Over the past decade there have been various social problems to hit the EU member states. Poverty and immigration, as well as the refugee crisis surprised political elites. As a result, these issues were not addressed quickly or efficiently.

In front of these new problems that emerged, the role of many NGOs became instrumental.

Caritas Europa, a network of Caritas organisations on the European continent, is among the most active and persistent NGOs. During the past few years, it has been defending in a clear and tough way positions that political parties or governments are avoiding.

In an interview with European Interest, the Secretary General of Caritas Europa Jorge Nuño Mayer presents Caritas’ vision for an open and tolerant Europe based on the respect of human and civil rights.

“Let’s ensure that by 2030 poverty will have been eradicated in Europe by then!” Caritas Europa said in a recent statement.

According to Mayor, measures to eradicate poverty include ensuring adequate minimum wages and minimum income for all. He said: “The EU and its member states should ratify the European Social Charter and accept its collective complaints mechanism”.

He also expressed his concern about migrants and refugees in Italy, Spain and Greece. “There is a European policy to address human trafficking,” he said, “but its implementation has not been sufficient”.

Mayer has been Secretary General at Caritas Europa in Brussels since 2010. Between 2004 and 2005 he was Director of the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) in Spain.

As a response to the xenophobic reactions of some governments, Mayer underlined the important role migrants play in the EU economies.

“Migrants support human capital development and technological progress in countries of destination by creating new jobs, sustaining innovation and increasing production. They contribute to taxes and social security and perform certain jobs that locals no longer want to do” he says.

European Interest: In September, Caritas Europa expressed regret that Mr. Juncker’s State of the Union speech was a missed opportunity to outline a real vision for an “open and tolerant” Europe as a global player. What should be that vision, according to Caritas?

Jorge Nuño Mayer: Caritas Europa calls for a vision of Europe that puts people at the centre of policy and that fully respects human and social rights and empowers each person, family and community. Solidarity and particular attention to the poor and most vulnerable should be at the core of European actions.

We want an inclusive Europe that welcomes all members of society and recognises that everyone has the potential to contribute to the common good. We also call for European financial programmes to support innovative economic models that address poverty-reduction and environmental issues at home and overseas.

Caritas Europa underlined that EU’s approach for the EU’s relations with Africa today is based on economic and investment goals. What is lacking in terms of EU policies toward African countries? How can the flow of immigration from African countries be stopped or reduced?

The current plans of the EU to boost trade and investments in Africa can have a positive impact, but only if they are not simply a way to maintain Europe’s economic grip over African countries. These interventions should focus on the creation of sustainable partnerships, decent jobs and long-term sustainable local economies. We are concerned that by focusing massively on the need to boost trade and investments in Africa, the EU’s development policies will miss out on their commitment to leave no one behind and will not reach the poorest and those furthest behind.

While seeking the engagement of the private sector, the EU’s priority should be to prove a clear development added-value, with real impact on long-term sustainable development and poverty eradication. These policies must include the engagement of local small business, social enterprises, communities and Africans themselves. Scarce development aid resources should never be used to promote private investments that cannot prove a clear development added-value.

The focus of EU’s development policies should never be to stop or reduce migration flows. Instead, the EU should tackle the massive social and economic gap that exists between certain regions of the world, which is at the heart of the current migration from Africa to Europe. EU policies should also clearly recognise that migrants make major contributions to development, both in their countries of origin and of destination. With the right leadership and rhetoric, these contributions can represent a truly global positive element.

Caritas is active in all the fronts of the migration routes in Spain, as well as Italy and Greece. According to your experience, were state infrastructures prepared for the immigration wave? What are the major problems each country faces?

Migration is not a new phenomenon in the world and Italy has long been used to support the reception and integration of migrants. The “hotspot approach” (different agencies and state institutions cooperating in a camp to process asylum applications and host asylum seekers) currently implemented in several places in Italy brings challenges and leads to unworthy reception conditions for migrants. Under the new Italian government, a decree was recently adopted that significantly reduces the possibility of receiving “humanitarian protection” status. This will worsen the already difficult reception conditions of asylum seekers.

Spain was less affected by the arrivals of people seeking protection in 2015. However, in the last few months it has become one of the main entry points to Europe as arrivals to Italy have decreased. So far this year 56,863 migrants have arrived in Spain, over three times the 14,555 who arrived in 2016. This creates a logistical challenge to adequately receive and host people in need. Cases of pushbacks from France to Spain have also been increasing.

In 2015, Greece was in the middle of an economic crisis and not prepared to receive such high numbers of people in need of protection. Now it still struggles to provide a comprehensive response as it lacks appropriate reception facilities. On the islands the challenges are many: the process for transferring applicants to the mainland is very slow and people live in inhumane conditions in overcrowded camps.

