Meeting with Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs

Speech to EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson

Wednesday 8th April 2020

This week, I had the opportunity to speak with Commissioner Ylva Johansson on behalf of Europe Must Act, a campaign calling on an EU level for the decongestion of the Aegean Islands. Together with my colleagues, we delivered our 100,000 signature strong petition and discussed what her plans were to protect lives on the Aegean Islands in light of 4 years of political negligence and the impending COVID-19 crisis.

Having addressed the Commissioner, Europe Must Act is now continuing to press for action, launching a number of new initiatives aimed at seeing pledges of support from cities and governments across the continent.

Find out more:

Below is my opening speech to the Commissioner:

"Good afternoon Ms Johansson,

Firstly, on behalf of our whole team, the NGOs, and the many thousands of citizens who support our work, can I thank you for taking the time to meet with us today to discuss the challenges, frustrations and future of the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean. Just to introduce us…. Hans, Kirsty, Robert...

I’ve been working for many years on the islands of Chios and Samos in the field of education for children and young adults. During this time I have witnessed widespread and chronic failings across the board. But today we want to focus on building a constructive and humane policy that will not lead to a repeat of the past 4 years. This is an absolute imperative.

We’d like to start with a brief overview of our campaigning work to date, secondly, an update by my colleague Kirsty who works on Chios island. In the third part, we’d like to address the actions being taken towards the evacuation of the islands, and, finally, we’d like to discuss how to take this conversation forward with the Commission. But firstly, a little about the Europe Must Act campaign.

"A systemic overhaul is critically needed on the islands"

In early March, together with a coalition of other grassroots and major NGOs, we wrote an Open Letter to the Commission and Parliament, demanding the decongestion of the islands. This demand grew from the collective realization that a systemic overhaul is critically needed on the islands. It came from our years of experience filling humanitarian gaps here. It even came before COVID-19 added yet another degree of urgency.

Beyond the decongestion of the islands, we’re also eager to see far greater oversight of and assistance to the Greek government’s response to this continuing situation, as well as far more shared responsibility across EU Member States.

Through this Open Letter and accompanying petition, we have brought together the voices of many MEPs, almost 100,000 citizens, and 160 NGOs. These are groups and individuals with great experience and knowledge of the situation. It’s one of the first times so many active groups on the Aegean islands have come together calling for change. But to be clear, we do not work in advocacy or policy. We have been and continue to be on the front-line. We bring our unique and personal insights from months spent monitoring and responding to a tragic situation every single day, without pause. We may be aid workers, activists and volunteers, but we are mostly just very ordinary European citizens.

"We may be aid workers, activists and volunteers, but we are mostly just very ordinary European citizens."

We’ve come together to call with as strong a voice as possible on the President, yourself and the whole Commission to take immediate steps to ensure legal asylum procedures and humane reception conditions are available to every single asylum seeker arriving into Europe. And more importantly, to advocate for a caring and compassionate form of EU governance, that displays great courage and great solidarity with those fleeing wars and persecution, and that will take bold steps quickly and confidently to ensure that no one is left behind to sleep in a tent, without showers and sanitation. We want to see the Commission’s resolve to act as it would react were these refugee communities our own closest family. For this is who they are: families, couples, siblings and friends.