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Twin suicide bombing in Kabul kills more than 29 people

“The bomber disguised himself as a journalist and detonated himself among the crowd,” AFP quoted a police spokesman as saying. At least 29 people have been killed by a twin suicide bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday morning (30th April 2018).

The blasts, which went off in the Shash Darak area of central Kabul, have been claimed by ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS).

Shash Darak is home to NATO’s Afghanistan headquarters, a number of embassies and foreign offices, and National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency.

At least 49 people have been wounded by the attack, according to police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai.

Among the victims are nine journalists, including a camera operator for a local TV station and an Agence France-Presse photographer.

“The bomber disguised himself as a journalist and detonated himself among the crowd,” AFP quoted a police spokesman as saying.

In another incident on Monday, a suicide bomb attack in the Kandahar region killed 11 school children and injured many more. NATO forces have a base in the area; TOLO News reports that the bomb was detonated near a convoy of Romanian soldiers.

Deportations of asylum seekers from Europe to Afghanistan have increased at the same time as civilian casualties have increased in Afghanistan. Graphic: The Guardian

Deportations of asylum seekers from Europe to Afghanistan have increased at the same time as civilian casualties have increased in Afghanistan. Graphic: The Guardian

These attacks come just one week after the bombing of a voter registration centre in Kabul which killed at least 57 people, injuring more than 100 others.

In March, another ISIL suicide bomber killed 31 and wounded 65 in an attack at a Shia shrine in Kabul where people had gathered to celebrate the Persian new year.

A 2017 report by Amnesty International condemned the growing trend among EU governments of deporting Afghan asylum seekers back to Afghanistan.

“By rejecting the vast majority of claims for asylum by Afghans, the UK is setting a worrying precedent which risks encouraging other countries to do likewise,” said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK. “If the government doesn’t stop deporting Afghans, it will have blood on its hands.”

Since 2015, an upsurge of violence – by groups including the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State – has further destabilized the already fragile country. 2016 was the most deadly year for civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and in that year alone, approximately 653, 000 people were internally displaced by conflict and violence.
In January this year, a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council found that more than 7 in 10 Afghan refugees who return home become forcibly displaced again due to violence.

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How Macron’s new immigration bill affects refugees and asylum seekers

On Monday 23 April, after 60 hours of debate and amendments, France’s National Assembly passed a controversial immigration reform law. The bill, which French President Emmanuel Macron believes will make the French asylum system more effective, has drawn criticism – including from members of Macron’s own party.

Under the new legislation, people found to have entered France unlawfully could face up to one year in prison, while asylum seekers would have just two weeks to appeal the decision on their case if their claim is rejected.

Once their claim is rejected, a failed asylum seeker would potentially be held for up to 90 days before deportation – as opposed to the current period of 45 days. Macron’s La Republique En Marche Party (LREM) initially proposed to increase the detention period to 135 days.

The bill would also reduce the period in which people have to claim asylum after entering French territory down from 120 days to 90 days.

228 voted in favour of the new measure, with 139 voting against and 24 abstaining. Much of those voting in favour were part of LREM – though 14 of its lawmakers abstained and one, Jean-Michel Clément, quit in protest – the first such instance since Macron won the presidency.

“I am not sure we’re sending to world citizens the universal message that has always been ours,” Clement said in a statement after the vote.

Members of Macron’s government have argued that in making immigration laws more restrictive, LREM are helping to preemptively prevent far-right political groups from implementing more draconian measures further down the line.

“I fear that if we do not resolve the problem facing us… others will do it without any humanity,” said Interior Minister Gerard Collomb earlier this month, reported French broadcaster RFI.

Human rights organisations have denounced the bill, worrying that it will adversely affect some of the most vulnerable members of society.

“Under the guise of providing a more effective asylum system, the bill includes a series of measures that would diminish access to protection,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement.

Amnesty International France said that the bill was “dangerous” for migrants and asylum seekers, and that it “failed to address difficulties facing migrants and asylum seekers in France”.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate for consideration where it will be debated in June.


Alongside our partners, Help Refugees is the primary source of humanitarian aid for 1,500 refugees and asylum seekers in northern France. Grassroots organisations on the ground provide food, clothing, shelter, water, firewood, WiFi, legal information and more. As an organisation that is majority-crowdfunded, we rely on the support of people like you to continue doing this work.

Please donate now to help us help refugees in northern France.

Alternatively, you can help by volunteering or donating material aid.

