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Blog Post: Cycle for Love… So far

Molly and Haydn are cycling across the world to raise money for Help Refugees. So far, they have cycled from Dorset to Solferino in Italy and raised more than £2,000!

You can find out more about Molly and Haydn’s inspirational journey on their website. Donate here to show your support as they make their way to New Zealand.

Molly wrote about their experiences along the way for us. Read about Molly and Haydn’s story below:

Wow. What a radical and profound experience these 3152 kilometres have been.

Haydn and I have now cycled from our house in Dorset, England, to Solferino, Italy. We are here thanks to our legs. What a novel and exciting thought.

Well really we are here thanks to our legs, our bicycles, an enormous amount of effort and patience and an huge amount of love and support from friends, family and total strangers.

Life on the road is incredibly intense and mercurial. At midmorning we could be debating about something in the heat of the sun, half way up a huge hill, being skimmed by cars, bitten by insects, thirsty and questioning why on earth we are doing this but later that evening be swimming in a clear, beautiful river, having set up camp in a spot that seems to have been perfectly designed for us. Wondering why we hadn’t been feeling this joyous all along and elated to be out here in the world, mind free and eyes wide.

We have learnt so much already, in these four months since leaving home. Firstly how to ride our fully loaded bikes with 40 kilos of luggage strapped to them. How to slowly, painfully inch up the mountains of the French and Italian Alps and rocket down, screeching around hairpin bends, remaining mostly intact. We have learnt how important it is to feed these incredible machines (our bodies) with really good food – seeing as they’re doing all the work. We have learnt the hard way how and when to rest and pace ourselves better to avoid exhaustion. Positivity is the key. If you expect the Earth and its people to provide you with what you need, you will be far more receptive to finding it for yourself.

After almost having a seizure about how much we had spent in France alone, we have recently had a breakthrough about money, realising how to live on the road for far less. We have gained a huge appreciation for the everyday luxuries that we become so numb to in normal life. Making a cup of tea with a kettle. Cooking dinner with a hob. Being able to just walk into a house, without having to construct the house. Or get into bed without having to blow up or unpack all the different elements of the bed. It makes us appreciate these things with the unashamed delight of a child.

I have discovered that learning to be nomadic is no easy thing. Even if you are free-spirited and have chosen to change your life in this way.

Being out in all weathers all the time can be hugely challenging. Sometimes you feel like the real animals that we are; a kind of deep, fierce, doggedly determined wildness emerges. Other times it can feel overwhelming and overpowering and you can feel small and tired and weak.

However the nomadic life brings us one step closer to the people we have decided to fundraise for. The people who have, more often than not, had no choice in leaving their home with a few possessions and traveling great distances. This trip has given me a far more visceral understanding of what it is like to really be ‘out-there’ and vulnerable in the world. To be a foreigner in countries where you can’t speak the language and often feel out of place. Feeling judged and observed when arriving jelly-like, sweaty and exhausted at a clean bar, with clean customers in their clean skin and clothes. To feel dirty and different and looked down on, with little you can do about it. We both feel a huge, growing empathy for the people we are fundraising for.

One of the hugest rewards we have experienced so far is the kindness, generosity and openness of the people we have encountered. People who are also choosing love, even if they don’t fully know it. We have been taken in, given food, a shower, a bed, company and encouragement by so many new and friendly faces. If anything can give you faith in humanity then this is it.

Support is what we need most. It makes the gritty times of digging deep feel worth it and lifts us even higher when we are doing fine. Personal messages, Instagram likes, people commenting on my blog, on the website, on the Facebook page and donations via our website; all of these things keep us feeling positive and enthused about continuing the rollercoaster ride of being on the road day in – day out. Keeping us determined, keeping us pedalling on and choosing LOVE everyday.

From here we will bee-line for Greece through the Balkans. Athens is 2000km away. Wish us luck, love – and a tail wind.

Donate here to support Molly and Haydn on their Cycle for Love.

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Police use water cannon and batons to evict refugees in Rome

Italian police have used water cannons and batons against refugees occupying Rome square.

Police using water cannon and batons have clashed with refugees who had occupied a square in Rome in defiance of an order to leave a building where they had been squatting.

Around 100 refugees had occupied the square since Saturday 13th August after they were evicted from a nearby office block where they had been living for about five years.

Protesters had hung a banner that said the words “We are refugees, not terrorists” in Italian.

“The authorities need to urgently find appropriate, alternative housing, and investigate the use of force by the police during the eviction,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director for Europe at Human Rights Watch. “It’s hard to see how the use of water cannon on people was necessary or proportionate,” she said.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, the vast majority of refugees arriving in Europe this year have landed in Italy.

You can read about the work Help Refugees does in Italy here. To donate to help us continue to work with refugees in Italy, click here.

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Refugees’ blankets taken ‘three times a week’ in Calais: a new report

Help Refugees have released a new report detailing the precarious living conditions faced by refugees living in and around Calais.

This is the second of our new monthly surveys, undertaken alongside our French partners L’Auberge des Migrants. We interviewed 126 people this month about the living conditions in Calais.

Our team on the ground estimates that there are now around 750 refugees in Calais. 39% have been here for a month or more.

More than three-quarters of respondents said that they had had their blankets taken from them – and that on average, it happened three times a week.

Along with other organisations working on the ground in Calais, Help Refugees recently won a court case against the French government that detailed the state’s obligation to install water points, toilets, showers, daily outreach for minors and departures to accommodation centres from Calais.

We continue to distribute thousands of blankets, bedding and clothes from our warehouse in Calais each week. But we desperately need support to provide for the growing number of people in need. Please share this report and donate here to help.

