Never Leave Anyone Behind

Speech delivered by Nina Bergman, Vårdförbundet (Trade Union for Health Professionals, Sweden) at the PSI World Refugee Day Panel Event, “Solidarity, Hope and Inclusion: Public Services Trade Union Actions on Refugee Rights in the MENA Region that took place on 20 June 2023 in Beirut, Lebanon.

I am very honored to be speaking on behalf of the Swedish affiliates of Public Services International in this panel event.

This day is an important day that marks our solidarity with the growing number of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, young children and babies – who had to flee because of conflicts, climate change, discrimination or migrating to build a better future. They all share the uncertainty of the future, but they all deserve to have a place that they can call home.  

The four Swedish unions affiliated to PSI that are represented here today, namely, Vårdförbundet, ASSR, ST and Vision, bring the voice of over 500 000 public service workers from the health, social and state sectors. We represent the workers who receive migrants and refugees in our professional roles and many of us ourselves have a migration background.

Our unions stand up for the right to quality public services for all - and today this is being challenged in Sweden by our right-wing liberal government that is dependent on the far right party that dictates an aggressive and non-inclusive policy in the background. After almost one year of power, the government has gone from talk to walk and changes are happening in many political areas.

One of them is to minimize Sweden’s responsibility for migration. As a country with vast natural resources and space and a relatively small population, the current government will bring down the states’ ability to receive and host people in need to a minimum. This is a big change from a solidarity, rights-based and inclusive political tradition.

One example is the proposal to oblige public employees to denounce and report people to the immigration and police authorities. This includes social workers, health workers and others - precisely those who have a key role to create trust and future hope for those starting a new and secured life.

We oppose such obligation. It is a violation of our professional ethical codes and the right to health. The patient confidentiality includes everyone on equal terms.

Our government has also opened discussions on the right to stay in Sweden for those born abroad, who already have a permanent visa. This concerns citizens who have been working and living in Sweden for decades, contributing to our society with hard work and started families together with the rest of us. Now their right to stay will be questioned based on their language skills and knowledge of Sweden’s history and culture.  

At the same time, at the European level, the European Council, under the Swedish Presidency, reached an agreement on the 8th of June this year on a New Pact on Migration and Asylum. It is called a “modernization of the EU’s rulebook for asylum and migration.” However, the word modernization is merely another word for protectionism and sharpening of already non-humanitarian policies.  

The agreement aims to streamline the asylum procedure across the EU so that when people seek international protection, they should have the same treatment during the process. So far so good but:

It also includes a mandatory procedure to stop asylum seekers, when coming to an external border or even after a search and rescue operation. Member states will be requested to establish capacity, in order to examine applications and enforce return decisions.

Another part is called the new solidarity mechanism, which aims to force countries to share the burden of receiving refugees and migrants among them. The new rules combine mandatory efforts and possibilities for member states to choose their individual interventions. It can be to contribute financially or deploy personnel to carry out relocations.

But this is really a headcount and economic construction more than a humanitarian system. Countries that are big receivers may relocate migrants to other countries. Countries can also financially bargain with their responsibility, and a price of 20 000 Euros is set per individual asylum process that is relocated. So if one member state chooses not to receive a person in need, another country can step in and for the price of 20 000 euros, take over that individual and proceed with his or her asylum process.

This way, human beings in need of protection become numbers, with an economic price. People in need of protection become commodities that countries can deal with between each other.

This proposal together with the “asylum and migration management regulation” will replace the current Dublin regulation and are up for negotiations with the European Parliament. The result will affect the lives and the future of thousands of people.

We believe that people fleeing their countries to seek protection should not be met by a politics that is based on head counting and economic figures, but by a humanitarian and human rights-based asylum process. We need to embrace a solidarity approach that does not reflect the populistic protectionist fears and inability of European member states to work together.  

This is in stark contrast to the Charter of the United Nations and the World Health Organization.   

This year, the World Health Assembly, which is the highest decision-making body of the WHO, decided to extend the Global Action Plan to Promote the Health of Refugees and Migrants from 2023 to 2030. The plan urges member states to re-orient their health systems with the support of the WHO to embrace inclusive policies and interventions for migrants and refugees so that no one is left behind in access to health care. The WHO, through the Health and Migration Programme, will help member states to better understand how migration and displacement affect the health of people on the move.

During the WHA, there were also important discussions on the link between climate change and health, highlighting that this year’s Conference of Parties (COP28) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will dedicate an entire day to discuss health and climate, including the impacts of climate change on migration.

These are good things under way that we should support. We should also acknowledge what the first phase of the PSI Project on Human Rights, Trade Unions and Quality Public Services for Refugees and Migrant Workers has resulted so far. Going into the next phase with a focus on climate as a driver for migration is timely and relevant.  

This project alone cannot transform all that we want to change, but we will contribute to a better world with human rights and equal rights. We have the benefit of belonging to the biggest democratic network in this world - the trade unions. We are backed by common values, well formulated by PSI and our will to put people and societal values before fear and social divides.

Today is World Refugee Day. We will continue our work for migrants and refugees and never, never leave anyone behind.