As Winter Nears, Asylum Seekers Stuck in Tents on Islands

The Greek government, with the support of EU member states, should act now to end Greece’s “containment policy,” 20 human rights and aid groups said today.

The policy forces asylum seekers arriving on the Greek islands to remain in overcrowded, unsafe facilities, an urgent concern with winter approaching.

Conditions on the Greek islands have continued to deteriorate in the month since 19 nongovernmental groups wrote an open letter to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, calling on him to move asylum seekers to the mainland, where better conditions and services are available.

“This remains a matter of life and death,” said Jana Frey, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Greece. “There is absolutely no excuse for the conditions on the islands right now – thousands of people crammed into overcrowded and desperately under-resourced facilities. We are in a race against time. Lives will be lost – again – this winter – unless people are allowed to move, in an organised and voluntary fashion, to the mainland.”

Members of the group recently asked to meet with Tsipras to discuss the most urgent needs on the islands and provide recommendations for addressing this increasingly dire situation. They have received no response.

Over the past month, the Greek government has transferred 2,000 people from Samos and Lesbos to the mainland as a one-time emergency measure. When the government announced this initiative in October, these islands were already 5,000 people over capacity. It was clear then that this measure, while helpful, would not suffice.

“Nothing can justify trapping people in these terrible conditions on the islands for another winter,” said Eva Cosse, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greece and other European Union member states should act urgently to remove the obstacles to people getting the care and assistance they need on the Greek mainland.”

As of November 20, 2017, the hotspots on Lesbos, Samos, and Chios are hosting 7,000 over capacity: 10,925 people are staying in facilities with a capacity of just 3,924. Thousands, including single women, female heads of households, and very young children, are being forced to live in summer tents, essentially sleeping on the ground, as the weather worsens. Some women are forced to share tents with unrelated men, putting their privacy and safety at risk. This will be the second winter asylum seekers have had to spend in unsuitable facilities on the islands since the EU-Turkey Deal went into effect.

“The EU-Turkey Deal is condemning refugees and migrants to a second winter in squalor on the Greek islands. Instead of trying to maintain the deal at all cost, European countries and Greece should urgently work together and move asylum seekers off the islands,” said Gabriel Sakellaridis, director of Amnesty International in Greece.

EU and Greek officials have cited the EU-Turkey Deal as a justification for the containment policy. However, forcing asylum seekers to remain in conditions that violate their rights and are harmful to their well-being, health, and dignity cannot be justified, the organisations said. As such, the groups have also written to EU member state ambassadors to Greece urging them to immediately call on the Greek government to suspend, the containment policy.

The groups urged Prime Minister Tsipras to protect the human rights of asylum seekers trapped on the islands by ending the containment policy, immediately transferring people to improved conditions on the mainland, and making a commitment to ensure that no one is forced to sleep in a tent.

Because the “containment policy” is being implemented in response to the EU-Turkey deal, the organizations highlighted the responsibility of the European Commission and the EU member states to address the situation on the Greek islands and to press the Greek government to reverse the policy. EU member states should support the Greek government’s efforts to ensure the safety and dignity of asylum seekers in EU territory, including by expanding safe accommodation and access to services on the mainland.

“In an effort to make the EU-Turkey deal work, the Greek islands have been transformed into places of indefinite confinement for asylum seekers who have risked their lives in search of safety and a better life in Europe,” said Nicola Bay, head of mission for Oxfam in Greece. “The EU and the Greek government need to start putting people’s lives ahead of politics and uphold Europe’s commitment to human rights.”

What can you do?

Please tell Greece’s Prime Minister to end the containment of asylum seekers on the Islands by December 21, and call on other European Union leaders to support Greece in doing so! Tweet the Greek Prime Minister today.

Nobody should be forced to sleep in cold this winter. End the inhumane containment of asylum seekers on the Greek Islands. @Tsipras_EU @PrimeMinisterGR: #OpenTheIslands

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Sanitation conditions in Northern France found to be “severely lacking and extremely unsatisfactory”

Since last year’s demolition of the infamous Calais “Jungle”, the living conditions of refugees in the area have deteriorated considerably. Last month, Ella Foggitt – a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) expert – travelled to Northern France with Help Refugees, and conducted an assessment of the area. She found that WASH provisions in Calais are “inadequate”, and in Grande-Synthe, they are “severely lacking and extremely unsatisfactory.”

