Taking Action With Emmaüs
Arrivals in Lampedusa
Solidarity and resistance in the face of Europe’s reception crisis.
Following the arrival of a record number of people on the move in Lampedusa, civil society, including Emmaus Europe, expresses in a statement its deep concern at the security response of European states, the crisis of reception, and reaffirms its solidarity with people on the move arriving in Europe.
More than 5,000 people and 112 boats: this is the number of arrivals recorded on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Tuesday September 12. The boats, most of which arrived autonomously, originated in Tunisia or Libya. In total, more than 118,500 people have reached the Italian coast since the start of the year, almost double the 64,529 recorded during the same period in 2022 (1). The accumulation of numbers does not make us forget that, behind each number, there is a human being, an individual story and that people still lose their life trying to reach Europe.
While Lampedusa has long been a destination for the boats of hundreds of people seeking refuge in Europe, the island’s reception facilities are lacking. On Tuesday, the chaotic rescue of a boat caused the death of a 5-month-old baby, who fell into the water and immediately drowned, while dozens of boats continued to dock in the commercial port. For several hours, hundreds of people remained stranded on the pier, without water or food, before being transferred to the Lampedusa hotspot.
The hotspot, a triage center where those who just arrived are kept away from the local population and pre-identified before being transferred to the mainland, with its 389 places, has no capacity whatsoever to welcome with dignity the people arriving on the island on a daily basis. Since Tuesday, the center’s staff have been completely overwhelmed by the presence of 6,000 people. The Red Cross and staff from other organizations have been prevented from entering the facility for “safety reasons”.
On Thursday morning, many people began to escape from the hotspot by jumping the fences due to the inhumane situation that was being experienced. Meanwhile, in the face of the Italian authorities’ failure to provide a dignified welcome, local solidarity has taken over. Many locals have mobilized to organize food distributions for those who have taken refuge in the town (2).
In addition, different organizations are also denouncing the political crisis in Tunisia as well as the humanitarian emergency in the city of Sfax, from where most of the boats leave for Italy. Right now about 500 people sleep in Beb Jebli Square, with hardly any access to food or medical assistance (3). Most have been forced to flee Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Chad, Eritrea or Niger. Since the racist statements of Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, many migrants have been expelled from their homes and jobs (4). Others have been deported to the desert where some have died of thirst.
While these mass deportations are ongoing and the situation in Sfax continues to deteriorate, the EU agreed to a new migration deal with the Tunisian government three months ago in order to cooperate “more effectively on migration”, border management and “anti-smuggling” measures, with an envelope of over 100 million euros. The EU agreed to this new deal in full knowledge of the atrocities that the Tunisian government has carried out, including the attacks perpetrated by the Tunisian coast guards on migrant boats (5).
Meanwhile, we observe with concern how the different European governments are closing their doors and failing to comply with asylum laws and the most basic human rights. While the French Interior Minister has announced his intention to strengthen controls at the Italian border, several other EU Member States also declared that they would close their doors. In August, the German authorities decided to stop the selection processes for asylum seekers arriving in Germany from Italy under the ‘voluntary solidarity mechanism'(6).
Invited to Lampedusa on Sunday by the prime minister Meloni, European Commission President Von der Leyen announced a 10-point action plan that confirms this securitarian response (7). Reinforcing controls at sea to the detriment of the obligation to rescue, increasing the pace of expulsions and stepping up the process of outsourcing borders… all old recipes that the European Union has been implementing for decades and which have proved their failure, only aggravating the crisis of solidarity and the situation of people on the move.
The undersigned organizations call for an open and welcoming Europe and urge the EU Member states to provide safe and legal pathways and dignified reception conditions. We demand that urgent action be taken in Lampedusa and that international laws that protect the right to asylum be complied with. We are devastated by the continuous deaths at sea caused by the EU border policies and reaffirm our solidarity with people on the move.
