SOLIMED: Day 1 – Refugees and austerity

This weekend I am attending the SOLIMED conference in Valencia where around 500 people will meet to discuss the European “refugee crisis”, but also search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean. Together, we will try to discuss the general situation in order to find ideas to improve the handling of refugees upon arrival to Europe, but also the non-reaction of our governments and the European Union in front of the excess of human misery and deaths at sea.

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The opening evening has taken place in a multicultural environment, trying to summarize in around 2-3 hours the context of the current migratory situation in Europe. Many NGOs, politicians and civil society actors are attending the conference, in a very Mediterranean environment.

The main subject this evening has been the influence of European Union austerity politics on the handling of the migrant flow.  The general conclusion being that our governments would be restricting aid to refugees for this reason.

However, the constant use of the word “refugee” sounded as if all other migrants have been forgotten. This can only remind me of all the migrant boats that my crew and me have rescued in October. We knew that many of these people will not be granted a refugee status. Do these people not matter? Do they not deserve and equal respect of human rights?

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On the other hand, an atmosphere of solidarity could be observed, and it has been highlighted on numerous occasions that we all need to act together from the bottom for a political change. As a human rights at sea intern, and a European citizen I could only agree with the idea that all human beings should be treated equally, seeing their human rights respected the same way.

There have been many special moments during my missions on the Sea-Watch 2, but one of them has made me think for a long time. After spending a few hours onboard the ship, a sub-Saharan migrant thanked me for treating him like a human being, because he has been treated like an animal for 5 months now. At that moment, I felt so ashamed, because I knew that he would most probably not be treated like a human again once he steps on European land.

Seeing that many people from different horizons keen to learn more, input their own information and fight for actual change was very heart-warming and motivating to work together towards a better handling of the migrant crisis during the next days of the conference.

The focus of tomorrow’s day will be search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. It will be interesting to gather opinions of other NGOs operating in the area about the legal context of such operations, as well as political and military cooperation as I will be taking part in a roundtable on that matter.

Melanie Glodkiewicz,

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

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