Drug addicts, prisoners, sex workers, hiv positive Ukrainians, homeless people and migrants: the most emarginated people in society on the decision table in the European Parliament with Cyrus Engerer
“The European Parliament belongs to all of us and we all should have a seat around the table to enact the best European laws”, Member of the European Parliament Cyrus Engerer said during a conference he organised in the European Parliament with the organisation Nobody Left Outside. “This meeting was one of the most satisfying meeting in my mandate” Engerer said, “because with me on the panel I had ex-addict and ex-prisoner, a sex worker, a trans person, an HIV positive person from Ukraine, a homeless person and an immigrant who has been given refuge in Europe. Together we discussed how everyone in our society should have access to health services – including those who are the most emarginated in our society.
During the discussion, the WHO a regional director Hans Kluge, commended Engerer’s initiative in the European Parliament which brought together the most vulnerable people in society and emphasised that no one should be left outside of healthcare.
Engerer organised this conference together with the voluntary organisation, ‘Nobody Left Outside’, which serves as a voice to many who, more often than not, are left on the sidelines and are unheard; for those whose voices do not always matter since they are part of a minority. These include people who use drugs, sex workers, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, migrants and ex-prisoners amongst others. “Many times, these individuals are victims of significant health issues and yet are also the individuals with the least accessibility to the health care system when needed,” said Engerer.
“I want to keep on opening the European Parliament to people coming from all walks of life. Everyone can contribute around the table on which decision are taken”, Engerer said.
During his speech, Engerer emphasised that apart from phyisical health, we must also give important to mental health at a European level. “Vulnerable persons and those coming from minorities at the periphery of society experience much more stigma, solitude and feel that they are misfits and misunderstood by society. It is time for a EUROPEAN mental health strategy that focuses on everyone”, Engeree said.
Engerer concluded the conference with the words of Ġuże Ellul Mercer, whose words as the Maltese MEP said to a big applause are etched at the entrance of the Labour Party Headquarters in Malta, “so that everyone born human, should live as human and to live as human, who is born human must learn as human, work as human and eat as human”. Engerer extended this with “and in the same way should have access to health services as human, even when the person is a drug addict, a prisoner, a person living with HIV/AIDS, a trans person, an immigrant, a homeless person and sex workers.”
As an organisation, NLO is made up of a group of other organisations that collaborate towards better access to health care systems across the globe. Every branch represents a different layer or group in society. The message is in fact that nobody should be left outside the health care system, at large.
“What often scares me however, is not only the Covid-19 pandemic itself, but the pandemic that came right after. The one most of us working in this field expected, but many European governments chose to leave unaddressed. You do not have to be an expert or a scientist to notice the increase in mental health issues amongst our communities, marginalised or not, particularly in our youths”, explained Engerer during this conference’s opening speech.
He emphasised that meetings such as this one are crucial because through them, these challenges can truly be addressed. “These meetings allow for the convergence of thoughts and experiences, through which we can learn what kind of politics is expected of us,” continued Engerer.
The Labour MEP ended his opening speech by highlighting the fact that there should never be a discussion about these minorities, without them having a seat at the actual table of discussion indicating that there should be “no conversation about you, without you”. “This is why you have all been invited here today – so that you can be a part of your own story; to tell us politicians what you expect of us for a better tomorrow”, concluded Engerer.
The conference spanned over a total of two hours during which a short film was shown. This film was produced by the NLO organisation and it included testimonials of members from these same minorities explaining their experiences during the pandemic and now that it has, somewhat, passed. They explained how access to the healthcare system was, at times, impossible for them – financially, socially and sometimes even legally. They continued to explain how the termination of employment all over Europe led for these minorities to turn to other, less legitimate, jobs or else legally sound jobs which offer much less rights and protections than other forms of employment.
“By the end of this conference, I was inevitably emotional as it is difficult to sit there for two hours, listening to such heart wrenching real-life stories, let alone to live them”, said Engerer when asked about what he thought of the conference’s outcomes. “That said, I do look forward to continuing to use my platform here at the European Parliament to give a seat at the table to these minorities so that their experiences can dictate our policies, and ultimately also, all legislative texts which concern their lives and their health.”