Frustrations in Brussels - the EU is a nightmare - Reisverslag uit Brussel, België van Jolijn Santegoeds - Frustrations in Brussels - the EU is a nightmare - Reisverslag uit Brussel, België van Jolijn Santegoeds -

Frustrations in Brussels - the EU is a nightmare

Door: Jolijn

Blijf op de hoogte en volg Jolijn

31 Oktober 2015 | België, Brussel

The last 3 days I have participated in a very inspiring conference in Paris, which I will summarize later. Yesterday evening I arrived in Brussels, and today, 31 October 2015, I joined the board meeting of the European Disability Forum (EDF) as a representative of the European Network of (Ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP,
The morning session was very interesting. It was about the situation of refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants and undocumented persons with disabilities. Valencia Otmacic from UNICEF presented the situation in Croatia, where 6.000 to 10.000 people transit every day, and 20% of them are children. These children face all kinds of stress and trauma, lack of shelter, lack of rest, lack of food, heat, cold, unhygienic conditions, exhaustion, confusion etcetera. The dramatic situation of the migration flow is hard for all children. There are no exact data about children with disabilities amongst the flow of movement. Generally they stay only a couple of hours in the transit centres. The UNICEF staff does see children with physical disabilities, such as mobility issues, but they are aware that many other disabilities remain invisible for them. Some children have been carried by their parents from Afghanistan or Syria all the way to Croatia. UNICEF provides them with wheelchairs, and a place where the children can rest. Many children cannot remember when was the last time that they slept in a normal bed. Providing assistance is a challenge, because of the high speed of the movement, and sometimes the needs of these children are perceived as secondary by their families, because it is slowing down the movement. There is no systematic support for refugee-children with disabilities, and for staff it is often unclear what the standards are for providing assistance to children with disabilities among the migration flow.
Then Jan Jarab from UN OHCHR Regional Office for Europe addressed some human right concerns regarding the migration flow. Many governments claim that they can stop the flow of migration by increased border control and surveillance, but this is obviously not the case. It only results in more suffering. Since the closing of the land-border between Turkey and Greece, more people travel by the dangerous boats and less by land. The result is that more people drown. The fences on the borders are obviously a bad investment. Also the fences of Hungary have only changed the routes of the migration stream, and have not stopped the flow. It is a false rhetoric to say that the flow of migration can be stopped by fences or by paying them to stay in inhuman conditions. This won’t work. The security paradigm should be replaced by investing in a proper social reception. Putting people in institution-like camps is not a humane solution. There are alternatives, like in Greece where the government agreed to support normal living conditions by renting 20.000 private places in Greece. This is a useful investment of European Funds. The idea that migrants who are not refugees should return is also not right. Migration already existed before the summer, and some are already here for a long time. It is not realistic to send them all back: it is not humane and economically impossible. What is needed is investing in proper social reception and capacity to deal with the migration flow.
Eberhart Lueder from the Red Cross emphasized that it is not a migration crisis in Europe, but that migration is an issue all over the world, and the current crisis is in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The top countries that host refugees and asylum-seekers are not Sweden or Germany, but are Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Pakistan. The trip to Europe is life-threatening. Most people leave Syria because they want safety for their family. Preventing them to come is not helping. What is needed is a sustainable reception of people who are in need, and not only the fittest and most skilled, but also persons with disabilities. The trauma of the travel route comes on top of the traumas of Syria. They face police and military, and generally the people from Red Cross are the first friendly face they see. During the movement the refugees chose by their feet where to go, but in Europe they are distributed without a real choice, and locked up. There are systems for humanitarian aid during disasters and emergency situations, but generally these are short term measures. It is now needed to organize properly equipped long term reception. The Red Cross provides support to the migrants, and in some places they face criminalization by people who have other opinions. It is important to support the people who do the work on the local level.
Then Charlotte Axelsson spoke about the situation of migrants with disabilities. We do not know who dies on the way to Europe. It could be persons with disabilities. The shelters and relief on the route needs to be improved. In general what is needed most is shelter and relief, blankets, food and wheelchairs. EDF could play a role at the arrival and reception. Persons with disabilities who have already migrated can be resourceful for awareness. The human rights say that nobody is illegal, no matter where they are, and it is important to raise awareness to the governments.
Then Christina Wurzinger of the Austrian Disability Forum spoke about the situation in a reception centre in Austria. The migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers cannot get out of the centre. And NGOs are not allowed in. There is no transparency. Per day, about 25 refugees with disabilities arrive and they are placed in a special centre. Most of them are in transit. One volunteer who spoke Farsi climbed over the wall to see and talk to the refugees. There are about 100 wheelchairs short, and also there is a lack of sign language. There is an increasing number of people, and not enough accommodation, so there is an increase in homelessness, and no structural dialogue with the stakeholders. And the situation seems to be worsening, all seem to be overburdened. Monitoring and advocacy is needed.

