Deaths at the Calais Border: Needless, Relentless and Entirely Preventable

Annie Gavrilescu, Help Refugees’ Regional Manager for Northern France, wrote the following article that was originally published on HuffPost UK. Her heartbreaking description of refugees’ lives in Calais is a call to action unlike any other.


We were consistently warned that refugees dying of the cold in Northern France was a “distinct possibility”. No one really took into account how refugees themselves had the same fear.

When the only hope to cling on to is the sheer desperate thought of getting out of Calais – refugees are taking more risks, putting their lives in danger. All in the last two weeks, three tragedies brought the humanitarian response in Calais to a standstill. A 15-year-old child died on the motorway trying to reach his family in the UK. He had been formally referred to the state child protection service as a vulnerable child and a potential candidate for family reunification, but no action was taken. A 22-year-old young man was almost fatally injured in similar circumstances. And a few nights ago another young man was killed inside a lorry which was involved in a crash.

The conditions in which people live are beyond bleak. The same story repeats itself each day and night. You’ve been forced out of your home, your town and your country. You survived the perilous sea while many other have died. You reach Europe and try to join your family in Britain. The old “Jungle” camp is gone.

You wake up in the forest on the frozen ground, underneath a tarp being ripped apart by the police. The night before, the Prefecture in Calais said it wasn’t cold enough to open the warehouse they use for emergency night accommodation. The police tell you to move on and before you have the chance, you’re sprayed with tear gas.

Your eyes sting, your skin feels like it’s burning and you struggle to breathe, you still walk two miles in broken shoes to a distribution point to get the only food available to you which is provided by volunteers. You stand in line waiting for a warmer jacket and maybe some shoes, but defeated volunteers tell you they don’t have enough donations to give you what you need. You try to connect to the WiFi provided by volunteers and ask for a top-up on a Facebook group, knowing it could take you a month before you have credit on your phone to call your family. When you do speak to your mum, you lie to her and tell her you’re somewhere warm and safe.

Distribution in Calais

You walk another two miles to a day centre outside of town to lay down somewhere dry and charge your phone. You’re told if you want to stay in France you have to get yourself to Lille, as there is no asylum office in Calais. But you also know the police arrest all refugees at train stations, and you cannot face the detention centre again. The day centre closes in the afternoon, you walk out and it’s already dark again. You wait again for volunteers to come with food. When the night comes you walk back to your bit of forest and find that everything you left behind was taken or covered in mud.

You go up to the motorway, wait for any lorry to slow down as it passes you. You cannot afford the smugglers who take you to better locations, you tried but they’ve tricked and beaten you before and you’re too afraid to risk it. One lorry comes and slows down next to you. It stops in a traffic jam, you hurry to unlock the door. Normally you have no luck and return to the woods and try to settle somewhere to sleep, before it all repeats itself once more.

Tonight however, you climb in between the heavy pallets and you say goodbye to your friend who locks the door behind you. You sit in silence and hope you’ll finally never have to see Calais again. You’ll be able to speak to your mum back in Nangarhar and tell her you’re finally safe. No more hiding in forests, no more police taking away your only blanket, no more waiting.

Two deaths in the last week have happened like this. The 15-year-old boy was hit by a vehicle that didn’t stop and was found dead by the side of the road the next morning. Volunteers are now gathering the funds to repatriate his body. The 22-year-old is described as being “between life and death”. The young man who died last night, crushed inside a lorry has not yet been identified.

Macron declared in July that no refugees – man, woman or child – would face the winter on the streets or in the woods, and yet this is the reality faced by so many right now. The emergency accommodation in Calais has once again closed its doors tonight

In Northern France, volunteers are still feeding, clothing, informing and protecting refugees, the grassroots volunteer response is the only thing keeping them alive. But there is nothing we can do when refugees become so desperate, they risk their lives so much more, purely out of the fear of dying of the cold.


Help Refugees
 and our local French partners provide clothing, bedding and hygiene items, and advocate for refugees’ rights. Refugee Community Kitchen is the only source of food for refugees in Northern France. Refugee Info Bus provides WiFi and asylum information.

French organisations such as L’Auberge des MigrantsUtopia 56 and Secours Catholique continue to provide invaluable local support.

All photos by Futuro Berg, for Help Refugees.

