Emmaus International

Over the last few months the world has been hit by an unprecedented health crisis. Since first appearing in China, the Covid-19 virus has now spread to every continent. With several hundreds of thousands of people affected by the disease and our global economy heavily impacted, this ordeal concerns everyone but hits those in precarious situations particularly hard: people who are homeless, those too poor to self-isolate, migrants and refugees. Faced by this crisis, the Emmaus movement will have to adapt its solidarity model in order to continue to exist and pursue its work with the most excluded. Moreover, we will not fail to call for political lessons to be drawn from this crisis.

In view of the significant increase in the number of people infected with the virus worldwide and the saturation of their health systems, more and more governments are taking restrictive measures to stem the spread of the disease. Lockdown, curfews and the closure of shops and schools have brought a large number of sectors to a standstill and have a direct impact on the Emmaus movement and its work.

A catastrophic financial impact on the Emmaus groups

Containment measures and closures of non-essential activities have forced Emmaus groups to suspend their activities. In numerous countries, Emmaus shops and sales halls, which generate the main source of income, have been closed and many people have been forced into temporary unemployment. The extent to which governments provide assistance to deal with the economic consequences of suspending activities varies greatly from one country to another. While in Europe solidarity measures are being put in place, these are generally non-existent in Africa, the Americas and in Asia. The financial situation of many Emmaus groups, without any income or sufficient savings, is already very difficult and it is likely to get increasingly worse.

This health and economic disaster compels the movement to rethink its solidarity and to show determination in implementing alternatives and finding solutions to remain at the side of the most excluded. On all scales (national, regional and international) throughout the world, the movement is reorganising its solidarity to respond to emergencies and to enable the Emmaus groups to survive this crisis.

Staying mobilised to assist the most vulnerable people

Despite the difficulties and their main activities grinding to a halt, Emmaus groups are still proving their solidarity by caring for the people they support. The instructions from public authorities are being followed very strictly and life in the groups, and particularly in our communities in France, Europe, the Americas and in Africa, is organised in such a way as to respect all efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Emmaus groups continue to be outward looking and have not forgotten those who suffer most. They are maintaining or setting up initiatives to distribute food, welcome homeless people into their communities, and impart advice on protective measures to the most excluded people who do not have access to this information. We are also continuing our lobbying and advocacy work, namely on the situation of migrants at the border between Turkey and Greece, which is deteriorating on a daily basis.

During this crisis period, it is key not to give up and become inward-looking, but to pull together to ensure that global policy lessons are drawn from this crisis, and above all that this is done while bearing in mind what the weakest among us are experiencing. As Abbé Pierre said: “There is an abyss between those who can and are blind, blinded by the very same power that is isolating them, and those who know because they are dying from it, and who are voiceless because they can no longer make themselves heard, or even give their words expression.”*

This health crisis is yet another warning of the excesses of so-called neoliberal policies, which in recent decades have continued to deepen social inequalities within our countries and between different regions of the world. They have also destroyed our ecosystems, resulting at times in irreversible losses to our biodiversity and leading to alarming changes in our climate.

Throughout the world, these policies have led to the progressive dismantling of public services, the privatisation of access to our most basic needs, such as water, nutritious food, education and health. These political choices will have a strong impact on the ability of each country to care for sick patients and the most vulnerable, including migrants, the homeless and people living in extreme poverty, everywhere around the world.

There must be an "after" to this pandemic, and we must mobilise to ensure that this "after" is never again like the "before".

* Speech to the World Federalist Union, 29 July 1955 Quote from “Drawing Strength from the Infinitely Small”, p. 135, Editions du Cherche-midi