Today, 12 children died on the migration route. It is an undeclared war.
Eastern European countries are getting quarrels with each other over the flow of movement.
In several countries social budgets are cut to provide supports to migrants, which results in a decrease of domestic services and an increase in xenophobia amongst the population.
It is necessary to rethink the approach to the migration flow, and all think about how we can contribute to a change for the good.

It had been a very interesting morning session.

After the lunch break, the next issue was up: the EU review by the UN CRPD Committee and its Concluding Observations. (also see ) Speakers were Ana Peleaz, UN CRPD Committee member, and Annelisa Cotone, European Commission-policy officer who explained the process of the EU review and the Concluding Observations, which I won’t repeat here since I have been writing about that many times already.
The European Commission plans to take action. Commissioner Thyssen has declared to follow up on the Concluding Observations, and letters are being drafted to all European institutions, bodies, agencies, to inform them of the specific recommendations and requesting to consider actions for follow up. Also, the Concluding Observations will be translated in every EU language and be disseminated widely to raise awareness. Last week a follow up meeting with NGOs and DPOs took place in Brussels, where the EC-staff mainly listened to identify possible actions (see ) The European Disability Strategy will not be updated, since the objectives are still valid, but lack implementation, so the goal is now to focus on action, not paper. The European Commission will launch a public consultation in December which will last 12 weeks, and will include a questionnaire to gather the views of persons with disabilities, to see if the situation has improved and which factors contributed to improvement, or which factors were obstacles and stopped improvement. The results of this will be published in the Progress report of next year.

We were then asked to raise issues that should be prioritized by EDF for taking action. I raised my hand: “The UNCRPD Committee stated that ‘the EU should take all possible measures to ensure the right to liberty for all persons with all types disabilities in line with the CRPD Guidelines on article 14’. But the EU claims they have no competence on this issue, so my question is: How can we ensure that something actually happens, and prevent that nothing will be done, and that we are not left in the margin again”.
They took 2 or 3 questions at a time. However, there was no response to my question. They only answered the more concrete questions that fit within the margins of the existing EU policies, which I found really upsetting and disturbing. I was already having doubts about the EU, since they constantly claim they cannot do anything about our rights. And now I felt like EDF also had no room for this issue, which made me feel totally hopeless in this EU-context. I am trying so hard to defend the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities, but it is like it doesn’t matter, like it is all in vain. I am spending all my money on the advance payments that are needed for participation at the EU-level, I am personally broke now, and had to beg EDF to buy my train ticket for me since I cannot invest anymore at this point, but I get nothing in return. All they say is that they cannot do anything, and it is too complex in legal-technical terms. THEN WHAT AM I DOING THERE!!!!! This was so demotivating and painful. I had to wipe my tears away.
It was nice that Pirko also raised the issue of the lack of integrity and self determination in relation to health care, and she suggested to have a constructive dialogue within EDF to exchange good practices in order to encourage governments. Annelisa Cotone again repeated her mantra that the European Commission will do everything that is in their power, but they have no competence on the issues, meaning that it depends on the will of member states, and we were advised to make efforts to convince member states ourselves. And EDF accepted this approach. That really pissed me off. I find it really unacceptable that when you ask the European Union to promote human rights, they say: DO IT YOURSELF!! Like they don’t care at all. I don’t see how the CRPD ratification by the EU will have any benefits for the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities, since the mantra is “we cannot do anything about it”. I am still really depressed by this. During the rest of the meeting I have been upset, and I left directly at the end of the meeting, going to my hotel room and I didn’t come out at all anymore. I am sick of this stupid Brussels-reasoning. I am sick of hearing the lies about so-called protection of human rights. I am sick of being ignored. I am just really sick of it all. And I am not sure if I am willing to go on with these stupid meetings that have no prospect for the things I am fighting for. It is useless. I don’t see the value of being here. It only brings me pain and disappointment. It is actually bad for my mental health to be involved in the European political field.
I was very happy that Gabor Petri from Mental Health Europe understood these feelings of hopelessness very well. At least that is one true ally.

I am still very angry and upset about the European lack of interest for the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities. If it were up to the European Union, persons with psychosocial problems will remain isolated and violated for many more years. I will go to sleep now, just to forget the disappointments.

The only positive perspective is that I didn’t miss the horror on this years’ Halloween. I am feeling true fears. The European Union is a nightmare.

  • 12 November 2015 - 12:31

    Sean Crudden:

    Hi Jolijn

    Congratulations on your writing which is excellent and very telling. The whole thing about the EU is obviously hard work and discouraging. Many thanks for your efforts. Take a rest and give yourself time to recover. My uncle used to have a saying, "He (she) who fights and runs away lives to fight another day." I think it was the motto of the Apache Indians.

    Love and best wishes

    Seán Crudden

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