Read more

Stand Up 4 Refugees: A night of comedy in aid of Help Refugees

Stand Up 4 Refugees is a series of special, star-studded, one off comedy shows in aid of Help Refugees.

Over the years we have been lucky enough to enjoy sets from some of the best in the business, including Stewart Lee, Jo Brand, Nish Kumar, Dara Ó Briain, Sarah Millican and many more.

In 2017, Stand Up 4 Refugees was at Birmingham Rep on May 31 and will feature Brummies Joe Lycett, Mrs Barbara Nice and Jo Enright alongside Nish Kumar, Robin Ince and MC Tiernan Douieb.

Jen Brister Stand Up 4 Refugees

Jen Brister hosted Stand Up 4 Refugees at the Brighton Dome

Jen Brister introduced the likes of Mark Steel, Shappi Khorsandi, Stephen Grant and Dara Ó Briain at the Brighton Dome.

Other shows included a night at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, and the beautiful Union Chapel in London. Many of the nights were organised by comedian Tiernan Douieb.



It was a fantastic night for a fantastic cause, made more significant with the fact that this week is Refugee Week. The comedians applauded the audience for their commitment and energy. Most performers wore charity t-shirts, a constant reminder of the significance of the event.
– The Argus

***** review: Stand Up 4 Refugees in the Argus

Stand Up 4 Refugees in the Birmingham Rep

Read more

150 MPs, peers and organisations sent a letter to Amber Rudd – read it here

Last week we delivered a letter to Amber Rudd MP at the Home Office with Lord Alf Dubs, Baroness Shas Sheehan, Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Baroness Butler-Sloss and our partners Refugee Rights Data Project.

The letter garnered the support of a remarkable 150 MPs, Peers, NGOs and public figures.

Together we demand urgent action to be taken about the child refugees stuck in Calais and Greece who could fill the nearly 300 spaces left unfilled under the Dubs Amendment.

You can find the letter and signatories below.

You can use it to write to your MP here:

Read the letter here:

The Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP

Secretary of State for the Home Department

2 Marsham St


SW1P 4DF 14 December 2017

Dear Home Secretary,

We, the undersigned, are writing to you Secretary of State for the Home Department to ask you to continue Britain’s proud tradition of welcoming child refugees and ensure that all the ‘Dubs’ places are now filled and children are transferred to Britain without further delay.

You will be aware that the Dubs Amendment was passed in May 2016 as S67 Immigration Act 2016 in order to bring to safety unaccompanied child refugees from France, Italy and Greece. Parliament called for the Government to consult with Local Authorities when determining how many children would be granted protection in the UK under the scheme.

During the demolition of the so-called Calais “Jungle” in October 2016 the UK gave sanctuary to 200 children under this provision. However since then and up to September this year, no children were transferred under the legislation, despite the Government stating in February 2017 that 480 placements had been identified in total. Today, hundreds of unaccompanied children continue to circulate in Northern France whilst conditions are deteriorating at a steady pace. Recent research by Refugee Rights Data Project indicates that the majority of children are facing sustained and increasingly brutal forms of police violence as well as abuse by civilians, whilst many suffer from untreated mental and physical health problems combined with an absence of information and guidance.1

In light of the current detrimental situation in Calais, a continued commitment by our Government to its legal obligation to fulfil the ‘Dubs’ Amendment appears to be more important than ever. The previous transfer of 200 children in 2016 proves that our Home Office and our Government are able and willing to follow a proud tradition of being a safe haven for child refugees since the Kindertransport in the Second World War, allowing them to find safety in the UK without risking their lives. Knowing that at least four children lost their lives last year at our border in Calais before the Amendment was implemented is heartbreaking and we cannot let this happen again.

We are writing to ask that you ensure further safe transfers to the UK as swiftly as possible to fill the 480 capacity, and to urge the Government to provide swift access to family reunion so that children do not have to risk their lives to reach protection and their families.

The Home Office must act on their existing legal obligation and honour promises made to children under the Dubs Amendment.

We ask that:

  • All 480 Dubs Amendment placements declared by the Government be filled – the immediate identification, assessment and transfer must take place before the end of the year, to protect children from freezing temperatures and the many other risks they face;

  • The EU-Turkey deal eligibility deadline of 20th March 2016 be reconsidered – Currently only children who arrived in Europe before this date are considered eligible under the ‘Dubs’ amendment, meaning many vulnerable children who arrived more recently are not being considered for the scheme;

  • Family reunion for unaccompanied children in Europe with family in Britain (under the ‘Dublin III’ regulation) be accelerated – children are currently waiting many months to access this safe and legal route, leaving many to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers and traffickers, simply to reach family.

