Hilton Humanitarian Symposium
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a huge pleasure to be here today, and to pay tribute to the worthy winner of this year’s Hilton Humanitarian Prize.
At the Council of Europe, we are very aware of the achievements of Lora Pappa and METAdrasi, Action for Migration and Developments.
Our 2015 North-South Prize was awarded to Lora for the extraordinary work being done in Greece by this unique organisation that she founded:
We saw that METAdrasi was stepping in to support migrants and refugees in need:
recruiting staff and volunteers;
providing specialist training;
and using new ideas and pioneering methods to help those that had newly arrived, particularly regarding community interpretation and care for unaccompanied minors.
It was clear to us that this organisation shared our objectives of respecting the dignity and rights of everyone, as enshrined in our treaties, and of putting in place the measures that not only protect newly arrived refugees and migrants, but set them on the best possible footing for the future.
2015 was also the year in which the number of people arriving in Greece by sea increased almost five-fold to more than 850,000.
That is equivalent to around 8% of the total Greek population – in just twelve months.
In recent years, the flow of migrants eased, but remained considerable.
And in the summer and autumn months of 2019 we have seen another significant increase.
The people who arrive on Greek shores – often crowded into small boats, and at risk of drowning – may be fleeing hardship, persecution and violence.
Always, they come in search of a better life.
And charities including Lora Pappa’s METAdrasi are there to help, day in, day out.
In recent years, their activities have increased and expanded, to help give new arrivals the best possible start to their new lives – as you have seen for yourselves in the presentation.
But that work costs money.
So, the generosity of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize is not only a well-judged recognition of the good that is being done, it is also a 2 million-dollar multiplier that will ensure that this organisation can do yet more good, for yet more people, at this critical time.
The impact of your help will be felt by those who need it most.
But it is also important I think to have a proper picture of the context in which this work takes place today.
Europe has not witnessed migration on the scale of recent years since the Second World War – and the points of entry are concentrated in just a few countries.
Greece, for example, is a relatively small country but it, and others, have devoted time and resources to improving the way in which they respond to this phenomenon.
Certainly, there have been shortcomings, and these have been well-documented, including in the reports by the Council of Europe.
But, equally, our Organisation is working with the Greek government, and others in Europe, to help ensure that the rights of migrants and refugees are upheld.
Rights that exist in law.
For the past seventy years the Council of Europe has been our continent’s leading human rights organisation.
The European Convention on Human Rights, whose roots are in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has been ratified by every one of our 47 member states.
It includes the rights to life, liberty and security, respect for private and family life, and prohibitions on torture and the death penalty, discrimination, and punishment without law.
And it guarantees freedom of thought, religion and association too.
These rights belong to 830 million people who live in our member states and to every person who sets foot on their soil – including every migrant and refugee.
And all of these people have the ultimate right of appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, to ensure that their rights are enforced.
The European Social Charter meanwhile guarantees rights relating to employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare, and so on.
Again, member states have an obligation to ensure that these are provided for everyone.
But applying these rights in new and complex situations is a difficult thing to do.
That’s why we also develop new instruments that help national authorities to ensure that human rights are protected, with a particular emphasis on children.
Among other things, we have a Special Representative on Migrants and Refugees who visits receiving, transition and destination countries and reports on challenges, standards and good practice;
We have an Action Plan on Protecting Migrant and Refugee Children, with its special focus on unaccompanied children, which aims to ensure access to rights and child-friendly procedures, to provide effective protection and to enhance the integration of children who would remain in Europe.
And we have guidelines on support measures for young refugees in transition to adulthood;
guidance on alternatives to immigration detention, including those tailored for children;
techniques to help identify victims of child trafficking;
and our HELP programme, which offers courses on refugee and migrant children to professionals who work with young people.
In addition, we have put in place measures to help the migrants and refugees and their new communities to succeed, including the recognition of education credentials through European qualification passports and our work for intercultural dialogue, including intercultural cities, based on our vision of living together as equals.
Is everything perfect?
Far from it.
For example, within Europe there remains the question of how to achieve solidarity with those countries on the frontline of the migration and refugee challenge.
But without doubt the situation in Europe today is better than it would be without the human rights laws that are in place, and the co-operation of governments to raise standards.
It is good to have hope.
But our experience shows that it is better when that hope is underpinned by laws and action.
Ladies and gentlemen, we live in an era of hard language and sometimes apparent indifference to the fate of others.
But for all the justified concern, the facts tell us that there are still good reasons to have hope in our capacity to right wrongs.
Hope because there are laws that must be obeyed.
Hope, because there are governments and international organisations which can act, or which can be held to account should they fail to act.
And hope because, when these fall short, we have citizens and the organisations that they form to bring about change first-hand, and encourage and enable others to do so.
Lora Pappa and METAdrasi are not representatives of the state.
Nor is the Conrad Hilton Foundation or the people in this room today.
Rather, you are individuals who have each decided to act, to pursue the humanitarian cause, and to make a real difference in troubled times.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: every woman, man and child has the right to live in safety, security, and dignity.
Today, there are people in Greece and beyond who can do that because of the recipient of this Hilton Humanitarian Prize.
And now there will be many more –
Congratulations to you Lora and to everyone at METAdrasi.