Three Spanish students from the province of Zamora persuade the EU to change text on their website that linked the wave of refugees to terrorism in recent years. The European Ombudsman ruled in their favour.
The pupils – Esther Martín, María Pérez and Paula López – from the village of Alcañices, were vindicated by the European Ombudsman. The three of them study economics and while studying the European Union last year, they visited the ‘History’ section of the EU website. There they came across the following text: ‘that with the recent influx of refugees due to religious extremism and instability in Africa and the Middle East, the EU is not only in the dilemma of how to deal with them, but is also the target of several terrorist attacks’.
This shocked the students. Even during the months of distance learning, the small class agreed on the injustice of these words. Paula López, 18, felt this vulnerable group was being “stigmatised” and argued “the EU should represent all of us”. Esther Martín, 17, stressed these statements were aimed at those arriving by boat and not by plane: “It is a form of fear and racism”.
Decisive and resolute
The students emphasise it is not enough to “talk and debate” if you want to change something, but that action must be taken with arguments. They studied the Declaration of Human Rights and the values promulgated by Europe. First, they complained to those responsible for the page, but there was no response. Then, outraged by this “insulting and discriminatory text against refugees and people of other religions”, they turned to Lene Naesager, the European Ombudsman.
They had little hope of a response until they received an email with the blue flag and yellow stars. The EU admitted the mistake and changed the page in all 24 EU languages.
It now says ‘the EU is faced with the challenge of how to care for them [refugees] while safeguarding their welfare and respecting their human rights’. Terrorism is no longer mentioned.
Naesager detailed in her reply the Commissioners admitted that “the previous wording could be confusing”. “I am pleased to report that this text has been updated to remove any possible inference that could indicate a link between refugees and terrorism,” she added.
The girls are happy their efforts to fight inequality have borne fruit. They are an example that with hard work you can change things. Even school children from a province can do that, it doesn’t take big politicians to do it. However, they are worried that inequality will continue and they will not always be able to do something about it. Their economics teacher, Chema Mezquita, praises the “developed social thinking” of his students. Martín lists their concerns apart from school: “The LGTBI+ world, rural culture, feminism, refugees…”.
Prepared for university
In a few months, the students will be going to university, but they are proud of their rural education. They lament the stigma that people in villages are ignorant. They argue fervently that “rural life is not just about farming and animal husbandry”.
“We are as well or better prepared”. Esther is considering studying law and political science, Paula finds psychology interesting and Paula is thinking of choosing industrial relations. They assume they will move away from their village, but emphasise one thing: they must be able to return. It should not be the case that the lack of services, such as health care, bank branches or good internet connection, limits their choice of where to settle in the future.