There are currently 700-800 refugees in Calais, 300-500 refugees in Grande Synthe, and hundreds more in other small camps in the region. People are dispersed on a daily basis, as refugees can no longer settle in the area: the French authorities are trying to prevent a “fixation point” in Calais. Among them are nearly 200 unaccompanied child refugees, the youngest of them being only 9 years old.

In June, Help Refugees and other organisations took the French authorities to court regarding the lack of sanitation facilities. The case was heard in France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, and found that state inactivity had resulted in the denial of refugees’ fundamental rights. The court upheld that authorities had the legal obligation to provide adequate sanitation provision, and stated that improvements must include sufficient access to toilets, drinking water and washing facilities.

While the court order has resulted in some improvements, current provisions in Calais contravene the minimum standards set by The Sphere Project. In October, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on access to water “urged the Government of France to devise long-term measures to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation for migrants in Calais and other areas along the northern French coast.”

Foggit’s report found that the situation in Calais was sub-standard across all measures, including water supply, bathing facilities, and menstrual hygiene provisions. Furthermore, it noted the unlawfully high ratio of people to toilets. Where it exists, solid waste management remains inadequate; as a result, there is a significant issue with disease vectors, including rats.

In Grande-Synthe, the situation was found to be worse. Hundreds of refugees share just six toilets, which are accessible only for specific hours during the day. Just one skip is used to collect the solid waste produced by 400-500 people. As a result, open defecation is commonplace: given the lack of hand washing facilities, this creates severe risks of infection.

The scheduled and limited hours of water provision exacerbate existing hygiene issues. The water trucks are often not present during food distribution, for example, which prevents refugees from handwashing before and after eating.

A greater number of refugees in Grande-Synthe were observed to have large water containers. While this should improve access to clean water, numerous refugees reported that police sprayed chemicals directly in to the vessels. This renders them unusable, and directly violates refugees’ human right to clean and safe water.

Furthermore, the report notes that “medical professionals treating refugees in Calais and Dunkirk reported that WASH-related issues are common. Conditions cited include trench foot, diarrhoea and skin infections such as scabies.” Infections often follow, as their living conditions mean that refugees are unable to keep injuries clean and dry.

The report concluded by saying that:

“Despite the poor living conditions, there is no sign of the number of refugees living in Calais and Grande-Synthe decreasing significantly in the near future…With winter approaching, rainwater is likely to exacerbate the issues relating to open defecation, standing water and poor drainage. Therefore, the French state needs to act to improve the conditions immediately and do so in a sustainable manner.”



The sanitation crisis in Northern France is urgent, and requires immediate address by the French state. Help Refugees continues to do all that we can to improve the situation, from distributing thousands of hygiene products to providing clean bedding to prevent skin infections. But with winter approach, needs are only increasing – and our funds are stretched. Please, if you are able to donate, do so here. Thank you.

For a copy of the report, please email

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Refugees face repeated violence from European authorities on the Balkan Route, MSF report finds

A new report by Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has found that refugees, including unaccompanied minors, have been repeatedly assaulted by border officials and state authorities along the Balkan route.


“Instead of fair and protection sensitive border procedures, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants are pushed back, robbed, beaten, humiliated and attacked by dogs,” as they attempt to cross Balkan borders, the report states.


Despite the EU-Turkey deal and the alleged closure of the so-called Balkan Road, thousands of refugees continue to use it as an overland route to Europe. Serbia remains one of the main hubs for arrivals: in October alone, 1017 new arrivals were recorded by UNHCR, which is almost double the number of observed arrivals for the previous month. Of the new arrivals, 69 were unaccompanied or separated children – compared to just 28 the month before.