  • Involvement in anti-exploitation and anti-trafficking efforts in Northern France be renewed and reinforced; due to the high level of vulnerability of child and some adult refugees in the region, the UK has a duty to safeguard refugees from the dangers posed by exploitative criminal networks before they reach the UK, as well as actively identify both potential victims and perpetrators.

We recognise the leadership role Britain has played in coordinating aid to countries with large refugee populations and in resettling refugees directly from the region, however we strongly believe we should also do our bit to support some of the most vulnerable child refugees who have already arrived in Europe.

On the eve of the Second World War, Britain gave sanctuary to some 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe fleeing Nazi persecution through the Kindertransport. One of these children was Lord Alf Dubs; his amendment – Section 67 – continues this proud tradition of offering protection to some of the most vulnerable child refugees in Europe. We ask you to stand up now for that tradition.

Yours sincerely,


Lord Dubs

Baroness Butler-Sloss

Baroness Sheehan

Caroline Lucas MP

The Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable M

Stella Creasy MP

Stephen Twigg MP

Heidi Allen MP

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of Green party

Molly Scott-Cato Green MEP

Stuart McDonald MP

Vernon Coaker MP

Alex Sobel MP

Bishop of Southwark

Bishop of Chester

Lord Hylton

Lord Alton

Jo Swinson MP

The Rt Hon Sir Edward Davey MP

The Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP

Tim Farron MP

Wera Hobhouse MP

Stephen LLoyd MP

The Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP

Layla Moran MP

Christine Jardine MP

Alison Thewliss MP

John McNally MP

Angus MacNeil MP

Ian Blackford MP

Martyn Day MP

Neil Gray MP

Kirsty Blackman MP

Chris Law MP

Gavin Newlands MP

David Linden MP

Joanna Cherry MP

Alan Brown MP

Chris Stephens MP

Douglas Chapman MP

Deidre Brock MP

Philippa Whitford MP

Marion Fellows MP

Angela Crawley MP

Stewart McDonald MP (not to be confused with me!)

Pete Wishart MP

Ronnie Cowan MP

Patrick Grady MP

Carol Monaghan MP

Mhairi Black MP

Stewart Hosie MP

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP

Brendan O’Hara MP

Hannah Bardell MP

Drew Hendry MP

Patricia Gibson MP

Lisa Cameron MP

Stephen Gethins MP

Peter Grant MP

Chuka Ummuna MP

Tommy Sheppard MP

Cllr Stephen Cowan – Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham

Baroness Smith of Basildon

Viscount Simon

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

Lord Gordon of Strathblane

Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan

Lord Rooker

Lord Haworth

Baroness Blackstone

Lord Desai

Lord Falconer

Baroness Quin

Lord Judd

Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon

Lord Collins of Highbury

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke

Baroness Lister of Burtersett

Baroness Whitaker

Baroness Goudie

Baroness Bakewell

Baroness Young of Scone

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

Lord Wills of North Swindon and Woodside Park

Lord Bassam

Baroness Massey of Darwen

Baroness Tonge

Lord Greaves

Baroness Janke

Baroness Garden of Frognal

Baroness Doocey

Lord Jones

Baroness Miller

Baroness Jolly

Lord Lee

Baroness Hussein-Ece

Baroness Bowles

Lord Stunell

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Lord Taverne

Lord Newby

Baroness Smith of Newnham

Baroness Walmsley

Lord Thomas of Gresford

Baroness Hamwee

Prof. Lord Layard

Lord Rogers of Riverside

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws

Baroness Hilton

Lord Stephen

Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill


Help Refugees

Refugee Rights Data Project

Safe Passage

L’Auberge des Migrants

Refugee Youth Service

Refugee Info Bus

Utopia 56

Refugee Women’s Centre

Solidarity with Refugees

ILPA- Immigration Law Practitioners Association

School Bus Project

Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign

MICLU – Migrant & Refugee Children Legal Unit

ECPAT UK – Every Child Protected Against Human Trafficking

Hummingbird Project

Meena Centre

Mobile Refugee Support

Refugee Resilience Collective

Global Social Club Brighton


Refugee Compassion 


Friends of Refugees Bedford

Jewish Centre for Racial Equality

Chorleywood for Refugees

Herts for Refugees

Social Workers Without Borders

Side by Side with Refugees

Marlow Refugee Action Group

Cambridge Convoy Refugee Action Group

Right to Remain

Christian Aid

Advocacy figures:

