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REFUGEES EVICTED FROM BELGRADE BARRACKS

Sian & Stijn, our volunteers on-the-ground, have told us all refugees are being moved to camps in surrounding areas. 150 people were no longer accounted for this morning. Many more have left throughout the day.

Those who don’t want to move, for fear of having their fingerprints taken, have been told that refugees in the barracks and city will no longer be tolerated by authorities.

Our partners BelgrAid were able to give food packs to those leaving on the buses throughout the day. Hunger strikes were held briefly, but as tensions increased and buses arrived, the strike ended and distributions were allowed to continue.

Unaccompanied minors are reportedly being moved to a camp in Krnjača, but in the confusion, with a lack of any information, many minors have been boarding the buses to large camps where their minor status may be overlooked and their asylum claim jeopardised.

The demolition of the area is expected to start tomorrow. Our thoughts are with all those being moved, and the volunteers helping the process go as smoothly and safely as possible.

Help us support our partners working here and across Europe by donating here.

Photograph: Milos Markicevic

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REFUGEES EVICTED FROM ALL DISTRICTS OF PARIS

From 5am today a large scale evacuation operation of the tents under the bridges at Porte de la Chapelle and in other areas across Paris took place. A heavy police presence of approximately 350 officers were involved in the process. Around 1000 people were then taken on buses to emergency accomodation in France.

Many of those living in the streets in Paris are there because they want to claim asylum in France. We hope that with roofs over their heads their asylum claims can be heard and processed.

Our partner organisations estimate that 80% of minors in Paris are deemed to be over 18 when they are in fact significantly younger. The process for contesting this age assessement is long and requires support and an understanding of a complex system. It is incredibly challenging to contest with no fixed accommodation and no support from the authorities.

There are serious concerns for the safety and security of these young people, many of whom may now be in centres with no provisions for children. Thank you to our friends at Solidarithé and Utopia 56 for their ongoing work for those living precariously in Paris, seeking sanctuary. And thank you to all the volunteers and groups who were in attendance, showing solidarity and offering support to those getting onto the buses.

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GOOGLE ZEITGEIST MINDS: SHINING A LIGHT ON THE REFUGEE CRISIS

We’ve been at Google Zeitgeist Minds today.

Together with our ambassador Hassan Akkad and actor Eddie Redmayne we are so proud to be at the annual Google Zeitgeist conference shining a light on the refugee crisis, telling stories with Letters Live. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, then took to the stage with Queen Rania of Jordan to discuss how Jordan is leading the way in the response.

 

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UNACCOMPANIED MINORS IN CALAIS – SAMIRA’S STORY

17-year-old Samira from Eritrea was accessing support from the Unofficial Women and Children’s Centre at the time of demolition. After being interviewed by the Home Office in Calais she was told she was going to be transferred to the UK under the Dubs amendment. But, when she arrived at the bus, ready to depart Calais to a new life, she was denied entry. No explanation was given at the time. Save the Children reported that the Home Office had confirmed to them that Samira “had been given permission to travel but for reasons that are ‘still unclear’ she was not allowed to board the bus”.

So instead, Samira went with the rest of the unaccompanied minors from Calais to an accommodation centre – hers in central France, some three hours drive South of Paris. There, she was assessed once again for transfer to the UK, but she watched as her friends were transferred by the Home Office, while she was not. At the end of December, she was the only one of her friends left in the accommodation centre, but she had heard that some people were still crossing from the North of France, so she travelled to a camp 70km from Calais.

It was here, living in precarious conditions, Samira contacted Refugee Youth Service and explained her story. They sent a “signalment procureur” to the child prosecutor, to alert the correct authorities about her situation, and also notified French state anti-trafficking teams. Unfortunately, neither the French state nor the child prosecutor were able to locate her and when volunteers came to the camp to invite her to seek protection she had disappeared.

Volunteers from the Eritrean community worked to locate her some six weeks later in another satellite camp near Calais. Samira explained that she had gone to Paris, believing there was a chance to get the UK from there. While in Paris she had been sleeping in a tent in La Chapelle with some other girls. There she was told by some Arab men that she had never met before, that she would have to “work” if she wanted to stay. Volunteers alongside the French anti trafficking team, Gynaecologists Sans Frontiers and UNHCR team members all worked to get her the support she needed.

Samira had bruises from encounters with police, and reported being in pain and otherwise being tired and stressed. She explained that “this should not happen to underage refugees in Europe”. The Home Office have since responded to her case and she has had a second age assessment by French authorities. She was also given a new phone and a new sim to protect her and prevent her from being contacted by those who may have had her number previously.

For six months since the demolition of the Calais Camp, Samira has waited for news of her fate. The Home Office have recently agreed to bring her to the UK but without the urgency required in this circumstance, there is concern that she will lose trust, return to the streets and disappear once again.

This information was gathered by our long-term volunteer Benny Hunter.

To help us continue to support unaccompanied minors and those in need living in Calais, Dunkirk and across France, please donate here.