MSF’s report, which covered the first six months of this year, noted that the vast majority of mental health patients under 18 suffered from intentional violence during their passage through the Balkans. 76% of the injured said that state authorities were the perpetrators, of which the majority (92%) were border forces.


Injuries included severe beatings, cuts from razor blades or knives, and dog bites. Many had also experienced sensory deprivation, or food and water deprivation – both of which can be classed as torture. The youngest patient treated was just 12 years old.


“Across the Balkans, European Union and regional border authorities continue unlawful practices, allegedly accompanied by violence and degrading treatment, in order to deny people their individual right to claim asylum, in complete disregard of national, European and international laws” – MSF report.


Abuse, however, is not restricted to the borders. It has also been documented in camps, police stations, and detention centers along the route.


Confinement becomes a reality for “almost all”, as Balkan states rely on administrative detention to control the asylum seekers passing through their states. In Hungary, for example, asylum seekers – including unaccompanied children aged over 14 – are detained in “Transit Zones” at the border with Serbia. In such spaces, even heavily pregnant women have to be handcuffed to visit the medical clinic inside the facility.


The report highlighted the state authorities in Bulgaria, Hungary and Croatia as particularly abusive. They have repeatedly engaged in unlawful pushback practices and collective expulsions, in obvious contravention of international law. Furthermore, the report notes that “seemingly blind-folded administrators continue to enforce Dublin returns, even when they increase the risk for vulnerable individuals.”


In Serbia, camps – while basic – provide a sense of physical safety to refugees living in them. Furthermore, the government has made significant and laudable efforts to integrate child refugees in to primary schools. Yet the country is yet to introduce an effective process through which asylum seekers can apply for refugee status. Out of more than 1,000 asylum applications launched in 2016, only 70 were decided upon. Over half of those were rejected.


“The system is not efficient enough to process all the asylum requests it gets,” said Mirjana Milenkovski of UNHCR, which has condemned the asylum procedure in Serbia as “unsafe”.


Help Refugees funds four projects in Serbia, including BelgrAid. Our partners work with refugees living in the 18 state-managed facilities, as well as those living in squats and seeking to travel beyond Serbia. The hopelessness associated with the asylum procedure, and the absence of psycho-social support in state camps, continues to impel people to try and reach other European states – and pushes vulnerable communities in to the hands of smugglers.


BelgrAid has recently begun to support the refugee community passing through Subotica, near the Serbia-Hungary border. There are approximately 300 refugees there at any one time, including a considerable number of refugees between the ages of 12-16. Of particular concern are two boys of just six and seven years old.


Despite the claims of EU member states, the Balkan Route has not closed. It continues to be used by asylum seekers in their search for safety, who are then faced with violence, confinement and inadequate access to asylum procedures. While the systemic causes of these issues require legal and political reforms, urgent action is needed to support refugees – in Serbia and beyond.


The needs of the transient community in Subotica will only increase as the cold weather approaches.


The winter in Serbia is harsh: last year, temperatures reached -12 during the day, and -15 at night. The number of refugees living in squats is unlikely to decrease, and our teams on the ground need your help in order to provide bedding, warm clothing, and meet other crucial needs. Please, if you are able to help, donate here. Our work relies on the generosity of people like you.

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Climate change ‘will create world’s biggest refugee crisis’, experts warn

Over the next decade, climate change will force tens of millions of people from their home, creating the biggest refugee crisis the world has seen.


A new report released by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) highlights the devastating impact that changing weather patterns will have on communities, most particularly in developing countries. Published a week before the UN’s current conference on climate change, COP23, it calls upon governments to create a multilateral agreement that will protect and give status to those displaced by extreme weather.


“If Europe thinks they have a problem with migration today … wait 20 years,” said Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, a retired member of the US Marine Corps. “See what happens when climate change drives people out of Africa – the Sahel [sub-Saharan area] especially – and we’re talking now not just one or two million, but 10 or 20 [million]. They are not going to south Africa, they are going across the Mediterranean.”


Despite being least responsible for climate change, the world’s poor are the most vulnerable to its effects – and are already suffering. Since 2008, an average of 21.7 million people have been displaced each year by extreme weather-related disasters – the equivalent of 41 people every minute. This does not include the people forced to flee their homes as a consequence of slow-onset environmental degradation, such as droughts.


