After five years of relentlessly advocating for refugees and displaced people, Refugee Rights Europe (RRE) is drawing to a close. When we first started as the Refugee Rights Data Project in January 2016, we set out to fill a gap and fundamentally change how the refugee rights sector operated. The odds felt against us. Five years later, we are proud to say we have accomplished what we set out to do and more. Today we are writing you to inform you that we are wrapping up our work and present to you what your support has enabled over these last few months.
Refugee Rights Europe was born in early 2016 because we saw critical gaps in the refugee and human rights sector across Europe, including the lack of data and evidence, lack of human rights centred advocacy and policy making and clack of collaborations between large well-established advocacy organisations and small grassroots actors.
We wanted to start something new. Something that would help us gather strong evidence, advocate boldly and channel the voices of refugees to the corridors of power. We felt compelled to turn up the volume on calls to defend the human rights of displaced people.
We wanted to see more collaboration across civil society in Europe, to hold governments to account for their human rights obligations. That’s what RRE set out to do. And that what’s we did:
We spoke out unequivocally.
From Ventimiglia to Calais via Paris, the Aegean Islands to Brussels. Wherever refugees and displaced people faced human rights violations, we documented them and we challenged them. We used our research to put ‘unpopular’ issues on the EU policy agenda through high-level meetings and work with MEPs. We sent our evidence to human rights bodies at the United Nations, and to support court cases.
We gathered data that didn’t exist before.
Our sector needed strong evidence, rooted in lived experience, to advocate for people on the move. We interviewed and surveyed over 6,000 people in displacement across Europe and published over 40 research reports. We presented unique and ground-breaking evidence and shone a light on the true state of refugees and displaced people’s rights in Europe, shaping media coverage across the continent.
We put refugee voices front and centre.
Refugees and displaced people’s voices were absent from corridors of power. We showed that it was possible, and essential, to amplify their voices. We did this by bringing the lived experiences of more than 6,000 people into our advocacy work. We asked questions, listened and relayed voices of people trapped in legal limbo and unable to reach the discussion tables and policy fora themselves.
We built bridges and collaboration in the sector.
We needed more joint work across civil society, and across state borders, to hold governments to account for their obligations under international law. We brought together individuals and groups of different types and sizes, across borders, to advocate for refugees and displaced people. We worked with frontline groups in Greece, at the French-Italian border, in northern France, the UK and Belgium. We also mobilised academics, medical doctors, philanthropists and other experts on rights issues at borders during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We upskilled people and organisations on advocacy and research.
We trained dozens of partner organisations on advocacy and field research and produced hands-on guidance documents. We hosted more than 100 researchers, volunteers, translators, interpreters, photographers, designers, interns and advisors to be part of these efforts. This way, the sector is better equipped to collect data and use it strategically.
We put our weight behind campaigns that changed lives.
We successfully advocated for the piloting of Youth Welfare Officers in Birmingham and London – offering invaluable support to asylum seekers aged 18-25 years old in the UK, and helping to break down some of the UK’s hostile environment. We worked with over 90 grassroots groups, NGOs and INGOs to push for the relocation of hundreds of children from the Aegean Islands in the midst of overcrowding and Covid-19 travel restrictions. We showed that when there’s a will, there’s a way. We co-created the pan-European End Pushbacks Partnership, a one-year initiative which framed pushbacks as an unlawful Europe-wide trend. We were part of wider efforts which led to serious investigations calling out the practice.
Please read our official statement for more info on our thinking behind our decision to close down operations.
None of our work over the last 5 years would have been possible without the continuous and generous support of donors like you – and we really cannot think you enough for having been part of this important journey. Your belief in this work has been invaluable.
Before signing off, we wanted to also share in the below sections some of our key highlights of the past few months – thanks for making this work possible.
Thank you and Goodbye
In 2021, refugee rights are far from assured but we have deep trust in the countless organisations, groups and individuals involved in this area of work, and know that others can and will build on RRE’s work to create the change that is needed.