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‘I decided to give up my job and dedicate myself to helping 800 Syrian refugees’

This blog was written by Paul Hutchings, co-Founder of our partners Refugee Support. Paul, like thousands of people in the Summer of 2015, saw the image of Alan Kurdi lying lifeless on a beach and decided to act.

In April 2016, I visited the Greek border town of Idomeni and thought I had walked into a war zone. The FYR Macedonian military were firing concussion grenades and tear gas into the thousands of refugees camped along the border.

I watched as people who had fled war and had made perilous journeys became furious at this treatment, saw people young and old gasping for breath, and ran with parents and their children. Europe, I thought, what have we become?

Two years later, on 30 April, I will be returning to Idomeni together with 18 fellow Refugee Support volunteers where we will begin our week-long trek to Skopje to re-trace some of the refugee route.

Because, although that dreadful border camp no longer exists, there are still just as many refugees trapped in Greece, surviving in poverty but living in limbo while Europe fails to give them all a second chance.

It was immediately after that visit to Idomeni two years ago that my good friend John Sloan and I created volunteer organisation Refugee Support Europe to support 800 of the 50,000 refugees trapped in Greece.

Since then and over the last 2 years, we’ve had 600 volunteers from 40 nations help many thousands of refugees on the seven refugee camps in Greece where we have worked.

My own journey actually started about 9 months before that in the summer of 2015. The image of 3 year old Alan Kurdi face down on the beach, symbolised both people’s desperation and Europe’s neglect. Like many people I was deeply affected and had to do something. Even now, it still upsets me to think about it. In September of that year I went to Calais and with John supported Care4Calais distributing aid in the Jungle.

But I was never very happy about how unfair or undignified those distributions were. And it was also no place for people to live.

So when John convinced the Greek Air Force Major running Alexandreia refugee camp to let him in to help, I jumped at the chance to join him. After my visit to Idomeni and seeing the harsh conditions at Alexandreia, I decided to give up my job for one year so I could dedicate myself full time to helping the 800 Syrian refugees there.

Paul and John out for a day’s work in Alexandreaia camp, Greece.

That was a huge turning point in my life. I had a research business, a mortgage in Brighton, competing in triathlon, a wife and four children. I knew I could survive without a salary for a year but there were fears: dwindling finances, business on hold, time away from friends and family, would anyone support us…

There have been sacrifices and it has been difficult but I have never once regretted it. Best of all, I discovered that there were people from all over the world who are willing to give up their time and come and help in difficult circumstances at their own expense.

By putting the dignity of refugees first, what John and I had done was give the many people who do care about refugees an easy way to help directly, either by volunteering or by donating.

We started off in that first camp by creating a shop to give out bags of essential food and everything grew from there. Every improvement has been due to volunteers coming with ideas and donors continuing to support us.

Our shops now distribute food, thanks to the ongoing support of groups like Help Refugees, using tokens that we give to refugees in the camp. They can buy whatever they want and feel a little normality in the midst of the chaos that comes from living in a refugee camp. We created ‘Clothes Boutiques’ that presented the clothing nicely, like a normal shop would, and even built changing rooms. It took months and huge expense but we created a community kitchen. With refugees and volunteers working together, we are preparing up to 400 meals, 6 times a week. We created a language school teaching up to 180 students a week English, Arabic, Greek and German. We built three cafeterias, two high quality playgrounds, and an artificial football pitch.  And we paid for the heating during a harsh winter when larger agencies needed time to organise themselves.

A family shops for vegetables in one of Refugee Support’s food shops

These are just some of the tangible things we’ve done, but I like to think what we have offered is something more valuable and harder to count. We have said to refugees: here is a group of people who care about you, who you can rely on and who will respect you as fellow human beings. We gave them a slice of normality, a chance to be themselves and most important of all, helped to restore some dignity.

No-one should be living in a refugee camp.  They are degrading, crowded and alien. We have made life more bearable but we want people to leave so they can rebuild their lives in proper homes, get jobs and educate their children. We will all benefit from that.

I’ve seen a slow improvement in camp facilities. But conditions are still dreadful, people are waiting far too long for their asylum applications to be processed and refugees continue to arrive at Europe’s shores.

As a continent we have failed refugees. Greece no longer has a sprawling slum at Idomeni but the border is still closed and prospects for those still trapped are bleak.

I hope our walk lets people know that Europe hasn’t given these extraordinary, resourceful people a chance to start again. Please follow our progress on our blog, facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


Please help us continue to support the invaluable work of people like Paul, by donating today here.

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We’re hiring: apply to join Help Refugees as Digital Officer

***This post has now been filled***

Help Refugees is seeking a Digital Officer to join our London team for three months, starting in the second week of May 2018.