Vanessa Redgrave

Juliet Stevenson

Lynne Myfwany Jones OBE PsychFr

Anna Zobnina, Strategy & Policy Coordinator of European Network of Migrant Women

Fiona MacTaggart

Read more

Save the Date: Family Reunion Bill

You may know that five organisations – the Refugee Council, Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, Oxfam UK, and UNHCR UK – are campaigning for the immigration rules to be changed to make it easier for refugee families to reunite. Help Refugees is proud to support their campaign. 

We can only imagine what people have fled – but we can help refugees rebuild their future and bring their families back together. 
Unfortunately, restrictive government rules are leaving them isolated, traumatised and alone in the UK, knowing that the people they love still face untold dangers in other countries.

The only family members explicitly allowed to join adult refugees in the UK are their spouse or partner, and their dependent children who are under the age of 18.

Unaccompanied children who are granted refugee status in the UK have no right to reunite with even their closest family members – and out of all the countries in Europe, the UK and Denmark are the only ones to deny them this right. It should be noted that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has now urged the UK to “review its asylum policy in order to facilitate family reunion for unaccompanied and separated refugee children.” 

We endorse the five organisations’ asks: 

  1. Child refugees in the UK having the right to sponsor their family so they can rebuild their lives together and help them integrate in their new community;
  2. An expansion of who qualifies as family, so that young people who have turned 18, and elderly parents, can be reunited and live in safety with their families in the UK;
  3. The reintroduction of legal aid, so that refugees have the support they need to afford and navigate the complicated process of being reunited with their families.

The five organisations listed above have worked with Angus MacNeil MP to introduce a Bill on refugee family reunion, which was first debated earlier this month.  If the Bill is to succeed, more than 100 MPs need to attend the debate and support the Bill at its second reading on Friday 16th March 2018.

The diaries of MPs are already filling up quickly – and what’s more, since the second reading takes place on a Friday, many MPs will be back in their constituencies.  It seems like a long way away (particularly with the holidays and New Year in the middle!), but your support is needed now. Please could you contact your MP, and ask them to save the date: to be present in Parliament on 16th March and to support the Family Reunion Bill.

You can do this in just a few moments, using the Refugee Council website – after typing in your postcode, you will see who your local MP is, and you will also have a draft of the letter ready to send. 

It will take less than 5 minutes to send, but could make a huge change in the lives of refugees who wish to reunite with their loved ones.  

Make sure your MP knows that you want them to attend. Voting in support of this bill, on the 16th March, is a simple action that MPs can take – and will transform the lives of those who have been torn apart from the people they love. It is the right thing to do, and a practical way to help people rebuild their lives so they can have safe, happy futures together.



This photo was taken by Rob Pinney, at the Refugees Welcome march. 

Read more

Watch Majid Adin’s new film for Help Refugees, ‘The Journey’

After winning a global competition to create the first official music video for Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’, Iranian refugee and artist Majid Adin has teamed up with Help Refugees and Blinkink to create ‘The Journey’, a short film depicting the struggles of a separated Syrian family fleeing their home.

The film follows a young Syrian boy whose home has been torn apart by war. Separated from his family during an aerial attack on his home, the young boy embarks on a long, dangerous journey to be reunited with his parents.

As many families gather round Christmas trees, open gifts and share dinners with relatives during this festive holiday, countless child refugees battle freezing conditions, isolated and alone. Close to 1 in every 200 children across the globe are now displaced.

Watch the video here:

Help Refugees first met Majid in the Calais ‘Jungle’ two years ago where he would often talk of his dream of making it as an artist. After safely seeking asylum in the UK, Majid embarked on a creative journey that saw him make the official music video for Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’. Collaborating with animation production company, Blinkink, Majid’s truly moving film for Elton John draws on his personal experience as a refugee.

Now working in partnership with Help Refugees, Majid has launched his own fundraiser to support the families facing extreme winter conditions across Europe & the Middle East. facing, alongside his new film ‘The Journey’.

The song ‘Catapult’ by critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti has been reimagined by Majid Adin as a heartbreaking anthem for the refugee crisis.

