“Let’s Bring Them Here movement”: when the civil society mobilises
26 October, 2020
After the terrible fire that devastated the camp in Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos on the 9th September 2020, numerous mobilisation actions were carried out to help the approximately 13,000 people that were in the camp. An unusual initiative, however, has caught everyone’s attention: the air expedition organised by the Dutch civil society to bring 189 refugees to the Netherlands.
An expedition for salvation
In response to the fire on the island of Lesbos, several states have responded by mobilising themselves to receive asylum seekers on their land. In particular, the Dutch government decided to welcome 100 refugees, including 50 unaccompanied minors and 50 vulnerable migrants. However, this decision has provoked great criticism from NGOs and political parties, who have complained that the Dutch government is not doing enough to help people in need. Therefore, the foundation of the Dutch civil society group We gaan ze halen (wgzh), which means “Let’s bring them here”, has organised a crowdfunding in the days following the incident. The declared goal was to send an empty plane to Lesbos airport so it could bring 189 refugees to the Netherlands. They wanted to “convince the Dutch government to start relocating a decent number of people from the inhumane conditions that European politics has brought them into”. They did this for those people who are not heard, for those who cry for freedom, for those who live in small tents, using blankets as a floor, having only one meal per person plus a little water per day. They wanted to show what was happening in Lesbos and to spur the Netherlands to take responsibility for this.
In just 10 days, they received donations by more than a thousand people, collecting about 50,000€. The Boeing 737 left Rotterdam on 5 October, directed towards Greece. The Greek authorities revoked the permission to land while it was already in the air, just before landing, thus forcing the activists to stop in Athens or to go back to the Netherlands. They declared that “to our great frustration, the plane was taken from us. Without any form of consultation and based on inadequate information, the Greek government forced us to stop”. The activists have decided to reach by bus and boat the island, where they were kept under control by the police in order to check their actions, although they had all the necessary permits to bring refugees to the Netherlands. Once there, the activists were able to talk to aid workers, islanders and refugees and to see the former burned camp. They also witnessed that the new camp that was built in the aftermath of the fire immediately flooded as soon as it started raining. They therefore reported the request for evacuation and relocation to Dutch politicians and citizens, given the terrible living conditions that thousands of people are forced to live in.
Several entities opposed this initiative, including the Greek Minister for Immigration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, who stated that “cooperation in relocation of migrants is done officially through states and not through citizens’ initiatives”. The Dutch State Secretary of Justice and Security, Ankie Broekers-Knol, has also disapproved the expedition with a letter directed to Rikko Voorberg, the representative of We Gaan Ze Halen. She declared that, even though she appreciated their efforts, their private initiative was not the better way to help. Voorberg’s response was not long in coming, and he has used harsh words to answer the secretary. ” Stop bringing food and sheets, there is no need. The island must be evacuated. Never again, Moria”. On the contrary, there have also been voices of support for this initiative, such as that of Yorgos Papandreou, the former premier of Pasok, from the socialist Panhellenic Movement, who wrote on Twitter: “EU civil societies are mobilizing. Governments must listen, play their part. For an EU of solidarity & compassion”.
Even though this may seem like a failing initiative, in reality it is quite the opposite. As the activists themselves have stated, “the action already succeeded when the Dutch citizens decided to send that plane. […] Every day we have the chance to make a new beginning, to create a fairer world. The meaning of We Gann Ze Halen lies in the fact that they show that this other world is possible”. They conclude their statement with an appeal to their government, but it can be an appeal for all European governments: “how do you respond?”. It is clear that the crisis on the island of Lesbos is only one of numerous that affect migrants within the European Union. This initiative of the civil society is an emblematic example of the failure of States’ policies to relocate and support asylum seekers on EU territory. So, it is not surprising that civil society is once again trying to make up for the shortcomings of its governments. Their actions, which are only aimed at solidarity with people in need, should not be hindered.