Also at the political level cold winds blow, with Slovenia ready to close its borders to asylum seekers, Hungary preparing mass detention of asylum seekers and violent push backs at the Spanish borders – the shameful list goes on…

It is hard to understand the total disregard for fundamental human rights that is the trend on our continent. Especially since Europe, the world’s richest region with an aging population of more than 500 million people has received just a few million asylum seekers last year – in comparison, Lebanon, with a population of 4 million hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees on top of the 450,000 Palestinian refugees already in the country. It is truly chilling to imagine how Europe would react to a challenge of those proportions.

While defense of rights is limited, the willingness to invest financial and political resources in reducing the relatively modest influx seems limitless. The discourse that frames it is cynical and seems to rob people of their humanity simply because they were forced to flee.

Our only hope is the people of Europe. We need to see a real counter-reaction to thaw this coldness – the warmth of their welcome and the heat of their rage. We must stand up and maintain a counter reaction of all who refuse to allow a dehumanizing debate or the violation of basic human rights to be the order of the day in Europe in 2017.

Otherwise we are indeed facing into a long winter…

Catherine Woollard
Secretary General ECRE

Photo: Lesvos January 7, 2017 by Philippa Kempson