Majid Adin, Iranian refugee, filmmaker and Director of ‘The Journey’, said:

“Help Refugees were such a support to me when I was in the Calais ‘Jungle’ so it has been an honour to work with them and Blinkink on this project. If this film helps just one of the millions of refugee children struggling this winter, then it will have done its job.”

Donate to Majid’s Help Refugees fundraiser now.

Read more

Inadequate shelter, freezing weather, and exploitation: the reality for thousands of refugees

A heartbreaking new article, by Yiannis Baboulias for the New Statesman, details the reality faced by thousands of refugees in Greece this winter: not just one of inadequate shelter and freezing weather, but also of exploitation and rights abuses – and little prospect of change to the situation.


The situation on Lesvos, for example, is particularly acute. More than 7, 000 refugees are currently living in Moria camp – a facility designed for just 1, 800. While an emergency decongestion plan has been announced, arrivals continue to exceed the number of relocations. “They are trying to turn the island into Greece’s Guantanamo,” said the mayor of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos.


But the situation remains dire across other islands, too, and the comparison to Guatanamo refers to more than just the crowded facilities.


Baboulias reported that “recently, a nine-year-old from Afghanistan tried to commit suicide on Chios, another Greek island. The doctors treating him suspected he had been abused inside the camp. It’s no surprise. Médecins Sans Frontières Greece said that ‘in our clinic in Lesvos, we have at least ten people per day who have self-harmed or attempted suicide. The situation in the islands is beyond desperate.’”


Baboulias’ article also shone a light on the grim reality of sexual exploitation faced by child refugees on mainland Greece. He details an evening in Pedion Tou Areos, a park in Athens, where it can cost as little as 10€ for “a session in the park’s bushes with kids as young as 14.” Such crimes are not new: “the faces change,” writes Baboulias, “but the situation remains the same – or worse.”


Exploitation is the under-reported accompaniment to the refugee crisis, and exists at each stage of the journey – and in all forms. The situation detailed by Baboulias is far from unusual, and it is not restricted to Greece.


A recent, shocking report by UNHCR revealed the extent of sexual violence suffered by men and boys both within Syria, and in countries of asylum. This adds to numerous reports by other agencies that have detailed the exploitation suffered by refugees – of all ages and genders – in countries of origin and conflict situations, transitional countries, camps and countries of asylum.


The current refugee crisis cannot be reduced to a question of immigration. It is a humanitarian emergency, which continues to expose people to grave rights violations as they flee conflict and persecution.


As the UNHCR High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges meets today in Geneva, it must be recalled that any response to the current crisis must be based on a sensitive, co-operative and holistic assessment of the risks faced by refugees – at all stages of their journey.


Help Refugees supports refugees across Greece, both on the islands and the mainland. As the cold weather sets in, needs are only increasing. Please, if you are able, donate here. We couldn’t do what we do without people like you.

Read more

Madina Hussiny, 6, killed at the Croatian border following illegal pushback

Madina was six. She was from Afghanistan, and with her family – including mother Muslima, father Rahmat and five of her nine siblings – had been living in Serbia for almost a year.

They were waiting, in hope, for legal passage to Hungary. Yet as the months passed, and the potential for forward movement became increasingly unlikely, the family decided to try and cross to Croatia on foot.
With four children under ten, they scrambled over fences and through fields, and – miraculously – made it safely. The family was resting under blankets in a park, said Madina’s mother, Muslima, when Croatian police officers arrived. The Husseny family hoped that they would be taken to the police station, where they could apply for asylum – their right under European law. Instead, Muslima said that the officers drove them to the train tracks and ordered them to walk back to Serbia.

Enforced pushbacks such as these are illegal, yet they are commonplace on the Balkan route. Reports from groups such as Medecins Sans Frontières detail the abuses faced by refugees, including children, as they attempt to move further in to Western Europe.

In fact, there have been many reports of people being ordered back along the same tracks as the Husseny family. “Many of our patients tell us that the [Croatian] police allegedly brought them to the train line and ordered them to cross back. It’s a recurrent pattern that we hear,” said Andrea Contenta, MSF’s humanitarian advisor for Serbia, to The Guardian.

The family pleaded with officials. “I begged: ‘If you won’t accept us, please let us stay here tonight. In this weather we are already tired and cold, the children are little,’” said Muslima. But the police would not relent. The family were forced to walk – in darkness – along the tracks, without being warned that trains were still running.

