"We all have the responsibility to ensure that everyone’s human rights are respected" says Secretary General of Caritas Europa
With 70.8 million refugees displaced worldwide, Caritas Europa has reported an increasing trend in Europe "to stigmatise, pose obstacles to and criminalise humanitarian assistance."
On World Refugee Day on Thursday, the NGO called for EU policy-makers to end the criminalisation of migrant solidarity.
Caritas made their statement by projecting blown up images of three humanitarian workers onto the Infostation building at the EU parliament. Sarah Mardini 23, Seán Binder 25, and Pia Kemp 35 are each facing long prison sentences for their work with refugees.
The organisation urged European policy-makers to ensure that legislation against human trafficking does not target humanitarian workers. Financial support should be given to solidarity organisations, with an independent mechanism to monitor cases of criminalisation said Caritas in a statement.
Hindrance of volunteer work by authorities is widespread, says the NGO, with European authorities making it increasingly difficult to aid migrants.
In a refugee camp in Calais, France, Caritas claim that French authorities attempt to hinder the work of volunteers through preventing food distribution, intimidation, harassment, arrests and even violence.
Between November 2017 and July 2018, over 600 incidents of violence and intimidation by French police were reported in Calais. On one occasion, when refugees in Caritas France's facilities had their access to showers blocked by police.
In other regions in Europe, various laws protect authorities from public scrutiny. Spanish law forbids the public from documenting security interventions. Those who photograph or document police conduct by other means could face fines of up to €600,000.
Examples such as these show that EU practise is at odds with UN policy. The UN 'human rights defenders' Declaration asserts that "the state has the responsibility to provide an enabling environment to implement" the activities of human rights workers.
Furthermore, the UN's definition of smuggling entails that the smuggler must be working in order to gain "financial or other material benefits." According to this policy, volunteers helping migrants should not be conflated with criminal human traffickers.
In practice, however, many EU countries target humanitarian workers.
Seán Binder, one of Thursday night's projected features made headlines last year. While volunteering with refugees off the coast of Greece, he was arrested by Greek authorities on accusations of human trafficking, espionage, money-laundering, and assisting illegal smuggling networks to name a few.
He says the case is ongoing, and he could face 25 years imprisonment.
"Evidence against us is vapid, and includes for example the accusation I was assisting illegal entry on the island of Lesvos, on a night I was verifiably at the LSE celebrating my graduation," Binder wrote in an email to Euronews.
"To criminalise civilian humanitarian work, with the result of increasing deaths at sea, is not only illegitimate, but also offends laws and charters which the EU claims are central to its values and democracy," Binder said.
Secretary General of Caritas Europa Maria Nyman, said in a statement that "we all have the responsibility to ensure that everyone’s human rights are respected."