The report argues, for example, that climate-related migration had significant impact on urban-rural dynamics in the months and years preceding the Syrian conflct. Over a million people left their homes and relocated to urban centres such as Homs and Damascus, following a prolonged and severe drought. The lack of water caused an estimated 75 percent of Syria’s farms to fail, and in some regions, farmers lost 80 percent of their livestock between 2006 and 2011. Nobody would argue that drought was the most significant factor in sparking the conflict; however, the report claim that its impacts (including changed demographics, water scarcity and food insecurity) interacted with and inflamed pre-existing political tensions.


Climate change is increasingly recognized as a cause of, or contributing factor towards, internal and international involuntary migration. Steve Trent, the executive director of EJF, argues that “climate change is the unpredictable ingredient that, when added to existing social, economic and political tensions, has the potential to ignite violence and conflict with disastrous consequences.”


The EJF’s report calls for the creation of a specific, legally binding and multilateral framework that protects present and future climate refugees. While climate-related migration has not been a discursive priority at COP23, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution in early October that explicitly recognizes the intersection between climate, conflict and displacement.


It “acknowledges the many difficulties involved in establishing an accepted universal definition of ‘climate refugee’, but calls for serious recognition of the nature and extent of climate-induced displacement and migration resulting from disasters caused by global warming,” and “recalls in particular that climate-related developments in parts of Africa and the Middle East could contribute to political instability, economic hardship and an escalation of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.”


Yet resolutions and recognition can only be the first step. Legal frameworks, technical assistance and capacity building are fundamental prerequisites to the protection of people displaced by climate change.


“Climate change will not wait,” said the report. “Neither can we. For climate refugees, tomorrow is too late.”


Help Refugees supports 70 grassroots projects across 10 different countries, supporting people who have been displaced both internally and internationally. As winter approaches, needs are only increasing. Please, if you are able to donate, do so here. Our work depends on the generosity of people like you.

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A Lovin’ Spoonful: Lucy’s experience with RCK

A few weeks ago, Lucy Wooding went to Calais and volunteered with our partners, Refugee Community Kitchen. Here, she shares her experience. We’re so grateful, Lucy, for all of your help – our movement has been built by people like you.


“In late October, I spent a week working with Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) – and my experience was one filled with love, kindness and an uplifting sense of community.

I’ve always been passionate about campaigning for freedom of movement, and the rights of refugees. It made sense for me to go and see first-hand what the situation is truly like in Calais – without the influence of the media’s opinion – and how the work of wonderful charities such as RCK benefit the displaced people living in the area.

On my first day, I arrived at the industrial sized warehouse shared by charities Help Refugees, L’Auberge des Migrants and Utopia56. Newcomers were given a brief tour, an introduction to each charity does, and a health, safety and hygiene induction.

I slipped into my chef’s blacks and crocs (not the most sartorially chic ensemble!), and was allocated the job of chopping. Sounds mundane, but accompanied by friendly, self-motivated volunteers, music, and the shared goal of preparing nutritious food for the hundreds of refugees in and around Calais, the atmosphere was far from boring.

Lucy at RCK

RCK runs a tight ship.

What struck me was how organised and efficiently the charity operates. Food was always distributed on time, every single volunteer had a task to do, and the warehouse was always left clean and organised. It was beyond satisfying working with a charity that is so thorough in their work.

Other jobs included washing up large drums where rice had been cooking all day, making curries and stews, operating the Robo Chopper which slices various vegetables that later go into curries or salads, making large amounts of flapjack mixture to go into the oven, peeling and washing onions and garlic (some volunteers wore goggles for this part!), loading the vans ready for food distribution and sorting through the food donations which were delivered to the warehouse.

The working day began at 9 (some volunteers arrived earlier), and finished generally around 6:30-7pm. There’s also a lunch break in between where volunteers eat what we’ve made – the food is really tasty! As we ate together, volunteers spoke about their day so far, or their opinions on the refugee crisis, articulating how dehumanising and cruel the situation is. Even though the crisis in Calais is far from solved, it was empowering to know that teams of proactive volunteers are making the situation slightly more bearable and humane.

