Citizens’ solidarity with refugees has been timely, dynamic, creative, and purposeful. Artists are making documentaries and selling bags made from recycled life vests. People are knitting sweaters, teaching English, setting up wifi hotspots in the camps, and pulling people to safety on the shores of the islands. They are donating baby formula, organizing volunteer logistics, and opening their homes. Many of these services are funded by the local volunteers, who have been experiencing their own financial crisis for several years. These grassroots actions are inspiring, but they cannot replace the need for government accountability and political action across the E.U.
The protecting, processing, and distribution of refugees is ultimately the responsibility of Europe’s national governments, all of whom have signed international humanitarian agreements pledging to respect the human rights of refugees. Although the bottom-up grassroots activity is dynamic and well-intentioned, they cannot fulfill the responsibilities of the government to manage this crisis. The slow trickle of refugee relocations is not nearly sufficient for the flood of people now stranded in limbo in Greece. Though the E.U. set a target of relocating 20,000 refugees from Italy and Greece by mid-May, so far only around 1500 have actually been relocated. This leaves 46,000 people awaiting processing in Greece. At this rate, refugees could be waiting in their tents in Greek military camps for over 5 years, even if all new arrivals stopped. This is a structural and political issue that must be addressed by politicians, and not only because it is the humane course of action. If politicians are truly representatives of the people, then they must also demonstrate the same support and solidarity for refugees from the top as their constituents have been showing from the grassroots.