Stand with refugees after the Paris attacks

Solidarity with everyone fleeing mindless violence matters more now than ever, says Jean-Francois Dubost, who leads Amnesty France’s work on refugees and migrants.

“I hope your loved ones are safe,” ends the message from my colleague. We’re in touch about Amnesty activists talking to fans at U2 concerts in Paris, explaining why Europe should welcome more refugees.

Her words immediately make me realize that something has happened. A terrible sense of déjà-vu creeps in – reminiscent of when the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked in January.

Soon I discover that many people have just been killed in simultaneous attacks across Paris – a terrifying toll that eventually rises to 130 lives.

My first instinct is to contact our activism teams. At least one U2 concert is cancelled and all of our plans are put on hold. I skim the news, trying to comprehend the horror.

The realization dawns that the refugees we are working to protect will also suffer now because of these attacks. And it doesn’t take long before the politicians fulfil my grim predictions. Some refer to migrants and refugees as “undesirables” – or even say they should all be sent back, despite the dangers.

And then a fake Syrian passport is found at one crime scene, prompting speculation that the perpetrator travelled to Europe by boat via the Greek islands.

Already, the media are asking if these attacks will change the EU’s policy on receiving refugees.

We all share the same goal: simply to live, safely and freely.

Jean-Francois Dubost, Amnesty France

Twice as vulnerable

Back on the streets of Paris, using public transport, the tension is palpable – a tenuous connection with the people around me. I feel fragile, vulnerable.

It makes me think of how refugees, despite their sheer determination to survive and protect their loved ones, are some of the most vulnerable people among us. And now, they will be doubly so.

Vulnerable because they have been forced to flee, sometimes from unimaginable dangers, and take risky journeys to seek sanctuary abroad. And vulnerable once more, because now they’ll be suspected of being dangerous themselves.

That’s why we must not let refugees be victimized twice over – first in their own countries, where some have already experienced exactly the kinds of threats happening here now, and again after these attacks.

This is our main message, and it has spread quickly on social media, defusing resentment and stopping convenient conclusions being drawn by people who liken refugees to violent attackers.

We’ve joined the chorus of voices stating the simple facts of the situation: Refugees need to be protected, now more than ever.

The media are reporting that fear of refugees is rising, and the consequences this could have. They also interview refugees, particularly in Calais, who express their solidarity with the people of France and take a stand against the attackers. Others say how much this grim situation reminds them of Syria.

Our work over many months encouraging French towns and cities to host more refugees now seems more important than ever. Suddenly, we can also see very clearly how fragile it is, faced with these violent events and the negative reactions they have provoked.

A woman lights a candle at a spontaneous memorial to those killed and injured in the Paris attacks, 14 November 2015. © Pierre Suu/Getty Images
A woman lights a candle at a spontaneous memorial to those killed and injured in the Paris attacks, 14 November 2015. © Pierre Suu/Getty Images

A life without fear

Right now, telling people about the reasons why children, women and men are arriving at our borders is paramount. More than speeches, arguments and demonstrations, we simply need to shine a light onthe reality of people’s lives, their journeys, their aspirations.

Their stories will bring us back to what really matters now, and what we all ultimately want – basics like being able to walk around without being afraid, travelling safely on public transport, living secure lives.

By being defiant during these dark days, taking a stand against all this fear, we can send one simple message: refugees are just like us.

They too used to enjoy the comforts of a normal life, a family, a home. Then violence and conflict turned their lives into a news story – one that eventually reached our own borders. And today, we all share the same goal: simply to live, safely and freely.

We now face the twin challenges of keeping people safe while welcoming many more refugees. We need to show how the two are not mutually exclusive – just two sides of the same coin.

To achieve that, we need unity and solidarity. Together, we can show the fear mongers that we stand with all those who have suffered mindless violence – and that includes refugees.