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There Is No Refugee Crisis

There is a crisis underway in Calais and Dunkirk. But not the one you may have heard about. The crisis is not caused by the presence of displaced people here. It is a crisis of inhumanity, of wasteful public spending and unsupervised, unsanctioned police misconduct. It is a crisis of conscience, a crisis of care.

This border is lethal. It kills with frightening regularity. It is never charged, never tried, never held to account. In May, a two-year old girl of Kurdish origin was shot and killed by police on the French and Belgian border. Her name joins a long list, a list that has been added to every three and a half weeks since 2012 . The space between these deaths is filled with beatings, intimidations, and forced evictions from squalid living spaces. These abuses receive little coverage in European media. Even new volunteers are shocked when they first realise, for example, that it is standard operating procedure here during the wintertime for police officers to forcibly confiscate jackets, tents, and sleeping bags from displaced persons.

In January 2018, Theresa May & Emmanuel Macron signed the Sandhurst Treaty, a deal in which Britain pledged £44.5 million to help strengthen the French/British border in Calais.

In January 2018 the UK government pledged 44.5 million pounds to assist with the blocking of refugees at the French border. High fences stretch along the highways, and the truck stops and ports resemble fortresses. Across the EU, the price tag for these fortifications stands at around 500 million euros. Around 1,100 members of the security forces are present in Calais alone at any given time; roughly two for every refugee. Arrests and detainments of migrants are constant. According to human rights observers working on the ground, there were six mass evictions and clearances of refugees in Calais between the 11th and the 15th of June this year alone. One could be forgiven for thinking that the sole objective of the security forces in Calais was to make the city so unwelcoming that it would deter people who had fled some of the most dangerous places on the planet. The E.U. has just assigned 34.9 billion euros to border security for the period of 2021-2027, and has announced a plan to create a standing force of 10,000 new border guards. This acknowledges that migration will be a key issue in Europe for years to come, but seeks only to continue business as usual rather than rethinking the solutions that have caused so much unnecessary suffering for so little, if any, benefit to anyone.

Tents are confiscated and vandalised by police in Calais on a daily basis, giving people sleeping rough no protection during the cold nights.

Effort is a difficult thing to quantify but imagine for a moment that every set of hands engaged in Calais security was turned towards something constructive, towards a response that actually sought to achieve something. For example, consider tents, the main form of shelter available to displaced people in Calais. As of June 2018, there is a serious shortage. Thousands of pounds are raised and hundreds of tents bought every few months, but for every van of ours that delivers them, another arrives to take them away, no matter how bad the weather. Between December 2017 and May 2018 around two thousand tents were distributed in Calais and the surrounding areas. They didn’t go to two thousand people, but to less than eight hundred. Every time they were given out, they were slashed or binned by the police, and new ones had to be distributed. Now, for once, the massive section of our warehouse given over to storing tents stands empty. Once again the donors have come through, and several hundred more tents are on the way. The people have spoken and will not stand for people sleeping rough in this harsh climate.

It is frustrating, and sometimes that frustration comes back to us from the communities we support. “This is not a solution”, people have said to me, pointing to a van full of blankets or jackets. I know it isn’t. We all know. Very little of the strenuous efforts expended in Calais work towards a solution. They are simply a reaction to poor policy making, a filling put into the gaps of a collapsing structure. Real people fall through these gaps while Europe debates itself in circles. The work that the volunteers of L’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees, Utopia 56, and many other associated charities do is amazing, but it is a terrible shame that they have to be here at all. If they were not, there would be no defence against the anti-human infrastructure that exists only to make life in this difficult place even worse.

Protest following the death of two-year-old Mawda, who was shot and killed by Belgian police.

So what’s it all for? Ostensibly, this is done for the security of the United Kingdom. But a border itself needs no protection, nor does a country. It is its people who are protected. The blood spilled and the indignity suffered on its frontier is a toll taken on behalf of citizens of the U.K., but it is not something they have agreed to, or voted for, in any form. They have no oversight on the manner of their protection. This effort takes place completely out of sight and is conducted by organisations that most have probably never heard of. Were this violence to occur just a couple of miles away in Dover, you can guarantee that there would be inquests, investigations, and significant media attention. The UK, however, has chosen to export its border, and place its violence out of sight and out of mind.

There are less than one thousand displaced people here in Calais. That’s 0.003% of the current population of the United Kingdom. That’s one thousand tenacious, hardworking people who have made it thousands of miles away from home in pursuit of safety, security, and a chance at a better life. They come fleeing poverty, violence and oppression, and see the UK as a place of safety and hope. Even at its peak, there were only around 10,000 people in the Calais Jungle. (In comparison, there are nearly 700,000 people in the U.K. who were born in Ireland. Nearly 14,000 arrived in 2010 alone.)