(1) Reuters, “Italy’s Lampedusa island hit with record migrant arrivals”, September 12, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/italys-lampedusa-island-hit-with-record-migrant-arrivals-2023-09-12/
(2) Maldusa, “Lampedusa’s Hotspot System: From Failure to Nonexistence”, September 14, 2023, https://www.maldusa.org/l/lampedusas-hotspot-system-from-failure-to-nonexistence/
(3) Statement “Urgence humanitaire au Gouvernorat de Sfax : la société civile tire la sonnette d’alarme face à une situation inacceptable”, September 14, 2023, https://euromedrights.org/publication/urgence-humanitaire-au-gouvernorat-de-sfax-la-societe-civile-tire-la-sonnette-dalarme-face-a-une-situation-inacceptable/
(4) Migration-control.info-project, “Mass deportations and EU externalisation in Tunisia: Press Review and Critics”, August, 2023, https://migration-control.info/en/blog/mass-deportations-and-eu-externalisation-in-tunisia-overview-press-review-and-critics/
(5) Alarm Phone, “Deadly policies in the Mediterranean: Stop the shipwrecks caused off the coast of Tunisia”, December 19, 2022, https://alarmphone.org/en/2022/12/19/deadly-policies-in-the-mediterranean/
(6) La Repubblica, ” Migranti, da Berlino stop ad accoglienza dei richiedenti asilo dall’Italia” September 12, 2023, https://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2023/09/12/news/migranti_da_berlino_stop_ad_accoglienza_dei_richiedenti_asilo_dallitalia-414254801/?ref=RHLF-BG-I414254188-P2-S1-T1
(7) European Commission, “Press statement by President von der Leyen with Italian Prime Minister Meloni in Lampedusa”, September 17, 2023, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_23_4502
This was more than just a football tournament
In July Emmaus Europe and IFS-Emmaus organised the first edition of the Emmaus Football Championship for Peace and Human Rights in Srebrenica. Touching speeches were delivered, new friendships were made and unforgettable experiences were had. This event brought together over 70 people, including 31 companions from 17 groups in 13 different countries. They reflected the diversity of Emmaus in Europe.
“We had a good time over there,” says Gusti, a companion who has been living in the Emmaus Cabries community for 4 years. He signed up for the event in order to play football and to learn more about the Emmaus movement across Europe, but he did not expect to get so emotional when listening to people’s stories and whilst attending a conference on non-violence, “it was the first time I had ever been to a meeting like that. The content was really interesting and I learned a lot…Listening to Dzile and Abdul almost brought me to tears. I will never forget those moments.”
The stories of Dzile, who escaped the Srebrenica genocide, and Abdul, an Afghan refugee who is now a photographer, were indeed amongst the most touching moments in the agenda of this event on building peace and respecting human rights.
Zizou, a former companion who has now become a group leader in Cabries, agrees with Gusti, “I remember hearing about the war in Yugoslavia on TV and so to find myself in Srebrenica over 20 years later it was…emotional.” When we asked him what he thought of the stories of Dzile and Abdul, Zizou was unable to find the words to express himself, he was overcome with emotion. What he did outline was the importance of meeting people and the fun he had when playing football, “after the first day we had already become good friends and that was thanks to the football games. There were people from different age groups and cultures, who spoke several different languages…events like this are just amazing!”
This event was organised with a simple set-up: with time for listening to others, workshop sessions and conferences in the morning and football in the afternoon. In between the two we set aside some quiet time, time for artistic activities, for self-expression or for people to do anything else that they want to do. And nobody was forced into anything, “we felt like we were on holiday even though we had an agenda for meetings, the meetings were interesting too!” remembers Leïla, the leader of the Emmaus Iasi group in Romania who came to this event with seven companions from her group. “This event was a unique opportunity to bring companions to a gathering where they did not need to speak a foreign language and where they could learn more about the movement on the European level”. Aurélie, the leader of Emmaus Cabries, agreed with Leïla, “this event struck a chord with the companions. In 15 years with Emmaus this is the first time that I have seen so many of our companions attending an event and getting involved in the conferences. Within our communities we often live in a bubble and the wider movement…it’s almost something theoretical in a way so it’s great to spend some time to learn more about it and to see just how diverse and rich our movement is”.
On the workshop/conference agenda: a visit to the Srebrenica genocide museum and memorial followed by the intense speech by Dzile (a survivor of the massacre who chose to return to the region despite the trauma in order to build peace). The next day Daniele Taurino, a philosopher and member of the movement for non-violence, invited the participants to learn more about the concepts of non-violence in the context of a Europe at war. The next day Afghan photographer Abdul Saboor spoke with gentleness and a disarming simplicity about how he became an exile and about his work as a photographer. An exhibition of 16 of his photos was set up in the next room and Abdul took the time to tell the stories behind each and every photo.
