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Choose Love at work this Christmas!

This Christmas we are asking our supporters to Choose Love once again by fundraising at work.

The news agenda may have moved on, but the crisis isn’t over. There are still families with no food, people are drowning in their quest to find safety and a generation of children risk growing up without an education.

With INGOs and governments not providing for many of the most basic needs of refugees across Europe and the Middle East, the grassroots movement continues to fill the huge gaps. This is where you come in…

Choose Love at work this Christmas!

With more than 96% of the funds we raise going straight to the frontline, your efforts this Christmas will translate into food, shelter, clothing and medical care for those most in need.

Here are some ideas for workplace fundraising activities:

  • How about a themed fancy dress day: everyone donates to wear Christmas jumper, hat, or sequins, to dress as their favourite festive character (or whatever takes your fancy!)
  • Make the Christmas party a fundraising opportunity! You could have an optional donation for attendance, a raffle or  an auction of promises (the MD making coffee for the admin team every day for a week?!)
  • Go green: encourage your colleagues to walk or cycle to work and donate what they saved on transport
  • Ask everyone to donate a day’s wages – and ask your company to match your donation
  • Buy each other Choose Love tees as your Secret Santa gifts
  • Plan a sponsored challenge with your team

Visit the community fundraising section of our website to find out more or emailcommunityfundraising@helprefugees.org for more details.

Please help us help this winter – we rely on the generosity of people like you.

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EU Countries have fulfilled less than 1/3 of asylum resettlement pledges

In September 2015, European states pledged to relocate 160,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over two years. As that period came to an end this week, only 19,740 people from Greece and 8,839 from Italy – or 17.5% of the promised number – were relocated under the program.

EU member and associated states now have until the end of this year to relocate individuals and families who have already been registered. The European Commission has predicted that this will bring the total number of resettled people to 37, 000, a far cry from their initial commitments.

The UN Migration Director, General William Lacy Swing, and the UNHCR have urged the EU to continue the programme beyond the deadline, albeit with recommendations for improvement. Both emphasized the acute need for collective action and responsibility sharing by European states, until the Dublin system is reformed.

The resettlement commitments that were made by European governments are legal obligations, and must be treated as such.

For asylum seekers who do not have family reunification claims, such pledges represent one of the very few options for safe onward passage. And yet states across the continent have flouted their duties, leaving thousands of eligible asylum seekers and refugees trapped.

Poland and Hungary have refused to accept a single asylum seeker under the programme, while Austria and the Czech Republic have filled less than 1% of their assigned places. Only 14 member states and associated countries have accepted unaccompanied minors. The UK chose to opt-out of the resettlement programme.

Such action contravenes states’ repeated affirmations of the principle of shared responsibility for refugees and displaced people. From the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees to the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, this has long underpinned international efforts to coordinate a response to the refugee crisis.

The EU’s relocation scheme was far from perfect.

The programme was only open to asylum seekers from countries with a high rate of acceptance across Europe, which meant that it largely focussed on those from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq. It therefore excluded other vulnerable groups based on nationality alone, which faced criticism from the UNHCR and calls to lower the threshold.

Furthermore, only those who arrived on the Greek islands before 20 March 2016 qualified for the scheme. The exclusion of asylum seekers from the scheme, on the arbitrary basis of their arrival date, is unlawful and must be overturned.

Furthermore, new initiatives released by the European Commission, including a pledge to resettle another 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers (with a particular focus on those in North Africa), must not be used to distract from those already in Greece and Italy.

The reticence of EU states to comply with their obligations under the 2015 Agenda has lead to the suffering of men, women and children caught in limbo in Greece and Italy. To end the scheme now would confirm their effective abandonment.

European governments can, and must, redouble their efforts to relocate vulnerable people from Greece and Italy. Failure to comply with their legal obligations condemns refugees to prolonged stasis and suffering.

Find out more about our work in Greece here and our work in Italy here.

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The time for goodbye has come: Drop in the Ocean leaves Chios

In September 2015, our partners Drop in the Ocean sent their first team to Chios to assist refugees as they arrived on the shores of the island. Their volunteers patrolled the shores day and night and provided a safe and warm welcome for the people fleeing wars and conflicts.

At that time there were no refugee camps on the island. It was up to local Greeks to provide tents, food and clothes in the park of Chios. The arrivals could stay there until they were registered, and then move on to the mainland to continue to other European countries.