Lucy at RCK

My favourite part of the day was going on a food distribution.

We filled up the van with gastros of rice, curry and salad and drove out to the site. This is where I had the opportunity to see what was really happening in Calais.

Each area has different cultural demographics. The refugees in Calais are Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese or Afghan. They are mostly young men. In Dunkirk, there are more Kurds, Afghans and Syrian families with small children.


When I told people I was volunteering in Calais, the response was somewhat mixed.

My family were incredibly encouraging and positive, but others told me that it wasn’t safe in Calais, and that there was fighting in the “camps”.

To set the record straight, there is no “camp” in Calais. The destruction of the Calais Jungle happened in October 2016, yet there are still refugees residing in Calais, left sleeping in the woods, on the roadsides or around river banks. The local police take away their tents and blankets, regularly throw tear gas, shoot rubber bullets or conduct beatings. “How can it be right – 1 refugee and 4 police officers beating us?!” said one Sudanese refugee.

Secondly, it is not unsafe to work with refugees in Calais. During each distribution I was met with cheerful phrases such as “Hello Sister, how are you today?”, and countless amounts of thank yous and smiles. They have every right to feel groggy, since they are cold and hungry, yet they display such grace, dignity and appreciation as they wait for their meal.


Despite rampant police brutally, unforgiving weather conditions and the uncertainty of whether they will seek asylum or not, the refugees I met were filled with joy and laughter.

I spoke to a group of young Ethiopian males, who were cracking jokes and dancing to the music we played from the radio of the distribution van. One told me that when he gets out of France, he would love to meet Wayne Rooney. “One day I can take a picture with Wayne Rooney at my birthday party” he cheerily said, as he pretended to take a selfie.

Despite meeting individuals who displayed a positive demeanour, the harrowing situation that they face was obvious. It was a stark reminder that when we’re moaning about our first world problems, we should be mindful of those who are in far worse conditions.


My experience with Refugee Community Kitchen was uplifting, and I will certainly volunteer with them again.

I met countless amounts of interesting and welcoming volunteers from different countries and walks of life.

It doesn’t matter if you are volunteering for a day, week, month or more, your help is greatly appreciated. If you’re thinking about volunteering with RCK – just go for it! There is no time like the present – the refugee crisis is a very real issue and happening NOW.

However, if you can’t volunteer for whatever circumstances, I urge you to donate instead. Visit RCK’s website to find out their latest needs, and how to donate.”

Still Feeding the Need: Supporting the refugees in Calais from Mark McEvoy on Vimeo.

Help Refugees has supported RCK since they began cooking in Calais almost two years ago. Since then, the wonderful team has cooked every single day – and served an epic 1.5 million meals!

To help us continue to support refugees in Northern France – with everything from food to bedding – please donate here. Winter is coming, and we need your help more than ever. Thank you.

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APPG on Refugees meeting on immigration detention

Detention is traumatic. It is also unnecessary, expensive and inefficient. This Thursday there will be a parliamentary debate on immigration detention. Make sure your MP attend the meeting by writing to them today here!

Immigration detention has been regularly in the media spotlight in recent months. The BBC Panorama documentary into Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, broadcast in September, led the Home Affairs Select Committee to hold an inquiry. The Panorama revelations were quickly followed by deaths of migrants in detention. On 7 September, a 28-year old Polish man died as a result of a suicide attempt in Colnbrook detention centre. On 19 September, a Chinese national died in Dungavel detention centre in Scotland. And on 3 October, a Jamaican man died in Morton Hall detention centre.

The purpose of the meeting this week is to provide space for MPs and peers to discuss what further steps can be taken to make progress towards fundamental detention reform. Calls for a time limit and detention reform have gained increasing momentum over the last few years, starting with the inquiry of the APPGs on Refugees and Migration into the use of immigration detention (2015). Subsequently, the first Shaw Review in 2016 and debates during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016 led the Government to make various promises and concessions, few of which have yet been implemented. At present, Stephen Shaw is holding a follow-up review to assess progress. Yet despite substantial public and political pressure and a ministerial commitment to reform, migrants held in immigration detention have seen little tangible change.