It is on these tracks that Madina, described by her older sister Nilab as “always smiling, always the one everybody liked”, lost her life. A train charged down the tracks, taking the family by surprise, and hit the young girl.

The family stumbled back to Croatian border officials, clutching Madina’s body and pleading for medical assistance. Instead, the family were ordered in to a van, and each person counted – ready to be deported.

The van paused after some time, and Madina’s body was transferred to an ambulance. Nurses worked on her for a while, but they then drove away – ignoring Muslima’s desperate pleas. “I told them: ‘I want to go with my child, wherever you are taking her,’” she wept. “I asked: ‘Why are you sending her alone, I want to be with her, it’s my right to be together.’”

Muslima and the rest of the family were deported to Serbia that night, and held in a police station overnight – their clothes still covered in Madina’s blood. They were not given confirmation of whether Madina was dead, details of where she was being taken, or even a number to call.

It was only with our support, and that of MSF, that the family were able to wade through the bureaucratic complexities that stood between them and Madina. When her body was finally returned, mud and blood were still smeared on her face.

“They just treated her like an animal, like a dog,” said Nilab, with tears in her eyes. “Such a small body, and they didn’t treat it like a human.”

Madina’s burial was the source of yet more suffering. The family were not given adequate water to perform the washing rites to central to Muslim funeral rites, and were ordered to bury her immediately. In the face of the family’s protests, Serbian authorities threatened them with deportation. So, unwillingly, they agreed.

“I will carry it in my heart for ever,” said her father, “that I did not give her a proper ceremony.”

Madina’s death was not the first along the Balkan Route. Such needless loss of life is caused by both a lack of safe and legal routes to sanctuary, and the illegal actions of border officials. For as long as this state of affairs continues, her death will not be the last.



Help Refugees supports displaced people living in Serbia and Croatia, like Madina’s family, with a range of projects – from the provision of shelter, food and bedding, to support in navigating complex bureaucracy. As the cold weather sets in, help is needed more than ever. Please, if you are able, donate here. Thank you.





Read more

UNHCR report finds changes to the perilous European entry routes used by refugees and migrants

A new report, released by UNHCR in late November, has documented significant changes in the routes used by refugees and migrants to reach Europe during the third quarter of this year.


“Over the past months, the sea route to Greece has gained more traction, sea arrivals to Italy have reduced and we have seen migrants and refugees using increasingly diversified journeys to reach Europe,” said Pascale Moreau, Director of UNHCR’s Europe Bureau.


The report notes a decrease in the number of people crossing to Italy from Libya: in fact, arrivals between July and September were the lowest number for this period since 2013. Such a drop was expected, as European states – in collaboration with the Libyan coastguard – have made concerted efforts to reduce the number of crossings.
However, this reduction in numbers should not be held as evidence of successful policies. In fact, European leaders’ collaboration with the coastguard has led to accusations of complicity in the wide range of human rights abuses that are taking place on Libyan soil.


Greece has witnessed a rise in sea and land arrivals since the summer, and the arrival of boats to the islands continues unabated. 83% of people arriving to the Greek islands over the past three months are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast majority have been arriving as families: more than 50% are women and children, of which 10-15% are unaccompanied children.


These children add to over 15, 200 unaccompanied and separated children who have arrived in Europe this year – so far.


In Greece, almost 200 unaccompanied children have been added to the waiting list for shelter over the past month. During the same time period, just 22 extra spaces have been found. As a result, 2,201 children are currently waiting for formal shelter. They wait in camps, reception centres, safe zones (within camps), protective custody (within police stations) and detention centres – or live on the streets.

It should also be noted that other routes to Europe are in use. The Black Sea crossing, from Turkey to Romania, was used by 476 people – all from Iran and Iraq – in August and September. In addition to those who reached Romania, over 900 others attempted to cross and were intercepted by the Turkish Coast Guard.


This route is no less dangerous than the others. The report notes that ‘on 22 September, 24 people are believed to have drowned and another 14 were missing when their boat capsized off the Turkish coast en route to Romania. This is believed to be the biggest loss of life along this route since November 2014 when a boat capsized near Istanbul.’

The report also notes that forward movement has continued from the country of first arrival, and that at least 38 people have lost their lives while attempting to move onwards.

