Five years of advocating for
refugees and displaced people.
Why we're passing the torch.
Five years of advocating for refugees and displaced people. Why we're passing the torch.
After five years of relentlessly advocating for refugees and displaced people, Refugee Rights Europe is drawing to a close.
When we first started as the Refugee Rights Data Project in January 2016, we set out to fill a gap and fundamentally change how the refugee rights sector operated. The odds felt against us. Five years later, we are proud to say we have accomplished what we set out to do and more.
Keep scrolling to find out more.
The refugee rights sector needed evidence, collaboration, and bolder advocacy
Refugee Rights Europe was born in early 2016 because we saw critical gaps in the refugee and human rights sector across Europe.
There was a lack of data and evidence from displaced people in violent border zones. Non-profits had little room to challenge structural issues through strategic, evidence-based advocacy, having to focus instead on raising urgently needed funds for basic services.
Universal human rights and states’ legal obligations were rarely evoked when it came to refugees and displaced people. People on the move were often not consulted and their voices barely represented.
Large and well-established advocacy organisations hardly worked with small grassroots groups operating at the frontlines. There was little collective action across borders, and grassroots activists were not represented in EU and national advocacy forums.
We wanted to start something new
Something that would help us gather evidence, advocate boldly and channel the voices of refugees to the corridors of power. We felt compelled to turn up the volume on calls to defend the human rights of displaced people.
We wanted to see more collaboration across civil society in Europe, to hold governments to account for their human rights obligations.
That's what RRE set out to do. And that's what we did.
RRE helped shape today’s refugee rights movement
We spoke out unequivocally
From Ventimiglia to Calais via Paris, the Aegean Islands to Brussels. Wherever refugees and displaced people faced human rights violations, we documented them and we challenged them. We used our research to put ‘unpopular’ issues on the EU policy agenda through high-level meetings and work with MEPs. We sent our evidence to human rights bodies at the United Nations, and to support court cases.
We gathered data that didn't exist before
Our sector needed strong evidence, rooted in lived experience, to advocate for people on the move. We interviewed and surveyed over 6,000 people in displacement across Europe and published over 40 research reports. We presented unique and ground-breaking evidence and shone a light on the true state of refugees and displaced people’s rights in Europe, shaping media coverage across the continent.
We put refugees voices front and centre
Refugees and displaced people’s voices were absent from corridors of power. We showed that it was possible, and essential, to amplify their voices. We did this by bringing the lived experiences of more than 6,000 people into our advocacy work. We asked questions, listened and relayed voices of people trapped in legal limbo and unable to reach the discussion tables and policy fora themselves.
We built bridges and collaboration in the sector
We needed more joint work across civil society, and across state borders, to hold governments to account for their obligations under international law. We brought together individuals and groups of different types and sizes, across borders, to advocate for refugees and displaced people. We worked with frontline groups in Greece, at the French-Italian border, in northern France, the UK and Belgium. We also mobilised academics, medical doctors, philanthropists and other experts on rights issues at borders during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We upskilled people and organisations on advocacy and research
We trained dozens of partner organisations on advocacy and field research and produced hands-on guidance documents. We hosted more than 200 researchers, volunteers, translators, interpreters, photographers, designers, interns and advisors to be part of these efforts. This way, the sector is better equipped to collect data and use it strategically.
We put our weight behind campaigns that changed lives
We successfully advocated for the piloting of Youth Welfare Officers in Birmingham and London – offering invaluable support to asylum seekers aged 18-25 years old in the UK, and helping to break down some of the UK’s hostile environment. We worked with over 90 grassroots groups, NGOs and INGOs to push for the relocation of hundreds of children from the Aegean Islands in the midst of overcrowding and Covid-19 travel restrictions. We showed that when there’s a will, there’s a way. We co-created the pan-European End Pushbacks Partnership, a one-year initiative which framed pushbacks as an unlawful Europe-wide trend. We were part of wider efforts which led to serious investigations calling out the practice.
A new refugee rights landscape
The refugee rights sector in 2021 looks very different compared to 2016.
Human rights are at the heart of advocacy
Large human rights and development organisations are making bolder, human-rights centred demands, asking decision-makers to respect the human rights of displaced people. Grassroots groups and activist collectives are now entering the same advocacy space too.
Data collection is widespread
More organisations on the ground are systematically collecting data and evidence of human rights violations. This wealth of evidence from the frontlines, which didn’t exist before, highlights the scale of the problem across Europe – and the potential for change.
Collaboration is the norm
Civil society across Europe is collaborating, with groups working together more and more coherently through joint advocacy in calling for change.
These changes are vital and we're proud to have been part of them.
They are indeed what we sought out to achieve when we started RRE. But there’s more work to be done.
It's time for a new approach
In 2021, refugee rights are far from assured. We know that it is not enough to put forward evidence and call for change through traditional advocacy channels.
If the scales are to be tipped in favour of the human rights and dignity of people on the move, civil society will need to be more innovative. We know that others can and will build on RRE’s work to create the change that is needed.
Legal compliance at EU and national level
European governments and the EU need to be forced into compliance through legal action and concerted, collaborative cross-border advocacy initiatives of organisations pushing for change at the highest levels. Monitoring and compliance mechanisms need to be put in place, and strategic litigation continued.
A mass movement of people
A mass movement of European citizens and people with lived experience of the refugee journey needs to be mobilised if we are to sway policymaking into a more humane direction.
Documenting human rights violations
It is heartening to know that rights violations are now being documented by frontline groups and NGOs across Europe. This must continue to ensure that evidence underpins our sector’s work.