In the end, none of these efforts ‘work’. The security forces do not prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel. They do serve, however, to drive the process further underground and ensure that it remains as dangerous as possible. Every week, word trickles across the Channel about people who have made it to the U.K. by various means, all of them having undertaken extraordinary risks. If it is the objective of the security forces to end migration to the U.K., they are failing in this, as they always have. They just charge a toll along the way, in blood and suffering and trauma. The question we need to ask is simple. Is that the kind of society we have decided to live in? Does that accurately represent our values as citizens of France, of the United Kingdom, of the European Union? The suffering that this bureaucratic nightmare inflicts is our responsibility and we will have to answer for it in the future. In the end, there is one question that we need to be asking: How much is a border worth?


This article was written by long-term Help Refugees volunteer in Calais, Oscar Leanord.

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SOS Méditerranée: Saving Lives at Sea

SOS Méditerranée is a European maritime and humanitarian organisation whose staff and volunteers work day and night on their ship, the Aquarius, to rescue those stranded in international waters between Italy and Libya. Founded by ordinary citizens in May 2015 in response to the increasing number of deaths of those attempting to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, it is stepping in to deliver essential assistance where the European Union is failing to.

Last week 629 people, including children and pregnant women, were rescued by the Aquarius in waters just off the coast of Libya. Both Italy and Malta then refused to allow the ship, one of only a few remaining independent search and rescue vessels still operating in the Central Mediterranean, to dock. Injured, exhausted passengers were forced to wait at sea during a political stand-off between the two countries until eventually Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez gave the boat permission to dock in Valencia. Just weeks before, the Aquarius had rescued 158 people from a dinghy in a similar location and been able to take them to Catania in Sicily. The serious physical and mental harm being inflicted upon these 629 human beings as a result of the stand-off was ignored completely by the politicians involved, and the small team of 12 aboard the Aquarius worked round the clock to provide life-saving support.

The Aquarius has welcomed more than 30,000 refugees aboard since operations began, including 2,350 so far in 2018. As well as the incredible danger they are placed in when forced to board rickety, overcrowded boats to cross the sea from Libya, these people fleeing their homes in unsafe countries such as Eritrea, Sudan and Nigeria often face violence, abuse and arbitrary detention in Libya itself, and are in need of intensive care by the time they board the Aquarius.

SOS Méditerranée teams really are saving lives in the ocean. Without their presence the already catastrophic death toll – which has exceeded 1000 so far in 2018 – would be even higher. We at Help Refugees are so happy to have recently partnered with them and have set up a fundraiser page to raise them funds here in the UK – please donate today to allow their amazing teams to continue their vital work.

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Help Refugees join forces with artists to create huge ‘CHOOSE LOVE’ mural to celebrate Refugee Week

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week, Iranian refugee and artist Majid Adin, and world-renowned artist Lakwena, have created two huge murals in Hanbury Street, Shoreditch and London’s bustling Southbank. 

 

Featuring bold typography by acclaimed fashion designer Katharine Hamnett, both murals have been made to celebrate the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees.

Majid Adin

A successful artist back in Iran, Majid was forced to flee his home after facing persecution for his writings and cartoons criticising religious conservatism. Since his arrival locked in a refrigerator in the back of a cargo truck in 2016, Adin has become a successful artist in the UK, creating music videos for the likes of Sir Elton John and raising thousands of pounds for charity Help Refugees.

Now a successful artist and animator, Iranian refugee Majid Adin, said:  

This project was all about bringing people together. Throughout my journey to the UK, people have shown be great kindness and love. I wanted to bring a community together to celebrate our common humanity. It doesn’t matter what age, faith, sexuality or nationality you are, when we work together and show compassion and kindness toward each other we can do brilliant things.”

CEO and Co-Founder of Help Refugees, Josie Naughton, said this:

“At a time when good news can sometimes feel in short supply, we are excited to bring the Tower Hamlets community together to deliver a positive, message this Refugee Week. Local refugees and asylum seekers, kids from local schools, and volunteers have all worked together to share a story of hope, kindness and unity. Working with Majid and Second Home for Refugee Week, we wanted to celebrate the positive contribution refugees have had on our society and inspire more people to get involved and start choosing love.”

You can visit Majid’s artwork at 68 Hanbury Street, Shoreditch.

Lakwena

Lakwena’s iconic, kaleidoscopic work is informed by the use of decoration as a means of communication. As a form of expression within a political world, Lakwena explores how the use of adornment in worship and myth-making translates into contemporary popular culture.

Central to her practice are words, used as both images and anchors of meaning, borrowing from the techniques and conventions of traditional sign-writing and contemporary graphic design.

Internationally acclaimed artist Lakwena said:

“I’m excited to be bringing Help Refugees’ Choose Love message to the Southbank this Refugee Week.

This city is built on diversity, community and the contributions of people from all around the world. This Refugee Week, this mural celebrates a city that’s opened its doors to all people.

