Closing speech on behalf of the European Scout Region by Chip Veerle Haverhals, European Scout Committee member

Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends, Dear Scouts,

Thank you to the European Economic and Social Committee for hosting us here today, and thank you to the European Youth Forum who joined us as partner of this event.

Three years ago, in response to the refugee and migrant crisis that was emerging across Europe as a result of instability and conflict in neighbouring countries, Scouts from across Europe and around the world came together at the very first Refugee Response Seminar.

That important gathering brought Scouts together who were determined to roll up their sleeves, to take action, to help people in their local communities. They were Scouts, like many of you here, who were determined to live up to your promise to do your duty to help other people. Scouts like you who put others before self.

The participants who attended the Refugee Response Seminar left with their bags packed, full of knowledge and practical ideas to take back home to their associations, on how to take action on the refugee and migrant crisis, over the coming months and years.

Importantly, they also left that event with an appreciation that the refugee and migrant challenge is so big, that it would require effective partnership working with like-minded organisations, across Europe and around the world, to make a difference.

And over the last three years, our Movement has grown in confidence about its ability to be a leading social force for good in the world. As the world’s leading educational youth movement, Scouting is looking outward at the big issues that affect people and planet, mobilising it’s 50 million young people to take action and put right what they see as being wrong.

And arriving here, it has been valuable to reflect on the paths that we have travelled, the distance that has been covered and the hard work that has been done in bringing Scouting in to closer contact with the refugee and migrant challenge. All of you have made a huge impact on communities around the world.

Over the last 3 days we have been able to reflect on what has been achieved over the last 3 years, and as we pause to reflect, we reconfirm our ambition to take action over the coming 3 years and beyond – together with partners – because as we have discovered at this conference – hand in hand, we’re stronger together.

No matter the reason, people leaving their country for good, risking their health or their life, going to a place they don’t know where some people don’t want them to come …those people are the close witnesses and the direct victims of a very concrete violence.

We cannot deny anymore, today, that refugees are very often direct or indirect victims of a violence against them by the part of the world they want to reach.

The role that the most powerful states can take in wars and political instability outside of their borders is undeniable. 

The economic violence created by one part of the world against another has been well recognised and understood for a long time now. Its visible when you reflect on where clothes or smartphone-components like mine and yours are coming from.

Likewise, people fleeing from natural disasters are not the first responsible of climate change.

The refugee knocking at my Belgian door is therefore concretely questioning my responsibility in his or her situation. If she’s out now, it’s because I’m in.

Let me be very clear: I’m not talking about an individual sense of guilt because of a lack of action at governmental level. But about the very clear responsibility of our host countries to find a solution for the migrant reaching it.

An individual solution for him or her. A global solution for his fellows. Will also be a real solution for my fellows. For his children and mine, for the children of our children.

Like many of you, I thought a global challenge required first and foremost a global answer, a political answer. I believe in the power of collective intelligence. I believe in the European project. I’m convinced that all together we can be stronger, more effective and more efficient.

But, as many others, I notice that many international institutions are, at the moment, not capable to face global issues. Too slow. Too hesitating. Too dependent of a single veto.

And meanwhile people keep knocking at my Belgian door.

More than ever, it’s  time for civil society to take our responsibility. To volunteer and to commit, collectively.

So here is our message:

  1. Let’s choose the emotion we want to follow, not the one we want to run away from. Let’s choose empathy over fear. Let’s see the refugee as a courageous and willing man or woman, and not as a victim. Let’s be proud of what we do and not guilt for what we do not do.
  2. Let’s dare to act. Now. Within our own means, capacity and realities. Knowing the first step is always the most difficult one. So let’s start small, make a first try, share with others, learn from each other. In our neighbourhoods, at work, in our scouts groups.
  3. And above all, let’s stop judging. Many people think and act differently than I do, and will continue to do so. Whether I like it or not. Let’s use our energy to follow, to build something together and not to fight the opinion of others. And if we really would like to convince other people, may it be by our actions more than by our words.
  4. As our member states are running behind, we would like to put a challenge on you: Use your confidence and experience of what we do as a movement to challenge our governments and make them act and react in a stronger way.

All of us here believe that by working hand in hand, we’re stronger together. We understand, and value, the importance of civil society organisations, like Scouting, working with institutions and partner organisations at European and national levels.

But let us remember, Scouting is fundamentally an educational Movement. It’s a Movement that changes the lives of young people, their families and in more than 1.5 million communities around the world. It is a Movement that is truly local and global at the same time, united by a set of common values that guide us and an amazing programme of great activities that define us.

Scouting provides an education for life. We know it is engaging and empowering; that it creates opportunities for learning-by-doing; that it encourages diversity and equality, and that it promotes a culture of peace too.

The educational experiences that we provide, every hour, every day, every week, every month, for 50 million young people are the key to Scouting’s response to the global challenges of today.

Young people today shouldn’t just be seen as the future. They are also the ‘now’ – a formidable force, ready to take action on the issues that affect them, including on refugees and migrants. They use the values of Scouting as a code for living – and if we can imagine a world with even more Scouts, just imagine the kind of world that future generations will enjoy because of the seeds that we have planted today.

What happens in the future, very much depends on what we all do in the present.