After a couple of months larger organisations came to the island and together with Greek authorities the first camps were established. Tabakika, Souda, Vial, Dipethe. Drop in the Ocean assisted wherever there was a need for their services. In Souda, Drop in the Ocean have been present since the very beginning, establishing the food distribution system together with NRC.

     

Now Souda camp is closing down. The walls of the Castle of Chios will again tell the stories from ancient times, but they will also carry memories of the largest migration in Europe since WWII.

Now all the arrivals are being directed to Vial camp, which is already over capacity. Drop have offered their services to VIAL, but the authorities have ensured them that they will cover for those needs through their own resources.

       

“We would like to thank everyone we have cooperated with on Chios these past two years. Thank you, all the wonderful volunteers who have travelled to the island to give from their hearts and time. Thank you, all the organisations we have been working side by side with towards the same goal. Thank you, wonderful people of Chios! Many of you have been fighting to make the situation for the displaced people better. Many of you opened your hearts and your homes to assist.

Most of all, thank you to all the fantastic people who have been living in Souda and who we were privileged to get to know during an extreme period of their lives. We wish you all the best of luck.” 

So, for now our partners say farewell to Chios. Take good care of the precious people who come your way. If we can ever assist again, we will be ready in no time.

As winter approaches, the weather continues to grow colder. Last year people lost their lives to hypothermia living in the conditions we see on Greek Islands. This will end in disaster if we don’t prepare for the oncoming cold climate. Please help us by donating today.

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Carys Athey: One Volunteer’s Experience in Greece

A few weeks ago, Carys Arthey arrived in Greece to begin volunteering with indiGO Volunteers, one of Help Refugees’ partner projects. In this post, she shares the experiences that she has had so far.

 

“The journey begins…

‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

To put down in words what I have – and am – experiencing as a volunteer in Greece seems like an impossible task. And yet it was only a month or two ago that volunteering was a distant dream, little more than an idea that would pop into my mind  after seeing the news.

Now here I am, two weeks in to volunteering as a volunteer coordinator for indiGO Volunteers in partnership with Help Refugees. What an incredible experience it has been so far – incredibly humbling, a shock to the senses, each day filled with inspiring moments and people.

In the space of four days, I had left my job, packed up my flat and arrived here in Thessaloniki. In all honesty, I had little idea of what I would be doing or what to expect. I am amazed how easy it has been to step out of one life and be absorbed straight into another one.

You simply complete an online application form, book flights and confirm the dates you are available, organise accommodation and turned up at the HUB for an induction. You can be rolling your sleeves up in the warehouse and making a difference within a few hours of arriving. Never in a million years would I have thought it would be so straightforward.

The first thing that hit me arriving in Greece was the language: not speaking Greek made reading signs tricky, but given that almost everyone can speak English, you can easily get by.

The next thing was how welcoming and inclusive the volunteering environment is. This, for me, is the most special part of the whole experience so far: working with so many different people, from different cultures and backgrounds, and at different stages in their lives.

The work asks you to leave your ego at the door, and immediately you are brought together for a common goal: to help people in need.

It has taken me a while to understand the set up. In a nutshell, my understanding is that after the initial larger NGO’s reacted to the refugee crisis, smaller volunteer projects (grassroots organisations) started to pop up to meet the needs that were not prioritised or supported on a larger scale.

Help Refugees looks to support and enable these projects, which are ever changing as they do their very best to offer whatthey can in these uncertain times. An indiGO volunteer coordinator’s role is to match volunteer applicants to the grassroots projects, so they can continue to respond to some basic human needs.

The range of projects includes a mobile information team, that provides guidance on official processes that many refugee simply do not know about or understand. There is a mobile medical team that visits vulnerable people in and around the camps and cities, who otherwise wouldn’t have access to healthcare or expert support.  In addition, there is a team that sources fresh fruit and vegetables from local markets, bundles it up and delivers it to the camps. This ensures that residents have access to a variety of foods, and can obtain the nutrition that is so often lacking in the state provided meals.

indiGO Volunteers currently works with seventeen projects, matching volunteer skills and availability to the projects’ needs. My role now is to look at how we can move the support from the initial reactive approach to a more sustainable model, because the situation – of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers caught in Greece – will not be resolved anytime soon.

I’m not sure how long I will be out here, or how much I can help. I simply plan to do my best, as every day I see small things making a real difference.

If you want to get involved and volunteer, you can find out more here.