The latest statistics shows that the UK continues to routinely detain large numbers of migrants for lengthy periods, including vulnerable people. In the last year, nearly 28,000 migrants entered the detention estate; more than one in three were detained longer than 28 days. In the last quarter, 52% of migrants who left detention were released into to the community, not removed. As at 30 June 2017, the longest length of time a person had been detained was 1,514 days, in excess of four years.

During the meeting, parliamentarians will also have the opportunity to be briefed on recent developments in immigration detention, the follow-up Shaw Review and findings from recent and forthcoming research reports. Speakers will include Women for Refugee Women, Freed Voices (a group of migrants who have collectively lost over 20 years to immigration detention), Detention Action and Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. Paul Blomfield MP will be chairing the meeting.

APPG on Refugees meeting on immigration detention

Thursday 16 November 2017 

10:30 – 11:30 The Grimond Room in Portcullis House

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Choose Love: buy real gifts for refugees in our pop-up shop

Choose Love is the world’s first shop where you can buy real products for refugees. From emergency blankets to school bags and medical equipment, you can shop to your heart’s content, leave with nothing, and feel great. All funds raised will go directly to Help Refugees, supporting our work across Europe and the Middle East.

You can head to the online shop here.

Help Refugees is a pioneering organisation working on the frontline of the refugee crisis in Europe and beyond. Founded in 2015 as part of a grassroots movement of volunteers, in just two years they have become one of the most prominent and effective humanitarian aid organisations working directly with refugees.

Josie Naughton, CEO of Help Refugees, said: “It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have a bed, a blanket and a roof over our heads. For thousands of refugees this winter, these basic human needs are completely out of reach. This shop is all about one simple idea: that we should all Choose Love and help those in need.”

The pop-up store has been created by creative collective Glimpse, who last year replaced dozens of adverts in Clapham Common tube station with pictures of cats.

The items on sale will include emergency blankets, children’s shoes, warm socks, mobile phone credit and more. Costs will range from £4.99 to £499 – to ‘buy the store’.

To support our work across Europe and the Middle East in the meantime, please donate now.

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Two children’s bodies washed ashore in Lesvos

Over the past three days, the bodies of three refugees have been washed ashore on a Lesvos beach. Two of them were children, a boy and a girl, estimated to be between 12 and 13 years old.

The boy was said to be wearing blue shorts and shoes. His body, and those of the others, were in an advanced stage of sepsis. The coroner put the three bodies at 24 days dead.

Authorities say that neither the UNHCR, nor any other relevant body, had reported that any children were missing. Our teams on the ground report that an empty dinghy has since been found, and a Frontex helicopter is searching for more bodies. It seems, therefore, that nobody noticed the shipwreck before these bodies were found.

The deaths of these children, and one adult, come just one week after a wooden boat sank in the eastern Aegean Sea, resulting in the confirmed deaths of three people. The survivors – 14 adults and one child – said that there were up to 24 people on board.

These deaths are avoidable. The ongoing and tragic loss of life that is seen in the Aegean, and the central Mediterranean, is a direct result of European border policies and political decisions that actively neglect search and rescue operations.

Our partners, Refugee Rescue, are the only dedicated Search and Rescue (SAR) team operating off the coast of Lesvos. Frontex ships and the Hellenic Coastguard continue to patrol Greek waters, but the number of arrivals has exceeded their capacity to keep people safe.

Harassment and violence from the Turkish Coastguard has further imperiled refugees who attempt to cross the Aegean.

In the early hours of Friday morning, it was reported that the Turkish Coastguard harassed a boat carrying 37 refugees – among them families and unaccompanied minors – while it was in Greek waters.

It is alleged that a Turkish official fired multiple gunshots into the air before retreating, and then returned to fire shots into the water close to the dinghy, while ramming the boat with their vessel on numerous occasions.