Despite the support of NGOs and international and European agencies, much more is needed to respond adequately and with respect to human rights in Greece. The biggest challenge now is that winter is approaching and the conditions in the camps are not sustainable. Now more migrants stuck in the islands need to be evacuated to the mainland, where they can benefit from better reception and integration structures.

As regards organised criminal networks, which control the trafficking of migrants and exploit them once in Europe, it seems governments are doing little to stop them. What kind of European policy is needed to tackle this problem?

There is a European policy to address human trafficking, but its implementation has not been sufficient.

In many countries, the laws to fight human trafficking and to support the victims are there, but they are not properly enforced. Monitoring the implementation of these laws is essential. Challenges also relate to the insufficient financial and human resources provided by governments. There is also a lack of statistics. Here, the EU could participate in providing funds for member states and civil society organisations (CSOs) to work towards developing common data and tools.

The concerns for victims and their human rights must be at the centre of any strategy against human trafficking. A victim of human trafficking should have a right to a residence permit and to legal papers because these provide access to other rights, such as healthcare and justice.

CSOs like Caritas work directly on the ground and are positioned outside traditional institutions. This gives them a central role in identifying the victims. This positioning also enables NGOs and CSOs to support the victims directly and in very different ways, such as by providing psychological support, medical care and legal advice. This work must be done in collaboration with institutions. For example, institutionalised tools and processes of identification of victims must be generalised and widespread.

It is very important to highlight that while the fight against trafficking is key, this should never target NGOs and volunteers who are providing help to migrants in need of humanitarian aid. In this regard, the repeated attacks and legal proceedings against the search and rescue Aquarius boat are deeply worrying.

As reported by the media, the business world in many EU member states (such as Denmark, Poland, Hungary and Finland – to name just a few) declares that there is a need for more workers to fill job vacancies. If it so, why do you think the political leaderships in these countries are against immigration and xenophobic in their statements and polices? Why don’t they take advantage of the labour force coming from the refugee and migrant population?

Migrants support human capital development and technological progress in countries of destination by creating new jobs, sustaining innovation and increasing production. Low skilled migrants also play a very important role in Europe. They contribute in taxes and social security and perform certain jobs that locals no longer want to do, such as cleaning jobs, building and ground maintenance, food services, construction, security, retail sales, personal care and services.

Migrants fill important gaps both in fast-growing and declining sectors of the economy. In Europe they represent about 24% of entries into the most strongly declining occupations (such as craft and related trade workers, as well as machine operators and assemblers) and 15% of entries into the most dynamic sectors such as health-care occupations and STEM occupations (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

However, even if their contribution is recognised and established, general discontent stemming from the economic crisis has been exploited by many national governments and populist movements in different European countries spreading misinformation for political ends. Migrants are wrongly blamed for Europe’s economic and social problems. This is a barrier for social cohesion and for achieving an inclusive Europe.

Caritas Europa is also active on the field in the fight against poverty. Recently in a declaration, it underlined that when children grow up in poor families, they are likely to stay in poverty for the rest of their lives. Are the measures taken by the EU leadership enough to eradicate child poverty?

The EU can and should do more against poverty. Job creation for the disadvantaged, more family support and better social protection are needed. More must be done to address the consequences of austerity policies, implemented in reaction to the economic crisis of 2008. The decision-making power in these matters is mainly in the hands of the member states. Unfortunately, many of them see better access to social rights and a better social protection system as a cost and a threat to their competitiveness. On the contrary, in our view, cooperation and upwards social convergence is the only answer against poverty.

On 17 October, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Caritas Europa said in a statement: “Let’s ensure that by 2030 poverty will have been eradicated in Europe by then!”. Since in every single state of the EU, even the richest, poverty levels increase each year, what are the concrete methods needed to achieve the eradication of poverty?

The concrete methods to achieve the eradication of poverty include ensuring adequate minimum wages and minimum income for all, access to social protection, access to services, investing in education, investing in family support, and enhancing participation of people experiencing poverty and the organisations that represent them.

The EU and its member states should ratify the European Social Charter and accept its collective complaints mechanism.

We must not forget the crucial role that the EU has in the fight against poverty at the global level. It will be important to increase the resources dedicated to development cooperation in the new EU budget (Multiannual Financial Framework), in order to meet the commitment of dedicating 0.7% of the EU’s collective Gross National Income to development aid. Moreover, the future EU development instruments should clearly have as a primary objective the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the eradication of poverty, without serving the EU’s interests in terms of migration control.