This is a unique opportunity to gain experience working for one of the fastest growing charities in the UK. You’ll work alongside a small but dynamic, hard-working team, and have the chance to make a real, tangible impact to the lives of thousands of refugees and displaced people all over the world.

As the humanitarian sector becomes increasingly data and technology-driven, there has never been a more exciting time to work on digital campaigns, fundraising and services.

The successful candidate will be technically minded, with good attention to detail and strong communication skills. They will have the ability to work in a fast paced environment, working in both teams and on their own.

We would especially like to encourage people from minority, migrant and refugee backgrounds to apply.

Key Responsibilities

  • Maintaining and overseeing the Help Refugees website
  • To assist with the delivery of digital campaigns
  • To maintain and develop Help Refugees’ digital systems, across platforms such as Salesforce, Mailchimp, Zapier, G Suite and more
  • Support and promote organisations goals, including message development, social media content creation and media outreach
  • To design graphics and other assets for use online and offline
  • Analysing the success of Help Refugees campaigns and fundraising
  • Provide technical support to the Help Refugees team, both in London and on projects

Required

  • Experience using WordPress or other CMSs
  • Experience using Google Analytics
  • Familiar with G Suite, Word, Excel
  • Basic Photoshop skills
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • A desire to learn

Desired

  • An understanding of the broader refugee crisis
  • Strong graphic design skills
  • HTML/CSS and other coding skills
  • Experience working with refugees and asylum seekers
  • Experience in working on digital campaigns
  • Experience in online fundraising

Full job description here

Deadline: 30th April 2018, 11.30pm
Salary to be discussed., depending on experience.

HOW TO APPLY

Send your CV, along with a cover letter, to jack@helprefugees.org with the email title ‘Digital Officer application’.

ABOUT HELP REFUGEES

Help Refugees is the largest grassroots humanitarian organisation working with refugees in Europe and the Middle East. Providing funding, support and volunteers for over 80 of the most effective locally-led groups working on the frontlines, we act fast to help those who need it most.

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UN Experts urge the French government to redress “inhumane” conditions in Northern France

United Nations’ human rights experts have urged the French government to improve the “inhumane” conditions faced by refugees and migrants in Northern France.

 

A recent statement, released by the UN and drawing on the warnings of three Special Rapporteurs, highlights the challenging situation faced by refugees and human rights defenders – including Help Refugees’ teams and partners – in Northern France.

 

Léo Heller, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, noted that some refugees are “living in tents without toilets and washing themselves in polluted rivers or lakes.”

 

“Some efforts [by the French government] have been made, but not enough,” he said. “I am concerned that for every step forward, two steps are taken back. The situation along the northern French coast is emblematic of the need for much more attention from national and international authorities on this issue.”

 

His warnings come after months of advocacy by Help Refugees and our partners with regard to the water and sanitation conditions in Northern France, including a report published by independent WASH expert Ella Foggitt and litigation in French courts.

 

The experts called for the provision of valid accommodation alternatives for the hundreds of refugees currently sleeping rough in Northern France, and said that dismantling informal and incipient camps was not a long-term solution. This comes after a week of heavy clearances by the French riot police, including the destruction and seizure of refugees’ property and tents.

 

“We are concerned about increasingly regressive migration policies and the inhumane and substandard conditions suffered by migrants,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales.

 

“Migrants, regardless of their status, are entitled to human rights without discrimination, including access to adequate housing…[and] access to justice and remedies. By depriving them of their rights or making access increasingly difficult, France is violating its international human rights obligations.”

 

The experts also noted the harassment and intimidation of volunteers who are working in Northern France, and called on France to fulfil its obligations and promote the crucial work of human rights defenders.

 

Help Refugees’ Field Manager for France, Annie Gavrilescu, said that: “A new worrying pattern is emerging, in Calais and across Europe, of criminalising aid workers. This comes in the context of significant aggression, violence and neglect that refugees themselves face from the police.

“However, any intimidation, harassment, criminalisation or hindrance of humanitarian aid is simply unacceptable and reminiscent of a very dark time in history. Human Rights Watch and a UN Special Rapporteur have also condemned this phenomenon.

 

“We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, because solidarity and aid are not crimes, but the bedrock of a civilised world.”

 


Help Refugees is the largest facilitator of aid in Northern France, and provides a range of services from food to child-specific support. Conditions in Calais and the surrounding area are dire, but our resources are already strained. Please, if you are able to donate, do so here.Thank you.

 

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The EU-Turkey Deal: Explained

Three years ago this week, the EU-Turkey deal was decided. It has since shaped the European response to the refugee crisis. But what is it, and why does it matter?