If you are in a position to help me fundraise, I am raising money for indiGO Volunteers to continue their coordination work – you can donate here.

Wish me luck & thank you!!!

* * *

Without volunteers like Carys, the grassroots projects that we support wouldn’t exist. Over the past two years, more than 15, 000 ordinary – or rather, extraordinary – people have volunteered with projects affiliated to Help Refugees, delivering frontline support to displaced people across Europe and the Middle East. To find out more about volunteering, click here; alternatively, if you are able to help us continue to support projects on the ground, please donate here. Our work on the ground depends on the generosity of people like you.

 

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Lara & Billie’s fantastic fundraising for refugees

We want to say a massive thank you to Lara and Billie, two volunteers who organised a fantastic community fundraising event for Help Refugees in North London.

Catching one of the last days of summer sunshine, they arranged ‘Moving LINES – Art, Music & Culture Fair’: a day of workshops (from photography to circuit bending), live music, spoken word and arts. We are so grateful for the immense amount of effort they put in, and to their friends for all of the support that they gave – from those who donated clothes, to the performers, to the magician and face painter; to the videographer, photographer, dancer and everyone in between.

Walking in to the yard, the first things that you saw were enormous piles of vintage clothes– all donated by Billie and Lara’s generous friends. The ‘Fill a Bag for £5’ deal would have convinced even the most reluctant shopper, and second hand books – from the portfolios of little-known artists to antique guidebooks of Paris – were stacked high and surrounded by records and trinkets.

Friends of Lara and Billie built a stage, and a host of artists treated us to their innovative performances: from Guido’s junk percussion to a set by Angolan-Portuguese musician and band, Amadis and the Ambassadors, each band had a twist that made it unlike any we had seen before.

“We proved that together we can make a difference and have a positive impact around us! We proved that together, with our skills and hard work we can do great things!” Lara Levy

Delicious homemade food and drinks were on offer all day, including elderflower presse, iced chai tea, and Lara’s falafel (snapped up so quickly that she had to run home and make a second batch!). Chef Sam appeared in the evening, and created an amazing chana masala to keep us warm as the sun began to set.

And as it did so, a host of spoken word artists took to the stage. Led by Erb’n’Word, poet after poet took to the stage and, against the darkening sky, captivated us with their powerful lyrics. From Mumma Sue’s reflections to PoetCurious’ love letter to the power of poetry, the eloquent calls for change and social justice reduced us to both laughter and tears. The number of people who were willing to take the microphone, regardless of whether they had planned to, is testimony to the inclusivity and warmth that characterized this magical day.

Under cover of darkness (and tarpaulin, as the rain made a brief appearance…!), an auction of local artists’ work was held. Pieces that had been on display were now available to take home, including a painting that had been specifically created for the event by the phenomenal Adrian Eaves. As the auction wound up and people began to head home, a musician – with the light of fairy lights and candles surrounding him – returned to the stage, singing softly.

We are so, so grateful to Billie and Lara – and all their incredibly talented friends – for creating such a fantastic day. From the moment we arrived, we were amazed by your kindness and energy: you have created the most wonderful community, and we felt so lucky to be a part of it.

In order for Help Refugees to carry on the work we do, we rely on incredible community fundraisers like this. We hope that Billie and Lara’s amazing efforts have inspired you to hold your own event – if so, please do get in contact with us here: communityfundraising@helprefugees.org.

 

 

All photographs by the INCREDIBLE Tiffany Roubert Photography.

 

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Greek court approves first forced deportation of Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey

On Friday, Greece’s highest administrative court approved the forcible return of two Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey.

This decision not only determines the fate of 22-year old ‘Noori’ and 29-year-old ‘Afaaz’*, but also affects the future of hundreds of other refugees and asylum seekers affected by the EU-Turkey migration deal.

The deal, agreed in March 2016, stated that every person arriving irregularly on Greek islands – including asylum-seekers – should be returned to Turkey. In exchange, the Turkish government would receive €6 billion in aid from the EU, and nationals would be granted visa-free travel to Europe. Gestures were also made towards the future activation of resettlement schemes for Syrian refugees from Turkey to other European countries.

The deal, and Friday’s decision, is constructed on the flawed premise that Turkey is a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers. From instances of forced returns to countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, to refugees being subjected to violent attacks, rights groups have collected a substantial amount of evidence to show Turkey is not a safe country.

A leaked letter by from the UNHCR also noted that there were significant obstacles to monitoring the situation of Syrians returned to Turkey from Greece, sparking grave concerns about the treatment of returnees.

