Freedom of movement



On 1st February 1954, Abbé Pierre made a historic appeal for solidarity on Radio Luxembourg. 70 years after “the uprising of kindness”, an immense surge of generosity to help the homeless, his successors are following in his footsteps to draw your attention to the situation of exiled persons, but also to call for an “uprising of discourse” on this issue, particularly in the media.

“My friends, your help is needed”. Exactly 70 years ago, with these words, our founder, Abbé Pierre, began a radio appeal to the people of France, calling on them to show solidarity and help the “homeless”. The response, the result of an unprecedented collective awareness, was a magnificent and spectacular outpouring of generosity, in the form of millions of donations of money, blankets, clothes… Seventy years on, inadequate housing and the lack of emergency accommodation still cause suffering on a daily basis for millions of us. Seventy years on, we, Abbé Pierre’s successors and members of the Emmaus Movement, welcome and support thousands of people in difficulty every year and are shaping a more hospitable, supportive and environmentally-friendly society.

Today, 1st February 2024, in keeping with the injunction to “serve first those who suffer most”, we wish to draw attention to the situation of exiled persons, and to the urgent need to change the way we perceive them.

For 30 years, public policies on the welcoming of exiled persons have consistently followed the same pattern: relentlessness, repression, restrictions on rights and abuse. Report after report attest to this, and the criticism that the French state is attracting for its inhumane and undignified practices is coming from the most respected authorities: Ombudsman, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees… And despite these supposedly dissuasive policies, it is estimated that nearly 30,000 women, men and children have lost their lives over the last decade trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the Channel.

We don’t just think that a welcoming society is the solution: we know it is! We, Abbé Pierre’s successors, practice unconditional welcome and support people regardless of gender, origin or religion. At Emmaus, much like many solidarity organisations, we play a small part in proving that people who have been uprooted from their homeland and their loved ones are simply looking for a more dignified life and a better future. Have those who say, without

batting an eyelid, that we shouldn’t send boats to rescue people in the Mediterranean, asked themselves for one second what they would have done in their shoes? Probably not, because they were born in the ‘right place’.

All the more so because, in public debate and in the media, fake news is circulated over and over again about people in migrant situations, never seeking to understand the reasons behind their journey and their real desire to integrate, which has terrible consequences on people’s perceptions and beliefs.

We, Abbé Pierre’s successors, are dismayed by the rise of this unabashedly racist thinking, carried by certain media devoid of any humanity, spewing rancid concepts and unverified assertions over and over again. The media bear a heavy responsibility for this, and it is up to them to ensure that the coverage of migration issues is more balanced. But we also believe that everyone has a role to play in this cultural battle, especially in the age of social media. This is why, seventy years after the “uprising of kindness”, Emmaus is calling for an “uprising of discourse” on welcoming exiled persons.

Why do we talk so little about the many studies that explain that our country needs immigrants for its economy, that show that our capacity to welcome immigrants is much greater than we think, that prove the immense benefits of cultural mixing, that remind us that, historically, a civilisation that closes itself off is often heading for disaster? Why don’t we do more to highlight the countless situations, all over the country, where living together prevails over the fear of others, hostility and misconceptions?

The stakes are high: what kind of society do we want? A more welcoming society that respects fundamental rights and fights every day to remain faithful to a humanist ideal? Or a society closed in on itself and indifferent to the fate of the most vulnerable?

Let’s all lend a hand to the many organisations that help exiled persons. Let’s go out and meet these people who are waiting to be lent a hand, and let’s create the links that are sorely lacking and that give cause for concern. Media, influencers, citizens, let’s play our part in this essential uprising of discourse, which must lead to raising awareness and awakening our power to act.

We don’t just think that a welcoming society is the solution, we know it is, and we prove it every day in our Movement.

Join those who carry this vision of hope, hospitality and humanism.