Emmaus Björkå: showing solidarity with migrants
In Sweden, Emmaus Björkå carries out the tasks traditionally undertaken by Emmaus communities: collecting, sorting, repairing and selling goods at low prices. However, what’s special about this community is that the income it generates goes first and foremost to fund solidarity projects and campaigning efforts in favour of migrants.
Interview with Kristin Ivarsson, a member of the association’s staff.
What does your work for migrants consist of?
In April 2015, we took the decision to dedicate Emmaus Björkå’s solidarity actions to helping migrants and refugees. Through partner organisations we provide European migrants and failed asylum applicants with clothes, shoes and vouchers for our second-hand shops. Furthermore, we help fund other organisations which provide them with accommodation, food, medical care and legal assistance. At the international level we support projects on health, education and activities for children, etc. for Palestinian and Sahrawi refugees who live in camps under appalling conditions, where there is a huge need for humanitarian assistance.
Do you also engage in political campaigning?
Yes, for we share the Emmaus movement’s aim of eradicating the causes of poverty and injustice. In recent months, we have participated in political debate in Sweden, speaking out in favour of a humane and open asylum policy. When, this autumn, the media disseminated shocking images of refugees drowned at sea, people were faced with the reality of the situation. The public and politicians alike showed a spirit of solidarity and openness. Yet bit by bit, refugee policy has become tougher, aiming to discourage migrants from coming to Sweden. At the start of 2016, Sweden introduced identity checks at its borders, a move that completely closes the door to migrants and flies in the face of the principle of the right to asylum. We are rallying together with other organisations to condemn this violation of the right to asylum, and have organised protests denouncing it. We also use our shop windows to raise the public’s awareness about migrants and refugees’ rights.
Sweden is one of the richest countries in the world and we are saddened and ashamed by how the situation is evolving.
Photo credit: Kristofer Lundberg
What can Emmaus do to champion the migrants’ cause?
We should continue to offer alternatives. Emmaus International is one of the biggest organisations that dare support freedom of movement and settlement for all people. Opening the borders is the only reasonable and realistic step towards ensuring that human beings are truly respected. We should continue to advocate this whilst taking concrete steps to provide assistance and save lives along migration routes. Migrants bring fresh ideas as well as new experiences and knowledge to host countries. Today, numerous studies attest the positive effect of migration on host countries’ economies. But that’s not the point! We should welcome migrants and refugees even if they don’t ‘bring’ anything to our country. Human rights – such as the right to asylum – are not rights that have to be earned: they apply to all human beings without exception.