Rights and justice for migrants and refugees: a major concern for ActionAid

Friday, November 6, 2015 - 13:58

The plight of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers has captured unprecedented global attention as stories of desperation, death and mistreatment multiply. Ultimately this is an issue of rights and of justice, which ActionAid cannot ignore.

But where has this problem come from and what of the solutions needed? The fundamental issue of unequal power relations should sit front and centre within this debate. Tackling this issue means tackling injustice, dispossession (particularly land), natural resource extraction, climate change, climate resilient sustainable agriculture, conflict and work with youth.

There are many kinds of reasons why people leave their homes and families to risk their lives going somewhere else. War is clearly a big one. But there is more to it: climate change, land and natural resource grabbing, lacking public services and jobs locally, identity-driven discrimination, religious fundamentalism and persecution by repressive regimes are all factors which drive people to move.

What do they all have in common? First, they are all basically about unequal power relations between people. Second, they all see women doubly affected. Third, all of these root cause issues are being totally ignored by our leaders, in favour of knee-jerk responses and ramped up border controls.

Refugees Welcome

Meanwhile ActionAid is taking action. At the international level, we are seeking to build strong alliances with partners who have been working on the front line to support the rights of migrants and refugees for decades. In several countries, ActionAid is taking this up:

In recent months, ActionAid Greece have made massive efforts to develop a national programme in response to the current crisis. This has largely focused on work in Lesvos providing humanitarian assistance to people, where 318,931 have arrived in 2015 alone. They are focusing on a number of issues:

  • Targeted support to the most vulnerable in refugee groups (e.g. women, children) through women friendly spaces and targeted distributions. 

  • Providing refugees and particularly the most vulnerable with information and guidance to help them understand their rights and entitlements, to navigate them in the system in order to secure their safety and wellbeing.

  • Working with a local organisation and volunteers to ensure the safety, dignity and protection of vulnerable refugee communities who have sought asylum in Greece and will stay in Lesvos for a longer period of time.

Much of their work to date has been made possible as a result of a big show of generosity by people in the UK and in Greece.  What is happening in Greece is a real crisis. People simply cannot cope with the numbers arriving. More lifeless children are washing up on the shores, ignored by Frontex (the EU agency that manages border controls). And in spite of this, the only solution offered by the EU to date has been to relocated 86 of those arriving in Greece, and to step up border control via Frontex.  In recognition of this political crisis, ActionAid Greece is teaming up with Oxfam and local organisation Praxis to advocate for fair national, regional and European policies to protect the rights of those entering Greece. We know that the only real and long term solution can come through a political decision to analyse and deal with the root causes behind this 'crisis' and to use it as an opportunity to finally make EU asylum and migration policy fair.

ActionAid Denmark began this year to work with migrant communities in Denmark to help them understand their rights. They have also been working with refugees in camps helping them to get started. And they have hosted a major campaigning effort to challenge the Danish government on their failure to act at national and European levels. They have also been raising funds for the crisis, as have ActionAid Sweden and ActionAid UK.

ActionAid Italy has been working for the last few years with migrant communities to help them to get access to their rights in Italy. They have not made migrant communities their target group as such, but rather integrated them in their efforts to support different marginalised communities in Italy. In France, Ireland and the Netherlands ActionAid has joined national alliances pushing for justice for migrants.

Whilst one could be led to believe that all of the current problems are focused in Europe, the reality could not be further from the truth. For example, a silent crisis is unfolding in the Dominican Republic where the government has decided to expel all 'ethnic Haitians' born after 1929, stripping them of their citizenship and rendering them hugely vulnerable. Over 250,000 people are affected, many of whom have spent their whole lives in the Dominican Republic, don’t speak French, Creole, or identify themselves with Haiti. ActionAid Haiti is working with partners to express its horror at this situation and to demand justice. You can see a video they have made below and read a blog from ActionAid Haiti’s Director, Yolette Etienne, Racism/ Statelessness Zero Tolerance Against Situation in Dominican Republic.


Against all of this, there is hope. ActionAid applauds the people-to-people expressions of solidarity and generosity exhibited by those who have said 'Refugees Welcome' and those who have demanded that their governments practice humanity rather than appealing to the basest fears, prejudices, and political motives for doing otherwise. We need those voices to keep shouting and many more people to join this show of solidarity.