 

What is the EU-Turkey Deal?

Agreed in March 2016, the EU-Turkey deal is a statement of cooperation between European states and the Turkish government. It seeks to control the crossing of refugees and migrants from Turkey to the Greek islands, and was initially intended to curb the large numbers of refugees arriving in Europe – or losing their lives on the way – in 2015.

The crux of the deal was that every person arriving irregularly (i.e. by boat, without official permission or passage) to the Greek islands – including asylum-seekers – would be returned to Turkey. In exchange, EU Member States would take one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian returned from the islands.

It was based on the “untrue, but willfully ignored, premise that Turkey is a safe country for refugees and asylum-seekers.”

 

Why did the EU propose the deal?

In 2015, almost 1 million refugees and irregular migrants arrived in Europe. Headlines were dominated by tragic mass drownings in the Aegean, or footage of crowds moving through different countries – often in the hope of reaching Northern Europe, and particularly Germany. The political establishment convulsed: Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote that leaders across Europe were perceiving a crisis of epic proportions. However, as he said, this was in fact a crisis “of politics, not capacity”. His words proved not only insightful, but prophetic.

By early 2016, borders were closing across Europe. Far-right parties were on the rise in Hungary, Poland, Austria, France and more. Newcomers were increasingly framed as a threat to Europe, both cultural and in terms of resources. People continued to lose their lives on the treacherous stretch of water that separated Turkey from Europe, and the Greek government – and its resources – were placed under mounting strain.

As the number of refugee and migrant arrivals continued to rise, and the political climate further deteriorated, European states began to put greater pressure on Turkey to control departures from its coastal cities. A number of European states – spearheaded by Germany, previously seen as the most welcoming country for refugees – began to negotiate a migration control deal with Turkey, which culminated with the EU-Turkey Deal.

For European states, the deal had clear benefits: it externalized their borders, and reduced the number of refugees who would arrive to their countries. However, it had deleterious effects for thousands of refugees – and, in practice, violated international law and norms of refugee protection. Since then, thousands of people have been abandoned in inappropriate and hostile living conditions across Europe, with little access to sufficient physical, psychological and legal support.

 

Why did the Turkish government agree to the deal?

Turkey was, at the time of the deal, hosting some 3 million refugees. The vast majority were from Syria (2.7 million), though there were also large numbers of Iraqis and Afghans in the country. The state’s resources were strained, and the government was unable to provide effective protection for refugees.

The EU-Turkey deal pledged €3 billion of European funds, from both institutions and individual states, to improve the humanitarian situation for Syrian refugees in Turkey – with more to follow. Last month, for example, an additional €3 billion was approved by the European Commission.

In addition, a number of political gestures were made towards the Turkish government. These included the revival of E.U. accession talks, visa-free travel for Turkish nationals to the EU, customs union reform and a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme that would provide for the resettlement of greater numbers of Syrians. However, all of these have been placed on hold due to the precarious political state of Turkey at present, and the distressing conditions in which many refugees and asylum seekers have now been living since 2013.

 

What does the deal mean for refugees in Greece?

Overnight, reception facilities and temporary camps on the Greek islands were transformed into detention centres. Refugees who had arrived before the 20th March 2016 were transferred to the islands, and subsequent arrivals were held on the islands indefinitely. Conditions, already poor, immediately deteriorated: the population of Moria camp in Lesvos has been well over capacity ever since, for example, with people forced to live in squalid and overcrowded conditions without access to proper sanitation facilities, medical care, or nutritious food. Most recently conditions in Samos have been worsening, with people finding themselves crammed in to a camp which is six times over capacity.

Amnesty International found that, following the deal, “the Greek Government introduced changes to its asylum procedures and asylum applications began to be rejected at first instance under a fast-track procedure… Many of them were rejected without assessment of their merits on the assumption that Turkey is a safe country for asylum-seekers and refugees.”

A number of legal battles ensued, as refugees fought against the idea that Turkey was a safe country for them to be sent to. Greek courts have often ruled in the favour of claimants, due to Turkey’s inability to provide effective protection and its repeated deportation of people to conflict zones including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The attempted coup in 2016, and the subsequent enforced State of Emergency has placed migrants and asylum seekers at greater risk of refoulement. Despite all of this, the EU-Turkey deal remains in place. Thousands of people are still trapped on the Greek islands, in a state of legal limbo. 

