Middelburg is a city of freedoms. We apply the international standards from the human rights agreements when dealing with social issues like poverty; participation of people with a disability; domestic violence and discrimination. Doing so we try to maintain and enforce the stable base for a community in which people can be themselves; an inclusive community in which people respect one another and thus a community in which people can live in harmony.
In Middelburg we see a responsibility to help people that come from places where freedom, as defined by Franklin D. Roosevelt, is currently out of reach. At the time of his speech in 1941, none of these freedoms could be guaranteed in the German-occupied Netherlands. Since 1982 New York and Middelburg have taken turns hosting the Four Freedoms Awards, recognizing the work of laureates such as Nelson Mandela, Mohammed el-Baradei and Angela Merkel. These four freedoms can be seen as the four pillars on which a democracy and a free country is kept upright and strong.
Since 2014, Middelburg has offered temporary shelter to human rights advocates from other countries, as part of the ‘Shelter City’ project. We offer them a safe place to work and a stage to create awareness for their cause. Through this project, Middelburg has hosted human rights activists from countries such as Zimbabwe, Ukraine and Nepal.
We also see it as our responsibility to provide shelter to those who have fled their homes in search for a safe place for themselves and their families. But a shelter alone is not enough. Refugees have to become part of our society. In Middelburg the local government puts a lot of effort in programmes that help refugees find their way and place in our community. But real integration can only be achieved when people start participating. And that doesn’t happen in our programmes, it happens in everyday life. Therefore every resident carries a portion of the responsibility that comes with the given right of freedom.
Human Rights and freedom may be guaranteed and defended by a government, the foundation for it lies in each individual of our society.