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General

NGOs shocked by Europe's treatment of migrants

media A Czech police officer writes a number on the skin of a refugee in the Czech Republic. Reuters

Reports of migrants, like three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi, dying at sea have shocked many Europeans and reports of their treatment when they arrive have angered some campaigners. As the refugee crisis has gathered steam, activists have set up new NGOs to respond to the humanitarian needs of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

A number of campaigning groups are being set up throughout Europe. NGOs are more and more active in the face of the growing number of migrants crossing over to Europe

One organisation, set up several years ago after drowning migrants made the headlines, is called Watch the Med. It has  developed an entire network with bases in France, Germany, the UK, Morocco and Tunisia.

It is a website linked to a 24-hour hotline.

"There are plenty of complaints from the migrants, about special forces who attack them in the middle of the sea," Watch the Med's Hatem Ghribi told RFI. "They take their engines, their gasoline, stabbing their boats ... The danger is at sea. We hear from at least 20 cases like this a day. For us it's really important to take the GPS data, and ask as well how many people, how many women, if there are injured people. And we follow their cases and we put pressure on coastguards so that they rescue them."

The risks the migrants take reaching Europe are huge, due to increased systematic persecution, he says.

There are risks at sea but the migrants do not face a warm welcome when they land in Europe, either.

Between some countries who refuse quotas and those who refuse all migrants and refugees all together, it is also about how these people are being treated.

This week, pictures of Czech police marking numbers on the arms of more than 200 refugees, has seriously alarmed several communities.

"There are signals we need to catch immediately," the president of the Jewish community in Rome, Ruth Dureghello, told RFI. "We cannot tolerate considering people not as people but as objects or numbers. That's something we've experienced in the past and we need to put a stop to it, right now, and thinks, 'Is this the right road to take?'."

She says Europe's image is already suffering from this behaviour.

"For Europeans who were born after the Second World War, after the Holocaust, after Auschwitz, seeing these images, it's a prick on our European conscience. There are way too powerful signals, it is impossible not to feel anguish when seeing them. That's intolerable."

The means exist to keep track of population movements without having to treat people like cattle, Dureghello says.

Ministers from EU countries have met this week to discuss how to handle the crisis but this is not easy due to the huge divisions among the EU countries.

"These are extremely appalling scenes with historic resonnance," said Claude Moraes, a Member of the European Parliament for Britain's Labour Party. "And it adds to what we are seeing in Hungary, where refugees were being told they were going to Germany while they were being pushed to go to Hungarian camps, which was not being monitored by UNHCR or journalists since they were not allowed to go to Hungarian refugee camps. We have a very bad historical comparison here, which is not in any way being exaggerated by journalists or anyone else."

Leading EU nations, including France and the UK, need to respond better because Germany cannot handle the crisis alone, he argues.

But EU foreign affairs ministers on Thursday staged not one but two meetings, one in Luxembourg, the other in Prague, showing divisions between those who favour letting in more refugees and those who want to keep their borders closed - a sign that establishing a new police may not be easy.

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