As 2020 has come to a close, we reflect upon a very active, dynamic, and impactful year for our organisation. In our Annual Report, we highlight some of our proudest achievements from the past year. By relentlessly and unequivocally standing up for the rights and dignity of all individuals on European soil, irrespective of their immigration status, we took a clear stance in 2020 for a rights-based European approach to asylum and migration where discrimination, mistreatment, and abuse are not accepted.
Our work, through our various activities throughout 2020, helped to incrementally pave the way for change; it set the agenda and tone for debates on asylum and migration in the European Union and at the United Nations level, as we anchored our advocacy calls in international and national law, human rights principles and direct evidence from the ground.
We continued to gather and amplify the perspectives of refugees and displaced people themselves, as well as activists and grassroots groups working relentlessly on the frontlines. These are voices seldom heard in the corridors of power but need to take the centre stage.
Keeping key issues on the EU’s and UN’s agenda
Throughout the year, we conducted continuous advocacy work at the EU level and were able to truly carve out space for our organisation in the Brussels advocacy sphere, bridging the knowledge on the ground with the high policy levels. We kick-started 2020 by mobilising more than 90 organisations in February and March to call for an accelerated relocation of minors from the Greek islands to other European states, as outlined below on our work in Greece.
As Covid-19 struck, we pushed out an unequivocal narrative asserting that in order to develop a truly effective response to the ongoing and unprecedented global health crisis, countries and societies cannot leave anyone behind. Based on this, we either led or joined advocacy efforts to include displaced people in the Covid-19 response in Greece, France, Italy, and the UK.
We also analysed and responded swiftly to the New Pact by joining forces with seven other leading NGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam International, Danish Refugee Council, ECRE, and International Rescue Committee) to outline the steps needed for the proposed independent monitoring mechanism to ensure fundamental rights compliance and accountability.
We submitted six evidence submissions to the UNTreaty Bodies’ (UNTBs) during the project period. However, due to Covid-19, all of the UNTBs State reviews for 2020 were postponed. In this context, we co-signed a letter with NGOs around the world to urge UNTBs and the OHCHR to schedule reviews for 2021 and ensure that this important work can continue.
Fostering Civil Society Collaborations
During times of increasingly narrowing spaces for civil society, as well as widespread disillusionment surrounding the notion of human rights, RRE continuously seeks to play a key role in fostering collaboration, solidarity, and mutual support between organisations and grassroots groups in these key locations:
In Greece, we brought together over 90 organisations in February and March to call for an accelerated relocation of minors from the Greek islands to other European states. Advocacy statements and letters were sent to the European institutions and all EU states’ national governments, followed by behind-the-scenes advocacy. It was followed by a webinar co-hosted by Child Circle, Missing Children Europe, Oxfam and Refugee Rights Europe. We were excited to see 190 participants, from NGOs and civil society actors, key EU and member state actors, to UN and EU agencies, take part in the event.
Following the tragic fire in Moria camp on Lesvos, RRE published a joint statement with 80 NGOs and frontline groups and subsequently joined an unprecedented alliance of organisations to launch a petition calling for the immediate evacuation of Lesvos, and drastic change to EU migration and asylum policies. The petition was signed by more than 170,000 people and co-signed by 425 organisations, movements, parliamentarians, Members of the European Parliament, and politicians.
We continued to collaborate with grassroots groups in northern France. We published a joint report with Human Rights Observers, l’Auberge des Migrants and Choose Love regarding the Covid-19 situation in Calais and Grande-Synthe, joined an advocacy commission organised by local and national French groups, and joined hands with organisations on various advocacy activities.
In December, we hosted a landmark discussion forum between the UK and French organisations addressing the UK-France border. Our work in northern France also involved collaborations with parliamentarians and other influential actors, including a meeting with the delegation of CNCDH (National Consultative Commission on Human Rights) in Calais and Grande-Synthe.
In the UK, we set up a campaign for safe and legal routes in the spring of 2020, which attracted the support of several key organisations including Detention Action, Safe Passage, and Missing Children Europe. We believe that the campaign helped to start shifting the narrative towards new and creative solutions to the human rights crisis at the UK’s border with France. Towards the end of the year, we reignited this area of work in collaboration with Detention Action, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Choose Love, and others to identify new policy proposals for safe and legal routes to the UK.
Partnering with academics and other experts, we co-hosted a roundtable with Border Criminologies at Oxford University, which looked at the Home Office’s proposals in response to small boat crossings on the English Channel and explored opportunities and spaces for resistance.
EU-wide: End Pushbacks Partnership
In July, we started a new campaign against pushbacks, a worrisome and growing trend across Europe in recent years which leads to serious human rights violations against people on the move. In response, RRE’s grassroots partners across European locations (Italy, Spain, Greece, Central Europe, and the wider Balkan region) came together to form the End Pushbacks Partnership (EPP).
Together, we gathered desk research evidence, tracked news coverage, and shared our policy recommendations. Centrally, the vital on-the-ground evidence of pushbacks and border violations collated by partners formed the basis for a comprehensive report outlining evidence of these human rights violations at 20 land and sea borders in Europe.
It was launched during an EU advocacy event hosted in partnership with Human Rights Watch and the End Pushbacks Partnership. Attended by nearly 150 people, the event brought together a range of experts — from policymakers to civil society advocates—to discuss pushbacks and rights violations at Europe’s borders, as well as solutions in policy, law, and practice. It received praise from a range of actors and was featured in the EU Fundamental Rights Agency’s newsletter and the Council of Europe’s newsletter.
In line with one of the key goals of the EPP – building grassroots advocacy capacity – we also created and delivered a training programme on advocacy strategy, EU advocacy, and media engagement. We are currently planning phase two of the EPP work, which we will roll out in the next few months.
The Youth Welfare Officers model gains traction
We continued and ramped up, our work relating to Youth Welfare Officers in UK asylum accommodation last year. We know from our prior research and community engagement that young adult asylum seekers aged 18-25 in the UK have survived unimaginable experiences. However, once they reach the UK, many are left alone without adequate and support in asylum accommodation, compounding existing trauma.
In 2020, we saw a breakthrough moment of this campaign with the first YWO role being rolled out in Birmingham, hosted by the Refugee Council. Alongside the Refugee Council, Young Roots, and Migrant Help and individual experts, RRE formed a steering committee to oversee the work of the YWO and to plan the implementation of a second role in London.
We also participated in a conference organised by EuroChild, during which we proposed the YWO model as a potential solution for other European countries. Our work on Youth Welfare Officers was recognised through the shortlisting for the Equality, Access Rights category of the Community Integration Awards, showing the UK Government that the idea is widely supported and much needed. We hope that this is just the beginning of a wider YWO scheme.
Continued output of Human Rights Reports
In 2020 we published eight human rights reports across Europe, collaborating with on the ground civil society actors and researchers to present first-hand data on key strategic areas in Europe:
- The Invisible Islands, Greece
- Limits to Access to Asylum Along the Balkan Route, Western Balkans
- A Reluctant Welcome, Italy
- Facing Multiple Crises, France
- A brief timeline of the human rights situation in Northern France, France
- Les manquements des autorités françaises aux devoirs élémentaires de respecter, protéger et mettre en œuvre les droits des mineur.e.s isolé.e.s étranger.e.s en danger, France
- Time for Change, UK
- Pushbacks and Rights Violations at Europe’s Borders, EU-wide
After the completion of a successful year in 2020, and despite the continued challenges the sector faces during Covid-19, the Refugee Rights Europe team is looking forward to a new year full of bold, positive change and a re-commitment to human rights.