When the Hellenic Coastguard arrived at the scene, 17 people jumped in to the water and swam towards the ship for safety. Many of them had urgent medical needs, including one man who had a broken leg – he still jumped in to the water.

The Turkish Coastguard attempted to pull people out of the water, and reportedly used some form of large stick to prevent them from swimming away. Several refugees were wounded as a result, and members of Refugee Rescue reported that they had ‘substantial cuts in their faces’.

Tragically, those who were unable to swim – mainly women, children and the elderly – were apprehended by the Turkish Coastguard and returned to Turkey. It has been reported that, as a result, families have been torn apart.

This report adds to a long list of human rights violations and so-called push backs by the Turkish Coastguard, in breach of international maritime law. The number of serious incidents is rising, and there is at least one push back to Turkish waters every night.

Over the past ten days, lives have been lost and families separated as refugees attempt to reach safety in Europe.

Such tragedies are preventable, and yet they will continue to unfold until legal and political reforms are implemented at a European scale. Since the beginning of November, almost 500 people have arrived to Lesvos; teams on the ground report that children make up almost 50% of each boat. Every day, lives are being risked in search of safety.

Alan Kurdi’s death in 2015 made headlines all over the world. Yet more than 8,000 people – including these two children – have since lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Their deaths have barely been reported. Faceless and nameless, they simply add to the ever-growing number of people who have perished in their desperate attempts to reach safety. Until safe and legal routes to sanctuary are opened, this number will continue to climb.

The crisis is not over. Those who arrive on the Greek islands are faced with severely overcrowded camps, inadequate sanitation facilities, and months spent in legal limbo without access to adequate asylum procedures. As winter approaches, and arrivals continue, more people will face the coming months with little more than a tent to protect them.

We need your help more than ever. Our partner projects range from Refugee Rescue, to teams that provide warming and nutritious food, or bedding and winter clothing. Please, if you are able to donate and help us continue our vital work, do so here. We depend on the generosity of people like you. Thank you.

Photograph from UNHCR/Ivor Pickett.

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Refugees in Greece plead to be reunited with family members in Europe

Last week, a group of mainly Syrian women and children began a protest outside the Greek parliament in Athens to demand that they are reunited with family members elsewhere in Europe.

Like many refugees in Greece, both on the island and the mainland, the protestors are waiting for family reunification. This is their legal right, according to the EU’s own regulations under Dublin III, and yet they are often left stranded in Greece for a wait between ten months and two years.

“Our family ties are stronger than your illegal agreements,” read one banner. “Reunite our families,” said another.


Family reunification procedures are protracted, complex, and often difficult for refugees to access. The process begins when an individual submits an asylum application, with a request to be reunited with family members who are residing elsewhere in Europe. From this date, the host state has three months to submit a Take Charge Request (TCR), which seeks to pass the decision-making responsibility on the individual’s asylum claim to the country where their family members reside.

The Greek office charged with such applications has, in the majority of cases, reached or missed the deadline to send the requests to the other EU countries. As a result, it reverts to submitting the applications under the discretionary clauses. Not only does this cause longer waiting periods, but it also results in a vast number of applications using discretionary clauses, which should in fact be reserved for humanitarian or other extenuating circumstances.

Furthermore, if a TCR is sent after the time period has elapsed, the receiving country no longer has a responsibility to respond to the request – it does so only at its discretion. This means that valid TCRs can be rejected, simply on the basis that the receiving state has no responsibility to consider the application because it is out of time.

After the TCR application has been submitted, two decisions must then be provided: first, regarding the TCR itself, and second, regarding the asylum application itself. In the case of family reunification to Germany, the estimated average time from the German decision until transfer was reported, in August, to be between 8 and 9 months. When taken with the long waits for Greece to submit a TCR, and for the German authorities to make a decision, the overall wait period can be as long as two years.


“Valid and accepted family reunification claims are taking months, even years to be processed,” said Daniel Taylor, legal support volunteer in Athens.


