“We should make human rights the key component of all migration and refugee policies”
[CEC] This was the central message of the fourth annual Conference of European Churches Summer School on Human Rights, which took place in Italy this week. The gathering brought together 45 human rights experts, scholars, and church representatives from across Europe for a week of intensive learning and dialogue. It was co-organised with the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe and supported by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy and the Diaconal Centre La Noce.
Those gathered in Palermo were welcomed by local pastor Revd Peter Ciaccio, a former member of the CEC working group on human rights. Participants learned from academics and human rights practitioners about international human rights law and instruments in the area of migration, asylum, and refugee law. This content was also illuminated through daily theological and biblical input from different Christian traditions.
Göran Gunner, moderator of the CEC Thematic Reference Group on Human Rights, remarked, “It is important for CEC Member Churches to discuss both the theological and legal aspects of migrant and refugee rights to make a real impact on decisions at the national and European levels.”
Keynote lectures addressed issues relating to refugee rights, the rights of all migrants, as well as those of stateless and trafficked persons. Other contributions also emphasized the securitisation of migration and resulting fears, as well as the specifics of the Italian situation.
Witness given by migrants proved particularly inspiring for Summer School participants. Their testimony, combined with best practice examples, helped develop ideas about making human rights a reality in national contexts. This sparked conversation about what more churches could do to help migrants and refugees live a life in dignified conditions.
Great concern was expressed about the tendency of European governments to restrict access to rights (including barriers to asylum procedures and cooperation on border controls with countries having a poor human rights record) and make disproportionate use of detention. Participants also noted with great sorrow that many have died on their way to Europe and that more should be done to prevent humanitarian disasters. They voiced support for safe passages to Europe, exemplified in projects like Mediterranean Hope of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy and partners.
“As the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, we will in cooperation with CEC continue to network the ongoing and future work of churches in Europe on theological and legal aspects. Human rights will guide our daily advocacy work with European institutions,” said Talvikki Ahonen of the CCME Executive Committee.