Context: Sarah Clarke
The urge of reverting the EU policies on migration and human rights defenders
SARAH CLARKE, HEAD OF ARTICLE 19 FOR EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA
She is the Head of Article 19 for Europe and Central Asia, an NGO specialised in freedom of expression and right to information. From the Trinity College campus, the oldest University in Ireland and where she obtained her BA, Clarke shares the concern of the NGO about the prosecution of defenders in the UE, especially since the tightening in 2015 of migrations laws.
Sarah Clarke, Head of Article 19 for Europe and Central Asia at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland). Photo: Lucía Muñoz
Do you think there are common patterns in the criminalisation of defenders in the EU?
Yes, indeed. Article 19 has clearly identified common patterns in the criminalisation of both, human rights work and human rights defenders, especially after the so-called refugee crisis in 2015. We have observed with concern the proliferation of vague and unreasonable laws that are used as a weapon to prevent defenders from doing their life-saving work.
Do you think surveillance and hate speech are strategies in use against defenders and journalists?
We have documented the proliferation of the use of hate speech, threats, and surveillance against defenders and journalists who work in favour of the migrant population. We must bear in mind that online activities can quickly turn into real-life violence against individuals who are just defending migrants’ rights. Many have been prosecuted for going against the interest of their own countries or even for human trafficking.
How do defenders work on the EU southern border?
In the South of Europe we see human rights defenders working in an increasingly hostile environment. There is an increasing level of securitization of the fortress Europe. We see how human rights defenders strive for financial resources, facing costly and lengthy legal battles to do their work. And meanwhile, more and more migrants who are fleeing life threatening situations across Africa, and in particular in Libya, are not receiving the crucial resources that they need. Migrants are dying in the Mediterranean, and their fundamental rights are not guaranteed, including access to health, food or education in their transit to Europe.
Which do you think are the consequences for human rights defenders?
The consequences of these patterns are really serious. We see a shrinking in the European civil space, as well as consequences in terms of detentions, fines, court cases in Spain, Italy, Greece… And what is resulting is that human rights defenders are silencing themselves, so there is a serious chilling effect. Other defenders are afraid to get involved in this type of work because they see the consequences for their colleagues. And most importantly, we see less and less of the life-saving work for migrants themselves.
What does Article 19 demand from the European institutions and countries?
At a basic level, A19 demands the states to not criminalise humanitarian work. This work is actually based on European values so it must be supported. We need more effort from Brussels, from the EU, in order to stop the securitization policies in the borders and its consequences for migration. Humanitarian work for migrant people who are suffering from dramatic circumstances needs to be supported.
Now that you mention Brussels, what should the European Union do when it comes to migrant rights defenders?
There is an urge to reverse the EU policies that have been in place in particular since 2015. We need to move away from the criminalisation of humanitarian work and from the criminalisation of migration itself. The EU must provide legal and safe passages to individuals in transit.
Do you think that the polarisation that is taking place is breeding grounds against migrants and defenders?
Yes, I do. Unfortunately, we all can see how migration has been used as a polarising weapon across the entire EU. In a discourse that ignores the difficulties of the citizens of the EU in terms of economic rights, migration has been one of the elements more polarised, leading to a rise in racism and xenophobia. Migration has been branded as the new enemy and migrants have become the scapegoat for all Europe’s illnesses.