Médecins Sans Frontières’ medical teams on the Greek islands have released numerous reports and statements on the failure to identify and relocate vulnerable individuals, including survivors of sexual violence, and on the mental health emergency that has unfolded on the islands. In March 2018, the organisation said that “MSF’s mental health clinic on Lesbos is overwhelmed, responding to a high number of acute cases with immediate needs, others with PTSD, anxiety, trauma, and depression. Many inflict self-harm or have suicidal thoughts…After the consultations, staff can do nothing more than send these people back to the same tents, overcrowded containers and legal limbo that cause or compound their suffering.”

The EU-Turkey deal has eroded the rights of refugees and migrants on the Greek islands, prolonged their legal, physical and psychological insecurity, and used their suffering to deter others from making the crossing.

 

What does the deal mean for refugees in Turkey?

The – very – few displaced people in Turkey who are eligible for resettlement and the slow pace of transfers means that, for the vast majority of refugees in Turkey, the deal does little but hamper their options for forward movement.

Some 3.7 million refugees are struggling in Turkey including more than 80% of Syrians, who live below the poverty line. Turkey’s detention infrastructure is growing, and asylum seekers are facing long delays – of several months – in their applications for international protection.

By September 2017, only 5 percent of non-Syrians returned from Greece were able to apply for asylum in Turkey – and just two of them were granted refugee status. By January 2019, more than two-thirds of non-Syrians returned from Greece were deported to their countries of origin, which included fragile states and countries in conflict. One of biggest receivers of returnees has been Afghanistan, where 343,341 people have been displaced internally due to conflict over the last 12 months.

The truth is the same in 2019 as it was three years ago when the deal was struck: Turkey is not a safe country for refugees, and cannot assure the basic rights of those who are within its territory.

 

What does the deal mean for Europe?

The EU-Turkey deal has shaped and symbolized Europe’s response to the refugee crisis, both in practical terms and in principle.

First, it has resulted in a smaller number of arrivals to mainland Europe, but has placed a disproportionate burden on Greece – a country that was already under significant economic strain. It has turned the islands in to sites of indefinite containment: the Mayor of Lesvos has referred to the island as “Europe’s Guantanamo bay”. Some people have now been living in camps in Lesvos, Samos and Kos for as long as three years: those who have not been identified as objectively “vulnerable” are constantly overlooked in favour of those who are deemed most vulnerable and therefore eligible for priority transfer from the islands to the mainland. Even this transfer does guarantee better protection or support, though, and many of these “most vulnerable” people find that their situation on the mainland ends up being much the same as it was on the islands. These people are at risk of being targeted by smugglers, trafficking gangs and drug dealers, as well as by criminals posing as lawyers and landlords.

Second, the deal represents a departure from the international architecture that has hitherto been respected – at least nominally – by European states, and has demonstrated the continent’s willingness to flout international norms and law related to refugee protection.

It has certainly stemmed the flow of migrants across the Aegean,” wrote Amnesty International, “but at considerable cost to Europe’s commitment to upholding the basic principles of refugee protection and the lives of the tens of thousands it has trapped on Greek islands.”

 

Where do we go from here?

The normalisation of the EU-Turkey deal poses a great risk to the future of refugee protection. It has, in essence, outsourced border control in exchange for cash and political gestures – and done so at great cost to refugees. It is highly important that we continue to monitor the situation in Greece and Turkey, particularly for refugees who are returned to the latter, and advocate for the immediate improvement of conditions – on the Greek islands in particular – and nullification of the deal.


For now, Help Refugees will continue to support those affected by the deal. To help us help them, please donate here. Thank you.

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Bosnia and the new Balkan Route: increased arrivals strain the country’s resources

Over the past few months, the number of refugees and asylum seekers arriving to Bosnia has steadily increased. Border closures – both political and physical – in other Balkan states have pushed greater numbers of people to travel through Bosnia, in their attempt to reach the European Union.

In 2017, authorities registered 755 people; this year, in January and February alone, 520 people arrived. The trend has continued into March; and in the coming weeks another 1000 people are expected to arrive from Serbia and Montenegro. Resources are already strained, as the small country struggles to meet the needs of the new arrivals.

 

 

Why Bosnia?

The unofficial “Balkan Route” developed in 2015, as thousands of refugees and asylum seekers travelled through the Western Balkan states en route from Greece to the EU. Unprecedented crowds of people crossed Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Croatia – until the border closures began in Spring 2016, and the EU-Turkey deal was signed. The old Balkan Route was effectively sealed, and the number of people travelling dropped significantly. Yet to this day, refugees and migrants still succeed in crossing into Europe, resorting to increasingly treacherous and hidden tracks to avoid an encounter with the Croatian and Hungarian border police. One such passage now leads through Bosnia.