“This is ripping families apart and causing constant, daily anguish for families who are separated – knowing that they have a legal right to be together, yet clueless as to why that legal right is not being translating into reality,” he continued.“The cost of such delays for these families, in terms of their welfare, mental health, education and future prospects, is immeasurable.”

It should be noted that a letter from Greek Migration Minister Mouzalas to his German counterpart, leaked in May 2017, suggested the existence of an unofficial agreement between the two countries to limit transfers under the Dublin Regulation. While this has been denied by both governments, employees of the Dublin Unit in Greece reportedly informed refugees that a maximum of 70 persons would be transferred per month.

Dalal Rashou, a 32-year-old from Syria, is among the protesters outside the Greek parliament. She has five children, one of who is in Germany with her husband.

“I have not seen my husband, my child, for more than one year and nine months,” she said. “I miss him, and every day I am here in Greece I cry. I don’t want to stay here, I want to go to my husband!”

Family reunification is a right, and one enshrined in European law. The ongoing delays to reunite vulnerable individuals with their families, for which EU member states are responsible, needlessly prolongs their suffering.

As the weather grows colder, and refugees face another winter in deplorable conditions, it is incumbent on European states to fulfil their legal obligations and reunite families at the earliest possible opportunity.



Some of the families protesting in Athens were profiled by Refugee Support Aegean here. For further information on family reunification, see the briefing note by Stiftung PRO ASYL and Refugee Support Aegean, which this article drew heavily from.  

Help Refugees support more than forty projects across Greece, including legal support and information services on mainland Greece and the islands. Our work, as ever, depends on your generosity: if you are able to donate, please click here. Thank you.




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26 teenage girls drown as they attempt to reach safety in Europe

Twenty-six teenage girls drowned over the weekend as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. Italian officials have since launched an investigation over suspicions that the girls, some as young as 14, may have been abused and murdered.

The girls’ bodies were recovered from two separate shipwrecks, during a rescue operation conducted by a Spanish ship this weekend. More than 400 people were rescued by that ship alone, including 90 women and 52 children. A week-old baby was among the survivors.

The investigation seeks to identify why all who died were female, whether the girls were purposely killed, and whether the girls had been tortured or sexually assaulted prior to their death.

In February, UNICEF reported that levels of sexual violence and abuse along the Central Mediterranean migration route made it one of “the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women.”

“It’s very rare to find a woman who hasn’t been abused [during the crossing],” said Marco Rotunna, a spokesman for UNHCR in Italy. He noted that 90% of women who make the crossing arrive with bruises and other signs of violence.

Last year, the risk of death for asylum seekers crossing the central Mediterranean was 1 in 49. The passage across the Mediterranean is even more deadly for women than men: for every five men who lose their lives trying to cross, six women also die. This has been linked to women’s poorer swimming skills and attempts to save their children.

A recent report highlighted the impact of European policies on those crossing the central Mediterranean. Since the closure of Italy’s commendable search-and-rescue mission, Mare Nostrum, the EU does not provide a service that prioritises rescue missions.

Instead, states have increased their collaboration with Libyan groups as they seek to prevent people from attempting the crossing. Governments have thus been accused of leaving vulnerable people exposed to a litany of rights abuses on land and contributing to “more drownings” at sea.

“European states have progressively turned their backs on a search and rescue strategy that was reducing mortality at sea in favour of one that has seen thousands drown,” said Amnesty International.

The girls’ deaths are added to the tragic toll of 2,839 people who have lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean – this year alone. An unknown number of people have also drowned, their bodied never recovered. This number will undoubtedly continue to rise, for as long as asylum seekers and migrants are denied access to safe and legal routes to Europe.

The girls’ deaths, and this larger toll, must not be reduced to a statistic: it represents the number of people, fleeing insecurity and persecution, who will never have the chance to begin the next chapter of their life in safety. It represents a tragic loss of potential and opportunity, of life that deserves to be lived.


The media coverage may have lessened, but the crisis continues unabated. Help Refugees continues to support projects across Europe and the Middle East, ranging from search and rescue to the provision of warming, nutritious food. As winter approaches, we need your help more than ever. To donate, please click here. Thank you.

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