Do not allow the rhetoric of division, which was becoming louder across many countries, go unchallenged at the risk of weakening our commitment to human rights, the President urged recently.

“No country in [the European] Union can, or should, feel isolated when it comes to addressing the phenomenon of migration in a sensitive and dignified manner,” Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca told a symposium on human rights.

The event, organised by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, was themed ‘Is Europe doing enough to protect fundamental rights?’

The President insisted that the most powerful change took place when political will was followed by “effective legislation”, sustained by cultural transformation.

Noting that Europe was a pioneer of universal human rights, she said there was an urgent need for a more rigorous implementation of a genuinely democratic and rights-based perspective.

“I believe we must be more courageous and ask ourselves why there is an increasing number of citizens who express disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the status quo they experience”.

In this context, she referred to the phenomenon of poverty, noting that nearly one out of every four people within the EU were living at risk of social exclusion.

She described poverty as a “full-scale attack” on human rights, eroding a person’s right to health, food, education and housing.

Poverty, Ms Coleiro Preca told the symposium, reduced a person’s effective access to justice, equitable political participation and social mobility.

“This state of affairs shows us that we cannot be complacent anymore if we truly want to ensure that the full potential of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms are effectively enjoyed by all,” she added.

The eradication of poverty within the European Union was a “matter of utmost urgency” for the President, who insisted that the “feminisation of poverty” was still a reality.

This type of poverty was a direct consequence of various factors such as gender pay gaps and policies that made it difficult to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Women with disabilities faced greater risks than men and those from migrant backgrounds were at an even more elevated risk.

“When refugees and migrants are denied access to fundamental economic and social rights, this is a violation of their fundamental human rights.

“Such violations are rooted in a larger cultural context, which we must confront. These violations are part of structural and systemic processes of discrimination and prejudice, which we cannot afford to ignore,” the President said.