Since the coup attempt in July 2016 and the subsequent declaration of the state of emergency, the dangers faced by refugees and asylum seekers have only increased. Safeguards against forcible returns of refugees to places they may face persecutions have been further eroded. Last week, Amnesty International released a new report on unlawful returns from Turkey to Syria, which include cases of forced deportation and collective expulsions disguised as “voluntary returns”.

Friday’s ruling flies in the face of all this evidence, and establishes an ominous precedent insofar as it validates the assessment of Turkey as a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers. This not only endangers Noori and Afaaz, but also compromises the safety and rights of hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees currently in Greece.

In the words of John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, this decision breaches a very clear principle: “Greece and the EU should not be sending asylum-seekers and refugees back to a country in which they cannot get effective protection.”

“Until such time as asylum-seekers and refugees can be guaranteed effective protection in Turkey, EU countries must stop sending them there.”

* Names have been changed for protection purposes

 

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Destitute asylum seeker, Eyob Tefera, found dead in Swansea marina

Eyob Tefera, an Ethiopian asylum seeker who was living in Swansea, died last week.

Eyob was known to a local charity supporting refugees and asylum seekers, having been referred to
them some 16 months ago following the rejection of his asylum application. In the UK, a decision on
an asylum case – whether positive or negative – results in state support being cut off.

While those appealing the decision can reapply for support, vulnerable people are often plunged in to a
period of destitution. Delays in the Home Office’s response to applications for asylum support often
results in homelessness and dependence on charitable organisations, particularly as asylum seekers lack
the right to work.

Last year, the British Red Cross came to the aid of almost 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers (and
their dependents) who lacked access to food, housing or healthcare. Such was the case for Eyob.

Despite his precarious situation, friends spoke of his involvement in various community organizations.
From being the assistant coach for the Unity in Diversity football team to volunteering at a local
foodbank, Eyob was described as being ‘very much part of the team’.

However, the death of his friend – another destitute asylum seeker from Ethiopia – triggered a
downward spiral. Eyob lost his accommodation and had no access to benefits. Rachel Matthews, who
runs a charity supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Swansea and was a friend of Eyob’s, said that
his “life started to crumble”.

Eyob was unable to access suitable mental health support – even after he attempted to take his own life.
Ms Matthews said: “We walked out of the doctor’s surgery and stood in the street, and he looked at me and he said: ‘So, no-one will help me?’”

Shortly after, Eyob went missing. The police contacted Ms. Matthews days later to inform her that his
body had been recovered from the marina.

Eyob’s death is a tragedy, and one that shines a light on the lack of state support for
some of the most vulnerable in our society.

His friends have set up a fund to pay for the repatriation of his body, and to help his family pay for the funeral costs; to donate, please click here. Our thoughts are
with those who knew him.

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Dubs delays: lone children in Greece left waiting for more than a year

It is 16 months since parliament approved the Dubs Amendment, and 12 months since a group of up to 60 unaccompanied child refugees were identified as provisionally eligible for resettlement from Greece to the UK. Yet they have heard nothing of their cases since, and are instead left in limbo.

In February this year, the Home Office announced that it would cap the number of unaccompanied minors brought in under the scheme at 350 – less than one child per constituency. Following pressure and campaigns led by Help Refugees, this number was raised to 480. Yet less than half of those places have been filled, and not a single child has been brought to the UK under the Amendment this year.

There are currently more than 2,400 unaccompanied minors living in Greece, of which less than half are in official shelters. The rest are homeless or reside in informal camps. In each instance, living conditions are inadequate and basic rights denied. Life, for these children, is on hold.

Many of the aforementioned children who were pre-approved for resettlement have since gone missing. The government-appointed Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has said that closing off legal routes to sanctuary pushes vulnerable children into the hands of smugglers and traffickers.

Help Refugees (with the support of Leigh Day Law) has taken the Home Office to court to challenge their management of the Amendment. The case focuses on three clusters of issues that have left unaccompanied children in conditions of avoidable insecurity: first, the flawed consultation that led to the pronouncement of 480 places; second, the Home Office’s consistent foot-dragging; and third, the lack of procedural safeguards for children who are deemed ineligible.