 

 

The situation on the ground

The new arrivals are a transient population: most are passing through Bosnia, rather than looking to set up roots in the country. Recent improvements in the weather has led to a greater number of arrivals, as well as a greater number of people moving onwards – including families with small children. Bosnia, however, is hardly prepared for this sudden influx; official accommodation centres are already full, meaning that hundreds of asylum seekers are left homeless and sleeping rough. Locals and grassroots groups have identified hostels and arranged accommodation for some, but MSF’s Stephane Moissaing has warned that civil society groups are approaching saturation point.

Some 300 people are sleeping at the border between Croatia and Bosnia, and have faced unlawful pushbacks by Croatian authorities. Police have confiscated the shoes of people who are caught while attempting to cross the border, a practice that has been documented across Europe – including in Calais – since 2015. In the nearby town of Velika Kladusa, refugees and migrants are heavily dependent on the help of local townspeople, as there is no access to official accommodation, food or medical care.

 

 

Challenges in responding to refugees’ needs

The transient nature of the refugee population in Bosnia creates challenges in and of itself, which are then exacerbated by the country’s poor infrastructure and lack of resources. The impact of this is multifaceted, but has a particular effect on vulnerable populations who require specialist support. The identification and referral of unaccompanied and separated children, for example, remains a key challenge for Bosnian authorities. Unaccompanied minors are required, by law, to have legal guardians who can make decisions in their best interest – yet proper identification, referral and communication barriers (due to the lack of on available interpreters) can make this challenging in practice.

 

As the weather warms up, it is likely that greater numbers of refugees will pass through Bosnia in the coming months. We will monitor the situation, and respond to the emerging needs where possible.

 


Help Refugees supports 80 grassroots projects across Europe and the Middle East, providing a range of services from search and rescue to emergency medical care. To help us continue this vital work, please donate here. Thank you.

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Calais Update: another death at the border, an end to the “winter truce,” and a new asylum system for France

The situation in Northern France remains acute, following the end of the so-called “Winter Truce” and the destruction of people’s possessions and shelters. The community is mourning the loss of another young man’s life, who was critically injured in an incident on the port bypass. Our partners at the Refugee Info Bus write with the latest news from the ground.

 

Another Death at the Calais border 

Image: La Voix du Nord (who are still incorrectly reporting that the young man was 16 years old)

A young man has died following an incident on the port bypass in Calais on Friday 23rd March, 2018. He was hospitalised and placed in a medical coma in Lille. He passed away from his injuries on Wednesday 28th March, 2018.

 

He was born in Eritrea in 1996, although other sources have already incorrectly reported that he was 16. Details of the incident itself are unknown, but it is yet another unnecessary death in Calais which has been caused by the risks that individuals take in attempting to cross the border. The lack of safe and legal passage for people trying to reach the UK has led to over 200 deaths since 1999, according to L’Auberge des Migrants. Trade continues on unhindered as yet another young man fights for his life at the roadside.

 

European citizens can cross the English Channel quickly and with ease, and yet this is a privilege not afforded to our non-European friends, leading people to take dangerous and, as we have seen far too many times, sometimes fatal risks. People would not put themselves at the mercy of smuggler gangs in Libya, risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea in sinking boats or try to reach safety in refrigerated trucks if it wasn’t seemingly better than what they left behind.

 

Eritrea is a country in turmoil, and has been described as Africa’s North Korea. Despite only having a population of 5 million people, it has generated one of the world’s largest refugee populations, according to Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean journalist and activist who writes on the situation in Eritrea and of Eritreans around the world.  In March 2018, the UN Human Rights Council held a dialogue on human rights abuses in Eritrea, which details that “in 2016, the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea had found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, namely, enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture and persecution had been committed since 1991”.

 

Of all the atrocities taking place in Eritrea, be it against dissident politicians, independent media professionals, religious leaders and community elders, it is the plight of the youth that is the most harrowing. Meron Estefanos, 2018

 

Calais: The Truce is Over 

In Calais, the so-called “Winter Truce” has ended on April 1st, 2018. This means that the sporadic emergency shelters opened over the winter months on particularly cold nights will no longer be opened, and that the 700+ refugees sleeping rough in Calais are condemned to the streets and the woods. However, even while the “Truce” was in place, shelters were opened sporadically, were run poorly, and only housed a fraction of the refugee community in Calais. Despite Macron’s promises that there would be no people sleeping on the streets by Christmas, the shelters were not even open on Christmas Day, and hundreds of refugees in Calais have not spent even a single night inside over winter.

