The 2017 Alexander Langer Prize is bestowed to the NGO Angalià from Lesbos and to ASGI (from the Italian acronym: Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull'Immigrazione, Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration)
In April 1995, Alexander Langer wrote on Verdeuropa: “Nowadays, governments are worried about certain alarm bells, and they tend to deal with them, but too often in a repressive way only: uncontrolled migration, social tensions and “bread revolutions”, the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the risks of illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons... well, the dangers more than the opportunities. The next inter-governmental Euro-mediterranean conference, announced by the European Union for November 1995, under the Spanish presidency, seeks – positively indeed – a new Euro-mediterranean partnership, but chances are that it will only aim to control just some of these allegedly menacing phenomena, through cooperation and financing agreements, without making bolder decisions: a partnership that will build a true Euro-mediterranean Community, side by side and intertwined with the European one”.
These words help us to understand why the Langer Foundation has decided to bestow the 2017 Langer Prize to two organisations - Angalià NGO from Lesbos and ASGI (translated from the Italian acronym, Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration) – that, in two European countries, Greece and Italy, in two different yet complementary ways, are focussed, since years, on fighting for the difficult and elusive matter of the thousands of people that, on a daily basis, defy death to cross the European borders.
“Immigration – states ASGI in its Programme for the reform of Italian regulations on the matter of right of movement, asylum and citizenship, presented on March 21, 2017 – is a structural and ordinary phenomenon that has deeply modified the Italian socio-economic system, that was badly designed and managed because the majority of the population, of public authorities and of political movements, could not, nor wanted to, put in place an effective policy to handle the current reality, sill considering it as a temporary phenomenon, to be managed with exceptional and emergency measures or with recurring regularisation procedures of illegal entries (always a hindrance when it comes to then find a regular job), or as a menace to security (with very few exceptions, due to the mandatory application of EU directives and linked to the freedom of movement of citizens of other European Union states), in any case denying the right financing to policies of social integration for foreign individuals”.
On top of this, it has to be underlined how nowadays it is hard to define clearly the difference between economic migrants and forced ones. The reasons that determine the never ending migratory flow are to be sought in wars, in dictatorships or in repressive regimes, in the long term consequences of European colonial politics, in the pillage of natural resources, in climatic and environmental effects that are creating poverty and inequalities, in the ever growing population increase.
In a global world, where goods are totally free to move, often following paths that avoid the control of the production chain and the rights of people producing them, people do not enjoy a similar freedom of movement, not even when they flee from the bloody conflicts that ravage their home countries.
Having considered this all, our choice has been made around three main criteria. First of all, that it is necessary to fight for the right of migrants starting from the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of our Constitution and of democratic legality, to be respected once new laws are created, as well as when old ones must be applied; furthermore, that it is fundamental to build welcoming, aware and supportive communities; and, moreover, that it is necessary to create a wider and sounder feeling of European belonging, intended as a common responsibility and willingness to build peace – to use Langer's words – “between men, with nature, among the people”. For these particular reasons we think that the NGO Angalià from Lesbos and ASGI represent a prime example of these realities.
The NGO Angalià (which means “hug” in Greek) was founded in 2008, in the village of Kallonì, in the central part of Lesbos Island. The founders were a local priest, Papa Stratìs, and three other volunteers.
At the beginning it focussed mainly on the hardship of the inhabitants of the places that were struck the hardest by the economic crisis, that to this day sees 15% of the Greek population below the poverty line, and then it started to look after refugees, that initially only reached Lesbos in small numbers and only later reached its shores massively.
In 2016 Angalià focussed on the project “200+200”, with the aim to support 200 local families, victims of this “structural complex reality that is poverty” and 200 refugee families with serious problems
On top of offering economic support, Angalià's activists – as for their end-of-year report of 2016 – wanted to “unite people and deliver the message of a common solidarity among locals and refugees, explaining that in today's world poverty and persecution, discrimination and marginalisation are often born out of common factors and could only be addressed with solidarity, without discrimination”. Indeed, the double intervention helping the local poor and the ones coming from the outside represents an original approach by Anaglià, more than ever, in a context of intertwined crisis that can be attributed to different factors: not only to the war in the Middle East, but also to the economic hardship Greece is experiencing, to the Turkish political system and to the difficulties that are leaving a deep mark on European political choices and its overall values.
Angalià presents itself like a “group that doesn't belong to any official agenda” and wants to separate itself from the dubious practices that have been often adopted towards refugees. Their members believe that every citizen should “simply act”, without avoiding to assuming responsibility for what is happening in front of their eyes. They do that on a pure voluntary basis, without looking for European or government funds to maintain their right to criticise. The project “200+200” was possible also thanks to the big volunteer network built by Angalià with organisations and citizens from all over Europe; this favoured material support, medical assistance, cultural and artistic exchange, the definition of a political goal. It's not by chance if Lesbos, between 2015 and 2016, has seen an increase without precedents of young volunteering, a precious treasure not to be wasted.