The morning sessions were emotional and the participants sometimes left for lunch with heavy hearts. “It was like you dropped a rock into my heart Abdul…” said Maria-Luisa after listening to Abdul’s story. The afternoon sessions of football and relaxation helped people to shed this burden and to meet other members of the group. How many friendships were forged around the football pitches, in the stands cheering the players on or during the goal celebrations?
Sport as a mechanism for integration and learning
François, who is the Chair of the Emmaus Switzerland Federation and who has been part of the movement for almost 8 years, tells us more, “we never, or hardly ever, get the opportunity to sit down and share things with the companions. [At Emmaus meetings] we often talk about concepts, priorities, statutes, etc. But at this event, everyone was welcome, everyone was equal. Sport puts everybody on an equal footing. It felt important.”
During the football games in the afternoons nobody had a status, nobody was wearing a specific “hat”. There were no longer the participants on one side and the speakers, organisers, interpreters and sound engineers on the other side: everybody suddenly transformed into football players. François continued, “we just let everybody be themselves, the ‘Emmaus family’ feeling was really the aftertaste of this event”.
“The energy of the participants and their interest in the activities offered made everything easy to organise” said Sabina, the national delegate for Bosnia and a member of the executive committee of Emmaus Europe. Sabina also vividly remembers the unique atmosphere of this event.
As a co-organiser for this event on the behalf of IFS-Emmaus, Sabina’s expectations were high: she hoped that IFS would renew its relationships with groups from Western Europe and that a message of hope could be sent out to our Ukrainian friends. Yes – it is possible to rebuild, to see peace reborn from a pile of ash despite atrocities, as was the case in Srebrenica.
To conclude this amazing event the organisers had scheduled a ‘graduation ceremony’. Thus all of the participants were able to leave with a souvenir and all of the groups were able to take a trophy, of sorts, home with them. François told us, “during the graduation ceremony a companion told me, “nobody has ever given me a hug like that”. That just makes you want to cry! Moments like that are a gift, you know the event has been a success when you hear that”.
Just before the departure Joanna from Emmaus Lublin, who played the role of interpreter for the nine Polish people and the four Ukrainians present at the tournament, summed things up perfectly for this unique event, “these have been the five best days of my life!”
Everything paid off and the Emmaus movement was the winner.
Knitting together a social and circular future for textiles
An interview with Yvette Gumbs, the national delegate for the Netherlands. Yvette represented Emmaus Europe at the conference organised by RREUSE on the urgent topic of textile waste and the impact that this has on the fashion industry.
Let’s get started by talking about the current challenges in the textile market. What do you think are the main problems we are currently facing with regards to the textile industry?
The textile market is facing significant challenges in terms of sustainability and waste management. One of the main problems is the linear nature of this industry: textiles are produced, used and then thrown away at breakneck speed. Thus huge amounts of textile waste are produced and a significant proportion of these textiles end up being sent for incineration or to landfill sites.
Another challenge is the social impact of the textile industry, especially in manufacturing for fast fashion. In several regions across the globe working conditions are poor, wages are low and workers’ rights are often violated. We must solve these problems in order to build a fair and sustainable future for the textile sector.
Given the complexity of these challenges, how can we move towards a more circular and responsible textile industry in terms of its social impact?
The transition towards a more circular and socially-responsible textile industry requires a multifaceted approach with the involvement of several stakeholders. First of all we must promote the adoption of more circular and socially-oriented business models amongst textile producers. They may need to focus on producing less in order to produce better as well as implementing new practices such as repairing items and taking into account the end of life when designing pieces.
Furthermore, consumers themselves play a key role in this transition. It is essential that we raise awareness about the consequences of fast fashion and that we encourage people to adopt more responsible behaviours such as purchasing second-hand clothing or renting clothing. Consumers may also decide to support sustainable brands that have adopted more ethical and environmentally-friendly practices.
Lastly, political decision-makers should encourage the adoption of sustainable practices by implementing legislation that limits the importing of products that are produced under sub-standard social and environmental norms as well as legislation that encourages reuse – by making Extended Producer Responsibility compulsory and by rewarding companies that take initiatives in order to protect the environment.
