Your voice matters. You have the right to say what you think, express your hopes and wishes and demand a better world. You have the right to agree or disagree with those in power, and to peacefully protest.
But in parts of Europe the freedom to do this is being restricted by governments who are afraid to be challenged.
In Poland, many people have been put under surveillance. Hundreds have faced fines and legal action simply for gathering and protesting against the restriction of their rights.
Hungarian authorities are trying to silence critical voices. New laws have come in to criminalise people working to help refugees and migrants and to make it extremely hard for NGOs to operate.
This pattern of targeting NGOs and people showing solidarity with refugees and migrants is not limited to Hungary. Several countries in Europe are taking steps to slander and even criminalize such solidarity. In Italy, NGOs helping to rescue people crossing the central Mediterranean have faced a smear campaign and investigations. In France, we have seen cases of people like Loan Torondel facing criminal action for helping refugees.
Loan was convicted in 2018 for tweeting a photograph of policemen standing over one of the many people routinely evicted from informal camps in Calais.
This criminalisation of people trying to help refugees and migrants is emerging as a dangerous pattern, which punishes people who are simply trying to do the right, or humane, thing. But despite attempts to silence them, people like Loan are raising their voice in the face of injustice.
“It is people, citizens, who mobilise daily to limit the suffering of people that can build a better society.”
“I worked in Calais for two years at the Auberge des Migrants, which is an association that does distribution for migrants close to the border, documents the abuses committed against them and does advocacy to stop it.”
“It is important that European citizens raise their voices in the European elections because in Europe migrants are forced to risk their lives at borders and to live in extremely dangerous camps. We see it in the Mediterranean, in Greece, the Balkans, in Calais.”
“And if we want to change it, it is possible. Solutions exist. For example, we could have a European Union that resumes rescue operations like Mare Nostrum, one that creates a better European asylum system to protect people.”
In other attempts to further restrict our freedoms, there has been widespread securitisation across Europe with the expansion of counter-terrorism powers, which has seen a shift from governments providing security so that people can enjoy their rights, to governments restricting people’s rights in the name of security.
There are people who won’t stand for it and fight for the societies we live in to be free and fair for everyone.
Zofia Marcinek won’t tolerate hate in Poland. She is one of 14 women who stood up to hundreds of far-right protesters calling for things like a ‘White Poland’ and “Europe will be white or deserted” at a march in Warsaw in 2017.
They were attacked by some of the protesters, but afterwards it was the women who were fined, for ‘obstructing a lawful assembly’. Despite this injustice, Zofia won’t stay silent.
“I think that change begins with the realisation that something is wrong. Change is our responsibility.
Different fights for civil rights, for human rights and for minority rights have been fought over the span of the last century and they have been won. You can have an impact on what is going on and what is happening.
The ability to come in touch with other groups, with other societies and other citizens, all over the world, brings out a very strong sense of solidarity.
I think it’s important for people to raise their voices about the issues that matter to them as the European elections are approaching because, without very vocal input from the citizens, we cannot hope for any actual change.
And it is important to keep those who decide about our rights and our future in check by constantly reminding them that their duty is to follow what the citizens need and ask for.”
What better reason is there to raise your voice, than to protect the very right of people to do so?
- Make some noise by sharing this page
- Follow #TurnItUp and raise your voice for the right to say what you think
- Let politicians know what you want by voting in the EU elections in May