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Eritrea: The reality of life inside “Africa’s North Korea”

Have you ever wondered why so many people are fleeing Eritrea?

Eritreans are the third largest group of refugees making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. It’s one of the fastest-emptying countries in the world, with 5,000 people leaving every month.

So why are so many Eritreans forced to leave their home country?

Eritrea is often described as “Africa’s North Korea”. The nation became independent from Ethiopia in 1993. Isaias Afwerki, leader of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, has been its only President.

The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice is the only political party that is allowed to exist. The country has been ranked as the worst in the world for press freedom eight years in a row.

There is no freedom of speech, religion or movement. Citizens can be held without charge or trial. Many are tortured during detention.

“Eritreans, many of them children, are refugees fleeing a system that amounts to forced labour on a national scale.” –  Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

A 2015 UNHCR report described the Eritrean government’s use of extrajudicial killing, torture, rape, indefinite conscription and forced labour as ‘crimes against humanity’.

Despite all this, the UK government had tried to claim that Eritrea was a safe country to send asylum seekers back to – based on a report by the Danish Immigration Service that has even been discredited by the researchers who wrote it.

As a result of the Home Office’s relaxed guidelines, asylum acceptance rate for Eritreans fell from 73% to as low as 34% in the second quarter of 2015.

Children from the Calais ‘Jungle’ were not given safe passage to the UK under the Dubs Amendment because of those guidelines. [Calais video]

87% of Eritreans refused asylum in the UK under those relaxed guidelines had the decision overturned by the courts upon appeal. 

Watch a video explaining the situation below:

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What’s happening to the refugees stranded in Serbia? – Video

Out of the media spotlight, thousands live in under-resourced camps. Serbia was the gateway to Europe, but with border closures, many have been unable to continue their journey. They’re stuck, their future uncertain.

The infamous ‘Barracks’ – where more than 1,000 refugees lived in absolutely dire conditions, with no access to basic sanitation or water – have been shut. But 4,705 refugees are still stranded in Serbia.

They are spread out across 18 refugee camps, many of which are lacking in basic services.

As always, it’s grassroots groups that are filling the gaps left by government and large NGOs. They inspire us every day, providing aid and services against huge challenges.

You can read more about Help Refugees’ work in Serbia here.

Please share this article and the video below and donate here to help us continue working where governments and large NGOs fail to.

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Update on Calais court decision to end “inhumane” treatment of refugees

Calais NGOs were invited to meet with the prefecture today so that the state’s plans following the Supreme Court decision for the refugees in the area are announced.

  • The local authority has been told to find locations for a yet unknown number of toilets
  • There will be 2 or 3 showers in the medical centre at the city hospital available for the 600-800 refugees living in Calais. Opening hours are not known as yet.
  • There is no news about where taps providing clean drinking water will be as yet
  • Two additional staff from OFPRA (French agency for refugees) will support the state youth outreach team for daily outreach.
  • However, the capacity of the accommodation for unaccompanied minors will not be increased. The current capacity is 75 and there are roughly 100-200 unaccompanied minors sleeping out in the open around Calais.
  • Adults will be encouraged to go to accommodations centres (CAOs) and there will be daily bus available, transporting them to 2 centres located 80km from Calais. They will have a collective capacity of 165 places. Anyone who goes to these centres will have one week’s grace period. They will then have the opportunity to file an accelerated asylum claim. If they do not wish to ask for asylum in France they will be asked to leave France.

Our team in Calais and our partners continue to work every day to ensure people’s basic needs are met. To support our work there by donating funds please click here.

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Vital services for refugees in Greece at risk as many NGOs lose funding

From August 1st the majority of EU funding to NGOs providing services for refugees is instead being paid to the Greek government.

While many NGOs have had their funding cut, there are strong concerns that an uncoordinated and poorly communicated transition to the Greek state providing services is already resulting in substantial gaps in areas as basic as food provision, education and medical care.

Not enough shelters.

One particularly worrying area is the provision of shelter for unaccompanied children. In Greece there are over 2,250 unaccompanied children currently in need of shelter, but only 1,270 spaces available. Around 1,000 unaccompanied children are therefore on a waiting list, with some living in squats, sleeping rough, or placed in ‘police protective custody’ (detention centres) while they wait. As a result of this transition, at least five shelters for unaccompanied children are set to close, leading an increased number of children being placed in ‘police protective custody’ or simply having to sleep on the streets.

The lack of clarity around whether funding for NGOs will continue, or how vital services will be provided moving forward is putting huge pressure on smaller-scale grassroots refugee charities in Greece, which lack the capacity to fill the potentially huge gaps in service provision left by this transition.

Unless steps are taken to ensure this process is completed quickly, efficiently and transparently, this transition is likely to have a negative impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of thousands of vulnerable refugees currently living in Greece.

British charity Help Refugees started providing a wide range of support to refugees in Greece nearly two years ago. Founder and CEO, Josie Naughton, said this about this crisis:

“Something as basic as a handover plan, or a lack of one, is putting refugees lives at risk. NGOs are now cutting services and it will be the most vulnerable people that suffer the consequences. Safe shelters for minors are already being shut down, forcing more children onto the streets and into the hands of smugglers.

Grassroots groups have been filling the gaps for more than two years, but this time round we simply don’t have the resources to pick up the pieces.”

ENDS

Full media briefing on the affects of the transition can be found here.

For information and interviews contact Tom Steadman at tom@helprefugees.org / +447460053586

We don’t have the same budgets as major INGOs, but we do have incredible volunteers who want to help. Please help us support those who will be negatively affected by these changes by donating here.

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