The Lesbos' organisation doesn't hesitate to criticise bitterly European policies. If, in fact, those policies managed to contain – towards agreements between the Member States of the European Union and Turkey – the flow of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, they have nonetheless created a “military management” and “inhuman repulsions”. “2016 - stresses Angalià – claimed a number of lives that is unbearable to count, while the material hardship inflicted upon the refugees in full blown Winter speaks only of our common failure to reach that alleged level of civilisation that we are so proud of.”
Associazione studi giuridici sull’immigrazione (ASGI)
ASGI was founded in 1990, by a group of lawyers and university teachers, with the aim to direct the activity of Italian lawmakers, towards an adoptions of norms that would regulate the entrance and the stay of foreigners and asylum seekers, that will respects the fundamental rights of the individual and that will be coherent with the constitutional principles. Equally, it has operated so that Italian society will develop a positive approach towards the profound changes caused by international migrations.
ASGI has contributed for over twenty years to the design of state and European Community norms in terms of migration, asylum and citizenship, promoting a political talk in parliament and a safeguard of the rights of foreigners when they have to deal with the administration. It has offered a constant activity of widespread quality-training at all levels: from volunteers to activists, passing through social operators, attorneys, members of commissions, police departments and prefectures. It has given direct operative support, with appeals, consultations and suggestions, to migrants and social workers on single cases. It has given complete, detailed, constant, and critical information on Italian and European laws on migration. It has practiced an effective legal opposition to every form of discrimination against minorities.
In these last years, peculiar attention was given to the protection of forced migrants (asylum seekers, refugees, displaced people) and to the design of proposals to fight, at a European level too, the xenophobic and populistic deviations in the name of the protection of the fundamental rights of the individual. With this in mind, ASGI has promoted and won various cases internally and in EU courts (EDU Courts and the EU Court of Justice) on crucial matters related to the rights of foreigners, like the right of asylum, discrimination, forced removal, arbitrary detention.
ASGI is based on voluntary work and operates in total independence, dealing and cooperating, when needed, but also fighting with the use of legal instruments, with whatever type of government or institution, whenever the rights of migrants, of people who would like to settle down or just pass through our country, are at stake
ASGI, nowadays with a growing number of women and non-Italian citizens in its ranks, has become a reference point for organisations, public and private institutions, students, practicing lawyers, social workers and whoever has an interest or the necessity to be up-to-date and to discuss the themes linked to migration.
All of this makes ASGI a virtuous excellence and an example, at a European level too, of how much principles and practices of legal democracy could be an essential safeguard for a good common living.
Today, in Italy as in the rest of Europe, the discourse on migrations has become a daily battlefield, based, too often and at every level, on insufficient knowledge and on a chronic difficulty at formulating visions of a wider scope. It seems that twenty years have gone by with no much change, when Alexander Langer, was criticising the countries of the European Union for their inability to develop a common policy on immigration, to establish a valuable partnership with the origin countries of migrants, to manage intelligently the migratory flows and to suggest ways of welcoming and integrating that are both effective and respectful of the fundamental right of the individual. On the contrary, the overall situation and the powerlessness of Europe appears even worsened.
In front of such a reality the choice to bestow the Lager Prize 2017 to both Angalià and ASGI wants to be a countertrend signal, to show what could be the right direction. For their respective stories and their concrete goals the two laureate organisations appear without doubts very different between them. At the same time, though, they are, just as much, complementary. They both show how it could be possible to manage different necessities, yet all fundamental: to help those in need, the respect of fundamental rights, grassroots volunteer work, the independence from external and interested influences, the control of institutions and the incentive towards the same for a behaviour that respects legal democracy, the refusal to push migrants in the role of “refugees” or “victims”, and to turn them into subjects that have the same rights as everybody elese.
The 10.000€ of the Prize have been offered by the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation of Bolzano.
The scientific and guarantee committee of the Langer Foundation is composed by
Fabio Levi (president), Bettina Foa (coordinator), Maria Bacchi (rlecturer), Anna Bravo, Anna Maria Gentili, Andrea Lollini, Christoph Baker, Francesco Palermo, Gianni Tamino, Grazia Barbiero, , Karin Abram, Massimo Luciani, Mao Valpiana, Margit Pieber, Marianella Sclavi, Marijana Grandits, Paolo Bergamaschi, Pinuccia Montanari, Roberto De Bernardis
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