 

In Dunkirk, the state opened an emergency accommodation centre for the entirety of winter — a gym which accommodates around 200 people. The gym will temporarily stay open past the April 1st cut-off date, which is good news for those already inside. However, for new arrivals to the area, or for those who did not manage to get a place inside over winter, sleeping outside remains the only option. Many people, including women and young children, are sleeping in the street outside the gymnasium, denied entry to the warm and dry accommodation behind guarded doors.

Accommodation centre for 200 refugees in Dunkirk. Not pictured: the many others sleeping rough directly outside its doors. Image: Delta FM

The CRS (French riot police) continued their dismantlement operations across the city last week, culminating in an eviction of the camp at Rue des Verrotiéres. Over 40 police officers and employees of the local authorities removed and destroyed what little shelter the communities living there had established in the preceding week, including a large tent that had served as a makeshift mosque.

 

The dismantlement took place at the same time as the state-funded food distributions located nearby, meaning that a number of the people we support had left their belongings in order to eat breakfast, only to find all of their belongings had been confiscated upon return. To quote the prescient words of an Eritrean minor, issued at the outset of the state-funded food distributions: “that government gives us food with one hand, and takes our tents with the other”.

 

Even more worryingly, we have heard numerous reports that the Police aux Frontiéres arrived just minutes before the onset of the dismantlement, detaining up to 20 people, the vast majority of whom were released from the detention centre immediately, forced to return to their living area by foot, a journey which takes several hours.

 

Volunteers at the L’Auberge des Migrants/Help Refugees warehouse responded, as we do following every dismantlement, by distributing tents and bedding to those without shelter, in spite of the police summons issued to four volunteers the previous week for replacing confiscated tents.

 

A New Asylum System in France

According to InfoMigrants, a new system of asylum is to begin in France in May 2018. People seeking asylum in the Paris region will have to begin the process by calling a telephone helpline run by OFII. The only languages available will be English, French and Arabic. The move is in order to reduce the number of people turning up at Padas (“platform for asylum seekers”) which cannot cope with the current number of requests.

 

However, France Terre d’Asile, the organisation which runs Padas in Paris, claims that the hotline is too complicated for people trying to claim asylum.

 

“This doesn’t make things simpler,” says director Pierre Henry. “I don’t think that this helpline is a good model for helping asylum seekers access their rights. I fear that at least some migrants will struggle to understand this service”.

 


This article was prepared by our partners, Refugee Info Bus, and originally published on Medium

Highlighted reading:

Meron Estefanos: “Eritrea’s New Normal: The Tragedy and Struggle for Change”

UN Human Rights Network: “Human Rights Council holds enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea”

Help Refugees continues to support displaced communities in Calais and the surrounding areas, as well as working with people on the move across Europe and the Middle East. To help us continue to help them, please donate here. Thank you. 

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Why I’m running a marathon to raise funds for Help Refugees

Like any reasonable human, the devastation wrought by the 2015 refugee crisis left me broken-hearted. That we still live in a world in which 65 million people can be displaced is almost beyond comprehension. And if that wasn’t appalling enough, the way these blameless individuals have been treated by certain public figures, media outlets and governments is not just disgraceful, but often illegal. As a journalist, as a Brit, as a person, this made me feel ashamed.

Although work commitments and meagre finances prevented me from making a trip to Calais, I remained inspired by the important work being done across the world by Help Refugees. I made it my personal mission to find a way – any way – to help.

In 2017, I was thrilled to start volunteering with East London Friends of Help Refugees, and over the past year have donned a ‘Choose Love’ tee to serve as a barman, doorman, shop assistant and waiter, at various fundraising events – and grabbed a quarter-second of screen time in an arresting campaign video.

If I’ve learned anything throughout this time, it’s that you don’t need be on the frontline to be useful. Not everybody can collect 600 sleeping bags, squeeze them into a Ford Transit and motor to the warehouse in Calais, yet most can afford to spare an evening to wait tables at Imad’s Syrian Kitchen x Choose Love, show solidarity at a march, or encourage those around them to pledge a few pounds.

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to secure a place at this year’s London Marathon, which takes place on 22 April. I say lucky, I actually hate running and am really quite bad at it, however the thought of raising money for such a worthy cause was all the motivation I required to channel my inner Mo Farah. Now, I am fiercely determined to conquer those 26.2 miles in under four hours. (I’m told that’s quite a good time; I wouldn’t know.)

All donations are gratefully received – whether small, big or spectacular – and you can do so here – safe i

Sam relaxes with his dog in between training for the marathon!

n the knowledge that every penny raised will help the refugee children and families that desperately need it.

