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Refugees need our help

23 September, 2015As millions of people flee persecution and poverty, European governments are struggling to find solutions in the spirit of solidarity and compassion. We need to take care of refugees, in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR points out that people have always had to escape persecution to foreign lands. Asylums were granted already 3,500 years ago as early landmarks of civilization, during the blossoming of empires in the Middle East including the Babylonians and ancient Egyptians.

It happened in my family as well. During the second world war, 70,000 children were transferred from my native Finland to Sweden, escaping bombings. Including my aunt who was 6 years old, decided later to stay in the country, married a Norwegian, gave birth to my two Swedish cousins and integrated fully in society.

Today at least 60 million people throughout the world are fleeing from poverty, hunger, war and persecution. International crises and failed states are particular causes for mass movements. Often no speedy solutions are apparent.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow says it well: “This is not only a crisis for Europe; it is a global crisis. With some two million refugees already in Turkey, the world is faced with the biggest migration movement in 70 years, as people flee armed conflict and abject poverty. Until the basic reasons that people are forced to flee their homelands are resolved, the migratory pressure will continue to grow. Ordinary people, as individuals and through their unions, community and faith groups and sports clubs are showing the way to politicians – solidarity and compassion must be the guiding principles in this as in any other humanitarian crisis.”

The ITUC is calling for the G20 leaders to take responsibility for global solutions at their November Summit, to end the conflicts particularly in Iraq and Syria, which are driving the migration crisis.

Nowhere is the situation more dramatic and need for peace greater than in Syria, 200,000 mostly innocent civilians have lost their lives, some seven million people are displaced inside the country, and four million refugees have left Syria.

This week I met with our Italian affiliates in Rome. They said clearly that trade unions can and should be part of efforts to try and find solutions, and educate their members to combat xenophobic and racist reactions that are spreading all over Europe.

IndustriALL’s German affiliates are showing the way. IG Metall calls upon its members, officers and works councils to show solidarity with refugees and mobilize all elements of society to work for their integration in the society. The union allocates 500,000 euros to its local units to initiate and promote local activities for the benefit of refugees.

In the chemical industry, the social partners IG BCE and employers’ BAVC announced in mid-September that they would open up their current one-year ‘Start work’ program to refugees to facilitate job-seeking, including a German language course.

All unions underline that refugees must not be used for scaling down social protection and other essential elements of the labour market. The fundamental rights have to be secured for all workers. 

Jyrki Raina

General Secretary