As regards textile reuse, have you come across any innovative solutions? Are any of the solutions promising in terms of reducing textile waste?
There are many exciting, innovative solutions in textile reuse that have a lot of potential. One such solution is technologies that recycle old pieces of textile into new fibres that can then be used to create new pieces. This solution helps to reduce our needs for new materials as well as reducing both waste and energy consumption.
Another great solution is the emergence of collaborative platforms. Such platforms facilitate the trading and renting of clothing as well as boosting the second-hand market. These platforms thus promote a culture of reuse for clothing, instead of simply throwing pieces away after they have been worn a few times.
Furthermore, social enterprises and NGOs like Emmaus have made significant progress in promoting reuse practices thanks to initiatives based on skills development and upcycling. Communities are thus able to create value from textiles that had been thrown away, and this then has an economic and social impact within the groups.
Georgia: the “balcony of Europe” and a group which is now ready to join the Emmaus movement!
The vitality of our movement can be measured by the exchanges and discussion it creates, the friendships it helps to forge and the mutual aid initiatives that it helps to launch. Our recent visit to the Emmaus GEO group once again proved that our movement’s history is a great example for all.
In 2015 a small association called ‘Emmaus Georgia’ was created in Tbilisi, Georgia. Working with vulnerable populations (distributing clothes, doing the rounds, etc.) and being active on social media, the group soon created intrigue. Our Ukrainian friends had heard about the group and in 2017 Emmaus Oselya invited the founder of Emmaus GEO, Giorgi, to a meeting of the European groups to discuss the shared challenges faced by the Polish and Ukrainian groups (the Poland-Ukraine collective). At the meeting this little Georgian group and all of the other participants were able to learn more about the scope of our movement and its diversity as well as meeting people and groups who have the same passion for tackling the causes of poverty. After this meeting we had a feeling that a new Emmaus adventure was about to begin – and that this time it would be in Georgia.
A Steady Journey to Join the Emmaus Movement
During a long stay in France in the 2010s Giorgi spent some time in Grenoble and came across the local Emmaus group. When he returned to Georgia he couldn’t get the idea of recreating the Emmaus model out of his head. He wanted to help the most vulnerable in Georgia. On the other hand, he knew nothing back then about the national and international scope of the activities led by the solidarity shop he had known in Grenoble. He’s had a lot of learning to do since then!
Emmaus GEO became a trial member of the Emmaus movement in 2019. The last visit to the group (the ‘pre-membership visit’) took place in late April 2023. The team noted the impressive progress made by the group since their previous visit in June 2021.
Over the years the group has made real progress and has changed a lot, although it has not been a lightning-quick transformation. Emmaus GEO has benefited from the solid support of the French group Emmaus Annemasse, providing information about the Emmaus movement and supporting our Georgian friends with their projects. Emmaus GEO has been going through things step by step, consolidating its gains and always sticking to its values of unconditional welcome and tackling the causes of poverty – values which are part of the group’s DNA.
Innovative Activities – An Emmaus Tradition
Between June 2021 and April 2023 Emmaus GEO strengthened its financial independence by becoming the owner of a house in Kvareli, a small town in the wine region of the country that attracts a significant number of tourists. This house will allow the group to welcome more companions. The companions will be in charge of running a vacation home for tourists. The site will have a few bedrooms and will open in the coming weeks!
In early 2023 the Kvareli town hall also provided the group with a new 113m² sales area with a very attractive shop window. The clothing shop that will be launched there should allow the group to attract new customers and to strengthen its financial independence. The grand opening will be in a few weeks’ time!
Furthermore, in Tbilisi Emmaus GEO runs a second-hand clothing store which often attracts people who are in vulnerable situations. They swing by for a chat or for a coffee and the volunteers (there are over 30 volunteers already!) are always there to listen. It is more than a mere shop, this site helps to build relationships and represents, in itself, a sort of mutual help network.
The group is also very active in its initiatives with displaced persons from Abkhazia and South Ossetia who are often living in highly vulnerable situations. Since 2008 these populations have been living on the outskirts of Tbilisi in insalubrious buildings where there is sometimes no electricity or running water. Emmaus GEO visits these people on a weekly basis, distributing food and clean clothing. The group also fights to promote the rights of these populations and to find them paid work.