 

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UNACCOMPANIED MINORS IN CALAIS – AKLILU’S STORY

Aklilu fled Eritrea after he finished his S4 exams because he was afraid he would be forced into the military, like many boys his age are. At 14 he travelled overland across the Sahara along the Libya route with a friend who is now in Switzerland. His friend Mikael, who now sits with him in on some boulders in a field in Calais’ industrial zone, came from the same village as him, near Asmara. Aklilu arrived in Europe two and half years ago and spent two years in Germany during which time he claimed asylum before months later being rejected. Now 16 and sleeping in the woods and in fields around Calais he sees the UK as his final hope. He has an uncle and friends there and he believes, a chance at a new life.

Like most children living on the streets in Calais, Aklilu and his friends have experienced much police intimidation and violence. On one occasion Aklilu was outside the stadium in town, heading to the supermarket to buy some juice and was followed by five police officers. He and his friends tried to outrun them but they caught up. Aklilu’s friend 15-year-old Fitsum proudly explains that Aklilu stopped to try to protect his friends, and Aklilu grins but looks unsure. On that day, he says that a policeman repeatedly punched him in the face until he was bleeding from the lip. They then put him in a van and held him at the police station for an hour before releasing him. They did nothing to address Aklilu’s injury.

Some days later he was with friends at the lorry parking when the police encircled them. His friends escaped but Aklilu was caught while attempting to cross the highway. Police officers repeatedly hit him with a baton on his back, his legs and on his hand where he has a bleeding gash in a crude sticky bandage as a result. Afterwards they let him leave. That evening the police beat many people, the boys explain. Aklilu watched as a patrol lay into a boy his age, who now walks with a limp. They say they live in fear of being attacked, and are regularly tear gassed or woken at night from where they sleep.

As Aklilu finishes speaking, a patrol of five policemen emerge from the woods nearby and surround us. They give Aklilu and his friends a full pat down, checking each of their pockets and demanding to see their papers. We all wait half an hour before a van arrives and the boys are loaded in and driven off. Four hours later, having spent the rest of the day in the police station, they are released back into the town, where they can expect to later run into the police once again.

This information was collected by our long-term volunteer Benny Hunter.

To help us continue to support unaccompanied minors and those in need living in Calais, Dunkirk & across France please donate here.

 

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UNACCOMPANIED MINORS IN CALAIS – MUSTAFA’S STORY

16-year-old Mustafa speaks great english, even though he never attended school. He speaks Dari, Pashtu and Urdu also, which he learnt from obsessively watching Bollywood films where he grew up in rural Nangarhar, Afghanistan. On his family’s farm he looked after sheep and helped out with chores, until as a teenage boy he was given the opportunity to travel to Kabul and learn english on an intensive course put on by an INGO. He had hoped to make a career as an interpreter, but when he returned home, life suddenly became very dangerous. His cousins, members of the Taliban, were angered by his new language skills and so kidnapped him and for over a month they held him in a compound and tortured him – as a result he has bad scarring up both of his legs. Later Mustafa escaped and found his way home, where there was no sign of his mother or sisters. Knowing he could never be safe in Afghanistan while the Taliban were there, a friend of his family gave him the money he needed to flee to Europe.

Nine months later and Mustafa now lives in East London with his Uncle, Aunt and two young cousins, both born in the UK. He tells stories about the fun he has playing with them and how they’ve made it their mission to perfect his English. Now he has a family, he has his own room and he has his big plans for the future. But the last nine months travelling overland from Afghanistan and living in the Jungle in Calais have changed him. Mustafa says is the biggest difference now for him is feeling safe. “In Calais we couldn’t move around because it was too dangerous. Some people were killed in Calais and here we are safe.”

In Calais, Mustafa shared a two-man tent with another boy on the edge of the dusty main road into the Jungle. He used to cook his meals while sat on an overturned shopping trolley, over a wood burning stove in a flooded ‘kitchen’ tent. In the camp he regularly had his belongings stolen, including the phone he used to contact his family in the UK and one time he came back from being with friends to find his tent wasn’t where he had left it. One evening, Mustafa camped out with a sleeping bag outside the immigration office in the centre of town so that he could beat the morning queue. That night he was ambushed by a large group of angry local men who came at him with knives. He ran for his life and hid in a garden, where he was able to contact a volunteer who came in a car and picked him up. He still thinks about this incident “You know what happened to me there in Calais”.

In London, life has been calm but slow. He gets to spend time with his family “Sometimes we get together with each other, we sit together, we eat together, that is a great thing for us.” He’s made friends locally including one boy who was in Calais too “We just met in the park. Some of the Afghan boys want to play cricket so they were coming to our local park and we were getting together. After that we get together to play more cricket.”

Having waited four months since arriving, Mustafa has finally been told he can attend the local school next week, after the Easter break. He’s looking forward to meeting new people, to improving his english some more and studying computer science. “At home we have a small computer. I’d love to learn about computers more.” In the future he’d like to go to college.

Every Wednesday Mustafa goes to The Children’s Society in London to meet other young people like himself who have been through similar experiences. One day they took the group out on a trip ten pin bowling (something he’s never experience before). Last week he had his asylum interview with the Home Office that lasted four hours. They asked him about his statement, but he was told by his lawyer that it went well, so he’s happy.

This information was collected by our long-term volunteer Benny Hunter.

To help us continue to support unaccompanied minors and those in need living in Calais, Dunkirk & across France please donate here.

Photographer: Guillem Trius/Al Jazeera

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