Emmaus International

Jean Rousseau has been Chair of Emmaus International since 2007 and is co-leader of the Emmaus Angers community in France. In a local newspaper, he shared his views about what he believes needs to be done urgently to combat poverty throughout the world.

As Chair of Emmaus International, in what areas do you think local-level action needs to be taken urgently?
Poverty, marked by growing inequality, is definitely visible at local level. More often than not though it’s caused by the prevailing economic system, in which the strongest thrive and which hardly does anything to address the unbelievable damage it’s been wreaking for years on people and the environment. When it comes to fighting poverty, there isn’t a hierarchy – access to rights and dignity for all is vital in and around Angers as it is elsewhere, in a world that’s now globalised in which individual behaviour has immediate consequences on everyone else!

When you’ve been to visit Emmaus communities around the world, have you seen any activities to combat poverty that could be implemented elsewhere?
We can safely say at Emmaus that all action that draws, first and foremost, upon people’s capacities and responsibility – whatever their economic, social or cultural level – is a source of development for both individuals and communities. This is the kind of educational approach that could help tackle the marginalisation of growing numbers of people. We can see this in France and around the rest of Europe, where thousands of formerly homeless people are involved in recycling and reuse; in Bangladesh where Emmaus is actively involved in producing Fair Trade textiles; in India, where small farmers working with Emmaus are fighting desertification through agroforestry; and in Lebanon where microcredit loans are granted throughout the country to hundreds of small entrepreneurs.

Europe is currently having to deal with the arrival of many migrants. How can we respond to this urgent situation and to the migrants’ dire poverty?
Our primary duty is to save lives and therefore accept, with generosity and dignity, those who are only seeking to survive. In doing so we would be simply keeping to our countries’ commitments, since they have all signed international conventions. Remember that half the population of Lebanon – a very troubled country moreover – is currently made up of refugees! Aside from responding to the urgency of the situation, however, it would be criminal and reckless to make people believe it’s possible to “control migration flows”, which doesn’t work and which causes thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, or to pretend not to know that the general issue of mobility, and therefore migration, will become increasingly important in a globalised world. Governments must break free from their narrow mindsets and think at regional and global level, at the United Nations for example, as we do for the climate and international trade – it’s common sense. On this eminently political issue, it’s high time we let go of fantasy took a reality check!

150616 Interview Jean Rousseau