A few weeks ago, VoxEurop joined the #OpenEurope project, which brings together media outlets, NGOs and European associations and aims to "tell real-life stories of acts of solidarity with migrants. And to defend a European project that remains faithful to the values of shelter, openness and hospitality." Indeed we believe the crisis linked to the unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe over the past months is not a passing phenomenon. Governments, European institutions and citizens must respond in keeping with the scale of the humanitarian, social and economic challenges it poses.

Europe, once a land of emigration, has now been for decades a prized destination for all those seeking a better future, starting with people leaving its former colonies. The continent is now above all valued by those fleeing war and persecution, whether they are Syrian, Libyan, Eritrean or Iraqi. These are wars where European countries have played a role, either through their intervention or their indifference. They therefore have a moral – if not legal – responsibility, if this expression even still means anything in politics. This is why they should show more care and generosity when examining refugees' requests for asylum.

Among the thousands of people knocking at Europe's gates, there are certainly economic migrants seeking a job and a better life for themselves and their families. They should not be confused with refugees, but should benefit from simplified reception procedures through EU agencies in their host countries. And, above all, they deserve a better public image. For this to happen, Europe's political leadership should stop pedalling the idea that economic immigration is a menace to our well-being and welfare states: many studies have shown the opposite to be true. Do migrants threaten our civilisation and our culture? These things are too well anchored and robust – and they are being exported well enough beyond our borders.

It is perhaps not easy in an economic crisis, but, by definition, it is up to leaders to lead their fellow citizens and not to follow the momentum of the crowd. Stature and vision are required to stand up to it and to defend what is right – qualities our current politicians are sorely lacking. The negotiations regarding refugee quotas were a recent proof of this. It is not a question of welcoming "all the misery of the world," as they so like to repeat – most people on the planet dream of living peacefully at home – but of making space for people in need of protection or with something to contribute.

Yet the many initiatives cropping up across Europe show how the values that characterise our continent – solidarity, humanism, empathy, generosity – still find popular support. It is these values that drove supporters of European unity to leave behind their grudges and individual interests after the carnage of the Second World War. Together they created a union that has become the foremost economic power and a social model for the entire world, assuring peace between its members. Let us not betray them.