Emmaus International

17 October marks the 30th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Nathalie Péré-Marzano, Chief Executive of Emmaus International, and Bruno Tardieu, Director of ATD Fourth World’s international #StopPoverty campaign, insist that current public policies create poverty and exclusion even though another way is possible.

17 October will see the 30th International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and with no real political and citizen mobilisation at all levels, we are left fearing that dozens more such days will follow. Seventeen years on from the Millennium Development Goals and the declaration signed in 2000 by all UN member states to call for poverty on earth to be eradicated, what has happened to make the international community set itself a new series of goals – the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – in 2015?

In 2000, the goals only related to the countries of the South, as if poverty had disappeared in the North. And above all they contained the goal of lifting half of the poor out of poverty, establishing the recurring violence of discrimination and ‘social sorting’. Through the work of citizens’ movements, the premise of the SDGs is now to “leave no one behind”. They include the North as well as the South, and the protection of humans alongside that of the planet. This time, the goals can mobilise disadvantaged peoples and we really can achieve them, but it’s up to all of us.

We affirm here that any ambition to eradicate poverty must be based first and foremost on a radical shift in our approach, and must be inspired by the intelligence and resistance of excluded persons. This is a matter of urgency. We note that, throughout the world, in Europe and particularly in France, people living in precarious conditions are being accused not only of being responsible for their situation, but as guilty in part for our countries’ public deficits and for being a “drain” on them. People living in precarious conditions are subjected to a dual hardship: that of living in extreme poverty and that of being viewed as guilty.

For several years now, we have seen a dangerous inversion of the values that are at the heart of our humanity: helping those who suffer most, embracing diversity in the human community, living harmoniously together, in dignity, and enabling every person to give the best of themselves. Public, social or ‘development’ policies that have been implemented for ten years contradict these values, stigmatise the most excluded and the problems they face in finding a place in society and impose conditions on their access to fundamental rights, based on criteria that increasingly divide people according to their age, family situation, or ‘origin’. Under the pretext of facilitating support for these people, we categorise them, and their rights vary depending on the status given to them: single woman, isolated minor, family, homeless, unemployed, undocumented, asylum seeker, migrant, etc.

Today, under the pretext of unavoidable austerity plans, this segmentation leads to these different ‘publics’ being pitted against each other, and to the creation of a scale of treatment which fully contradicts what is by nature a fundamental right; precarious publics are pitted against each other, overriding the universality of rights. Equally, the – ethically reproachable – injustice done to migrants, is profoundly incoherent because it is precisely political policy choices that plunge these people into utter destitution and precariousness, making their daily lives unbearable – they have no right to housing, clean drinking water or a healthy diet, no right to work and even less to culture. This precariousness by no means persists as a matter of course, it is the result of political choices “not to offer people a welcome”.

The inversion of these values is revealed once again in the choice to increase spending on exclusively security-focused migration policies, which feed into mafia networks involved in migration and human trafficking, rather than encouraging the welcome and hosting initiatives run by increasing numbers of people throughout the world, and drawing inspiration from them to define new perspectives and policies on migration. The irony of this brand of exile and exclusion is that nearly everywhere around the world, countries and poor people are mobilising to receive migrants.

Nevertheless, people living in extreme poverty are now daring to get together, break the silence and call for action against exclusion. They are doing so in organisations such as ATD Fourth World, Emmaus and many others. New practices and spaces for collective discussion and reflection are drawing followers, giving rise to new concepts such as that of social exclusion, rights such as universal health insurance or the experience of the Territoire Zéro Chômeurs (‘zero unemployment zone’). The excluded are managing to get organised to exercise their right to healthcare in community-managed health insurance schemes, particularly in Africa and Asia.

As Marie Jarhling, one of the first to break the silence, said: “We were scorned and we still are, but we’ve kept hold of our humanity. We have understood that we were not guilty, but were victims of the violence of scorn and injustice. Then we understood that we were not only victims but resistors, resisting for the sake of humanity.” This new political strength invites us to put an end to exclusion and extreme poverty. Above all, however, it calls on us to revert the choices that lead our humanity and our planet into an impasse, and to return to the path of human values. 
Nathalie Péré-Marzano, Chief Executive of Emmaus International
Bruno Tardieu, Director of the international Stop Poverty campaign, international ATD Fourth World movement