As we wait for the result of the judicial review, our friend Lord Alf Dubs will travel to Greece and meet many of the eligible children waiting for resettlement under the scheme. Now is the time to add your voice to our calls: those sixty children in Greece, and unaccompanied children across Europe, have the right to a safe home and the opportunity to begin their lives again. Failing that, they deserve – at the very least – to know what their future holds. Write to your MP using the template below, or tweet Home Secretary Amber Rudd and demand action on #DubsNow.

Whatever happens, we will keep working to support displaced children across Europe and beyond. To support our work, please donate here.

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Belgian Government makes deportation deal with Sudan

Belgium’s Minister for Asylum and Migration, Theo Francken has recently announced an agreement with the Sudanese Government that will result in the possible deportation of hundreds of Sudanese refugees from Brussels.

Brussels police have been conducting raids around Maximilien Park where many refugees are sleeping, and have been arresting large numbers of people, reportedly including minors. Representatives from Khartoum and the Sudanese Embassy are expected to conduct a mass identification mission and facilitate deportations to Sudan from Belgian detention centres.

We condemn this arrangement on the basis that Sudan’s president Omar al Bashir has an outstanding arrest warrant issued by the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity and genocide.

We also fear this action will result in hundreds of refugees leaving Brussels and going to Calais, with the weather and living conditions in northern France getting more and more unbearable.

You can Tweet the Belgian minister here reminding him that Sudan is not safe and deportees can be at great risk of persecution and death under President al Bashir’s rule here.

Please help us to continue our work supporting the increasing refugee population in Northern France here.

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Write to your MP about the Rohingya people in Myanmar: a template letter

The persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has escalated in recent weeks, and a military offensive that begun in late August has already displaced over 400,000 people.

The community have long been marginalized in Myanmar: they are denied citizenship, and have been subjected to waves of violent repression by the military. In February 2017, the UN found that government troops are ‘very likely’ to have committed crimes against humanity during their previous campaigns against the Rohingya.

While some figures in the British government have raised the plight of the Rohingya, the response has thus far been inadequate. As the number of refugees living in under-resourced, makeshift camps in Bangladesh continues to rise, it is important that our government steps forward to provide assistance to those displaced.

We have written a template letter below to contact local MPs and councillors, which you can edit and adapt as you see fit. Find your MP and how to contact them here.

Template letter:

Dear <your mp>,

Almost half a million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar over the past three weeks, following an escalation of brutal state violence that has reportedly included rapes, massacres and the burning of villages. Eyewitnesses have told human rights organisations that children have been beheaded and civilians burnt alive, and most recently claimed that local mobs have also joined the violence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has said that the military’s brutal campaign seems to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

The present situation is not isolated; rather, it is yet another incident in a long and miserable history of the Rohingya’s oppression. The community are unrecognized in Myanmar and thus denied citizenship rights, which has effectively rendered them stateless. Furthermore, the UN found in February 2017 that government troops ‘very likely’ committed crimes against humanity during earlier campaigns of violent repression. The response of our government must acknowledge the protracted nature of the community’s subjugation.

I am aware that the current plight of the Rohingya has been raised by a number of figures within the UK government, for which I am grateful. However, I was hoping that you might be able to update me with regard to the following questions:

  • Is the UK government encouraging the government of Myanmar to instigate the human rights investigation that Foreign Office Minister Mark Field said that they had agreed to?
  • Has the Foreign Secretary has moved forward with the request in the aforementioned parliamentarians’ letter to put pressure on Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of the military in Myanmar?
  • Is a governmental review of British support given to the military in Myanmar being considered, as requested in the aforementioned parliamentarians’ letter and by Liz McInnes in the Commons?
  • Will the British representatives currently at the 36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva support both the emergency resolution at the Human Rights Council, and the resumption of the annual resolution?
  • Will humanitarian aid be provided by the British government, beyond the existing budget for Myanmar? I feel strongly that the severity of the current situation, in which hundreds of thousands are in overcrowded and under-resourced refugee camps and many more remain stuck at the border with Bangladesh, requires additional funding. Recent monsoon rain has flooded the makeshift camps, creating ‘swamp-like’ conditions and, in the words of a local police chief, ‘doubled [the refugees’] misery’.

It should also be noted that the Bangladeshi government has imposed travel restrictions on Rohingya refugees, prohibiting them from going to stay with family or friends. A rights-centred approach must be encouraged on both sides of the border.

I hope that you are encouraging the British government to treat the Rohingya’s displacement and persecution as a matter of the utmost urgency, and look forward to hearing your responses soon.

With thanks and best wishes,

<your name>

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