Even better, why not turn your goodwill into personal action – join your local Friends of Help Refugees team, or launch a fundraising campaign. Many incredible volunteers have already embarked on gruelling endurance challenges, staged gigs, or raised cash through their schools, universities and workplaces, as part of their own personal quest to Choose Love.

As for me, I’m about to start planning a comedy fundraiser – for little more reason than because I’m a sucker for a cheap pun (I am a journalist, after all), and think ‘Choose Laughs’ would look awesome on a poster.


Sam is running the London Marathon to raise funds for Help Refugees this year. Click here to donate to Sam’s fundraiser. To set up your own fundraiser, click here.

Help Refugees provides funding, support and volunteers to more than 80 projects working with refugees and asylum seekers across the world. To find out more about our work, and how you can get involved, click here.

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Refugee Voices: Zeeshan Munir

This blog was written by Zeeshan Munir, a close friend who was forced to flee home in search of a better life. Zeeshan met our partners Dunkirk Women’s Centre whilst in Northern France.

When I was young my teacher taught me a beautiful thing.

Everyone has the right to see dreams. But only the lucky ones get them fulfilled. Destiny makes the decision of life. What I have experienced, was brought to me by luck. Where my luck has taken me, I do not want to go again. When death and life meets then the word luck stands in front of you and if you’re lucky you will survive or if you’re not then you’re not just unlucky, but also dead.
Luck in our journey is a game some don’t have the hope of living, but they had luck, to make sure they live. Some had strong desire for living but their luck is not loyal to them. Destiny is the other name for the time between the past and the future and luck declares its decision between these two moments.
I never thought that I will reach my destination and there was nothing else left with me other than my faith. That was the only thing in my empty heart, but it was enough to encourage me to take a step forward. One day my brother asked me what condition life had brought us into, I saw a tear in his eyes. My lips were quiet, but my heart spoke that if Allah can bring you to it, he will bring you through it. Allah tests those he loves, so don’t despair if you’re going through tough times. Allah wants to test your sincerity.
Not just faith in Allah, we also really trusted in our fellows, who are also with us in this condition. We really look out for each other’s back for no benefits or demands. In life people help you if they get something in return or if you are related to them. But in my journey, I saw the most extraordinary and beautiful relationships, which were the relationships of pain, grief, and sorrow.
These are the most real and authentic relationships in the whole universe. We all had our sorrows and pain but we all shared our pains and sorrows with each other.
I remember the night when I had a seven-year-old boy walking very tiredly in front of me and as I saw his distress I picked him up and he smiled but he was tantalising with pain.
I asked him “Are you alright?” and “Where are your parents?”. He did not answer me. Later he told me his mother died a couple of minutes ago and he had no one of his own.
As he said this my heart stopped beating and my tears came out and I said, “So what happens? Those who don’t have mothers, don’t they live?’ But his young mind did not understand that, and we kept walking. The boy remained quiet and I thought maybe he is tired, so he is sleeping but when in the morning he did not wake up, my hands were shaking, and the tears were explaining what had happened to this heart.
Those who say that relationships are only based on blood, my heart proved them wrong. I felt I lost myself in his empty eyes and the hope of life there in front of me.
I looked up on the sky and said O dear God what strange kind of feelings you had given us. You make us laugh, you make us cry. If you really want to make us cry, then why did you make us laugh?
Life consists of two days, one for you and one against you. So, when it’s for you don’t be proud or reckless, and when it’s against you be patient, for both days are tests for you because the world cannot defeat you until you accept the defeat.
Life will hurt you repeatedly: as many times, as you can suffer. However, the thing that suffers is not your body, it’s your soul. So, don’t prepare your body for challenges, prepare your soul because your body can only give you strength, but your soul gives you courage to face all worries and problems. This belief is a constant prompt to move. Every day I recall this line in my mind because it helps me live life more easily.
——
Want to gain an insight into experiences of living or working in refugee camps? And help to support the Refugee Women’s Centre at the same time?
Friends of the Women’s Centre have come together to create a book compiling personal experiences of life and work in European refugee camps over the last few years. Many of the submissions have been inspired by time spent in Dunkirk and Calais.
These are journeys of anger, hope, trauma, bitterness, joy, that continue to be lived, suffered and learnt from. Journeys that can be difficult to share or to express in a way that does them justice. The stories in this book have been written by people who have spent time in refugee camps and are testimony to some of the realities of daily life here.
To purchase your copy of the ‘Journeys’ zine please donate and fill out the form here.
Or email dunkerquejourneys@gmail.com with any questions.
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