There have also been continued reports of push-backs from several countries, corroborated by a report from MSF that focuses on the Balkan Route. These practices should be investigated and eliminated.


Arrivals to Europe are continuing, and so is the needless loss of life caused by a lack of safe and legal routes. UNHCR’s report paints a bleak picture of the perils faced by those seeking safety, and makes clear that political reforms – both in terms of routes, and support offered to refugees and host countries in Europe – are urgently required.


Help Refugees supports grassroots projects across Europe and the Middle East, and provides frontline support to refugees arriving in both Greece and Italy. With winter approaching, needs are only increasing. If you are able to, please donate here.


Read more


Over the past two years, more than twenty five thousand people have volunteered with Help Refugees and dedicated their time and energy to improving the situation faced by refugees and asylum seekers. Those twenty five thousand people are us – and we are you.


Help Refugees is a movement built by ordinary people, doing extraordinary things – and today, International Volunteer Day, we want to say thank you to each and every one of you.


From the first group of people to help us at the Big Yellow Storage in East Finchley as #helpcalais became Help Refugees, to those who came to Calais and built shelters or chopped carrots or sorted clothes, to those who are working on one of the projects that we support today – thank you.


You have all taught us that we can make a difference when we work together and show compassion for our fellow human beings. You have astounded us with your determination, hard work and kindness – ever bright in the face of adversity. You have built a movement – this movement – and placed love, compassion and commitment at its heart.


We are so proud to have worked with you all, and so grateful for all that you have done over the past two years. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.


We also want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped us from home. To everyone who has done epic sponsored hikes and runs, community fundraisers, or created and sold artwork or crafts for us – we are so grateful for all that you have done. Your ideas, innovation and compassion have made this movement.


Across Europe and the Middle East, volunteers with and partners of Help Refugees have done – and continue to do – incredible work. We really are so proud to have been part of this with you all. Thank you.


Read more

Greece: Move Asylum Seekers to Safety Before Winter Hits

12 Groups Open Campaign to End Containment Policy on Greek islands before Winter.

(Athens, December 1, 2017) – The Greek government, with the support of European Union leaders, should act now before the onset of winter to end Greece’s “containment policy,” 12 human rights and humanitarian organizations said in a campaign that began today.

The groups began a countdown to the official start of winter, December 21, 2017. They said that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, with the support of EU leaders, should immediately transfer people to improved conditions on the mainland and take concrete measures by December 21 so that no asylum seekers are left out in the cold.

As of November 30, the hotspots on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos are almost 7,200 over capacity: 12,744 people in facilities with a capacity of just 5,576. Thousands, including single women, female heads of households, and very young children, live in summer tents, essentially sleeping on the ground, exposed to the cold, damp, and rain as the weather worsens. Some women are forced to share tents and containers with unrelated men, putting their privacy and safety at risk. There is lack of access to clean water, sanitation facilities and health services.

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 in March 2016. Last winter, three men died on Lesbos in the six days between January 24 and 30. Although there is still no official statement on the cause of these deaths, they have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from makeshift heating devices that refugees have been using to warm their freezing tents. In late 2016, a blast likely caused by a cooking gas container killed a Kurdish woman and her young grandchild, also sleeping in a tent in Lesbos.

EU and Greek officials have referred to the EU-Turkey deal as a justification for the containment policy. The policy, put in place as part of the deal, forces asylum seekers arriving on the Greek islands to remain there until their asylum claims are decided, regardless of if there is accommodation capacity or adequate access to services. 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 groups said. Some who arrived on the islands in the early days of the deal have remained stuck there for 20 months.

As part of the campaign, the groups are teaming up to highlight the deplorable conditions asylum seekers trapped on the islands face; to call on European citizens to get involved; and to monitor and update the public on the response of the Greek government and EU leaders.

Organizations Participating in the Campaign:

Amnesty Greece

Caritas Hellas

Greek Council of Refugees

Help Refugees

Human Rights Watch

International Rescue Committee

Jesuit Refugee Service



Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR)

Solidarity Now

Terre des Hommes

Tweet Greek government:

20 days until winter & it’s already cold. Tell @PrimeMinisterGR & EU leaders: No one should have to sleep in a tent on #Greece’s Aegean Islands this winter. End indefinite confinement & #opentheislands.

Photo: Giorgos Moutafis

Read more