The people who made up RRE aren’t leaving the cause. There are real threats to the human rights of people on the move, in Europe and beyond. We remain ready to face them and will continue the fight. We hope you will continue to support the mission beyond RRE.
All that remains is to say thank you ever so much again for your invaluable support.
In solidarity and gratitude,
Marta and the RRE team
The last three months at RRE:
Collaboration and Capacity building
Refugee Rights Europe research archive on Border Criminologies
We are honoured to partner with Border Criminologies at Oxford University in creating an RRE reports archive on their website. Since early 2016, we’ve researched and documented the situation for people on the move across Europe’s many violent borderlands, interviewing and surveying more than 6,000 individuals regarding their first-hand experience.
Through this partnership with Border Criminologies, we are able to reach a wider audience and better highlight the inadequacies of Europe’s response to asylum and migration, shedding light on human rights violations and placing the voices of refugees and displaced people themselves at the centre stage.
Visit the report archive here: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/refugee-rights-europe-reports
Capacity building resources for refugee rights advocacy
We love sharing our 5 years of experience with refugee rights advocacy at EU and UN level with others. To this end, we created a number of useful capacity building resources and also compiled some external training and courses on advocacy, campaigning and reporting. You can access them here:
Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Convention
28th July marked 70 years since the birth of the 1951 Geneva Convention, also known as the Refugee Convention. We published a joint analysis with our friends at Europe Must Act. Read it here: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/07/its-70th
Italy: The Exacerbation of A Crisis
As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in Europe, the situation for displaced people in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia deteriorated further. Vulnerable individuals and groups would face additional dangers and protection risks in this context, while unaccompanied children continued to be pushed back at alarming rates while being treated as adults, a tactical practice aimed at depriving them of their right to seek asylum in France.
Read it here: https://refugee-rights.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/RRE-Progetto20k_TheExacerbationOfACrisis.pdf
Read also our previous reports about the situation for displaced people in Greece and France during certain periods of Covid-19.
Greece: Unaccompanied Children at the Gates Of Europe
We teamed up with Still I Rise to investigate the situation facing unaccompanied minors during Covid-19 in Samos.
Drawing on desk research, interviews with unaccompanied minors and staff working with them, our findings highlight the deterioration of an acute and protracted situation:
- Children are trapped in dismal reception conditions without appropriate and adequate services.
- Access to medical care and psychological rehabilitation is insufficient.
- Unaccompanied children who are treated as adults face serious safety risks. This is in clear contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
These conditions and the lack of protection have led to a mental health crisis on the island.
You can read the report, here: https://refugee-rights.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/RRE_UnaccompaniedChildrenAtTheGatesOfEurope.pdf
Greece: Pushbacks, Homelessness, and Human Rights Abuses
In collaboration with partners, RRE has published a new report on pushbacks and human rights abuses in Greece during Covid-19.
The first year of the pandemic saw a steady erosion of basic human rights for asylum seekers and people with refugee status in Greece - from rising homelessness and an increase in domestic abuse, to spiralling mental health problems and a further worsening of camp and detention conditions.
The report captures the wide-ranging gross human rights abuses unfolding on Greek soil and assesses the Greek Government’s action in relation to these issues.
- UK: In light of the UK Government’s controversial and heavily criticised proposals for a ‘New Plan for Immigration’, our UK Research and Policy Coordinator, Frances, explained why the plans are not only inhumane but also unworkable.
- Italy: During recent months, partners working on the ground in Ventimiglia have observed a concerning increase in the numbers of people on the move arriving in the area, and in the abuses they are met with by authorities. This new blog post by Progetto20k outlines the main trends observed.
- Spain: Over the last year, there has been a surge in people crossing the dangerous sea route from Western Africa to the Canary Islands. This guest blog by Chiara Fabbro explains where this trend has come from, what the political response has been, and what the fatal impacts are for people on the move.
- Balkan Route: In a guest blog, Nidzara Ahmetaševic looks at the situation for people on the move in Romania.
In 2020, the arrival of people to Romania from neighbouring countries increased by 238 percent. This is one of the most recent noteworthy shifts on the Balkan Route.