I’m really happy to be part of this project that is about choosing to be motivated by love rather than greed, comfort, or pride. No matter where I go, what comes my way, what I gain or what I lose, I believe that 3 things will remain – faith, hope and love.”

You can visit Lakwena’s artwork at Southbank Centre Square – Hayward Side.

The murals were conceived and produced in collaboration with unfinished animals.

Choose love is a simple, but powerful message. At a time when the world faces many challenges; when a rhetoric of hate and division has found itself centre stage; we believe sharing this simple message has never been more vital. These murals will be a statement of hope, proudly positioned in two of the most iconic London locations.

 

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The Community Sponsorship Scheme: welcoming refugees into British communities

To witness suffering of the scale and magnitude of the current refugee crisis has challenged many citizens, across the world. For some of us, questions stir within: What should I do, or what can I do to help?

 

In 2015, despite pro-refugee protests across the country, Britain pledged to receive just 20,000 refugees over 5 years – a fraction of the numbers hosted by nations such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Germany. I felt powerless. I noticed how life simply carried on in my neighbourhood.

 

I knew that with the help of organisations like Help Refugees, I could send money or resources to those in need, or help directly by traveling to Calais or Greece. But there is now a new and innovative way by which communities here in the UK can mobilise their resources and effort, to give the most vulnerable refugees a route to safety.

 

In 2016, the Home Office introduced the Community Sponsorship Scheme (CSS). Inspired by Canada’s Private Sponsors programme, which has resettled over 300,000 refugees since 1979, the CSS enables community groups to play a leading role in resettling refugees.

 

Under this pioneering scheme, communities organise themselves to take on all the responsibilities of resettling refugees. From housing to safeguarding, from benefits to schools, and always taking into account the bonds of friendship that are essential to a resettled refugee as any new member of a community.

 

My involvement in community sponsorship started in the autumn of 2017. Having graduated that summer, my search for purpose in the post-university mire was ended when a family friend proposed that I help her with an idea to help refugees in our South London neighbourhood of Herne Hill via the sponsorship scheme.

 

Courtesy of a heroic fundraising effort by Whoosh, a Herne Hill-based cycling group, we had the funds essential to take us forward. Some key connections were made with Lambeth council and the

Herne Hill community sponsorship team, including the author.

Raising awareness: Herne Hill community sponsorship team, including the author.

community organising charity, Citizens UK, who continue to provide us with crucial support. Now, we needed to get Herne Hill on board.

 

To achieve this, we held a public meeting to propose the idea to the community and to build a team who could make this ambition a reality. For community sponsorship groups, this is a huge moment. I’m not sure what we feared more: resentment and opposition, or nobody turning up at all.

 

A turnout of over 60 local residents – including members of Lambeth council and our ever-supportive local MP, Helen Hayes – put our nerves at ease. By the end of our presentation, we had scores of volunteers ready to join us. Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees was born amid a tidal wave of optimism.

 

In the weeks that followed, we set about turning this energy into progress. We had studied the Home Office’s community sponsorship guide and began shaping a smaller team of around 25 volunteers into sub-committee groups, delegating responsibilities. Housing, Communications, Benefits, Local Partnerships, Language, and Safeguarding groups were established. We appointed a Chair, a Vice Chair, a Treasurer, and a Secretary.

 

Above all, however, we got to know each other. We were a bunch who were unlikely to otherwise mix – some retired, some in their 20s, all with a range of backgrounds and skill sets. In the months that followed, we would become a team.

 

For me, sponsorship works on two levels. Primarily, it is way of directly helping individuals, giving refugee families a safe home and a network of friends to welcome them. There is, however, a second and vitally important aspect to community sponsorship. Simply, it is its capacity to change the narrative surrounding refugees in the UK.

 

Sponsorship creates welcoming environments for refugees, built by communities that have themselves joined together to make such a welcome possible. When neighbourhoods treat refugees as they should – as humans – they build and demonstrate the trust between diverse people that we so often lack. Sponsorship is an engine toward sewing refugees into the fabric of our society, helping to cool fears and insecurities that lead us to turn our backs on people different from ourselves.

 

When we actively welcome refugees into our communities, we show those who oppose helping refugees – who say they bring unwanted change, who are uncomfortable with sharing their country with different people, who say there are not enough resources – that helping vulnerable people is not only beneficial for them but for us too. The kindness that we show to refugees will likely be reciprocated, and we help create new citizens who can contribute to and enrich our community.

 

It’s a little-know fact that the Home Office are due to announce a review of their refugee policy in the autumn of 2018, shaping government resettlement policy for years to come. I like to think of community sponsorship is a form of communication with government, an expression of public support for refugees. Now more than ever, we need more groups forming, more expressions of solidarity with refugees.

 

Herne Hill community sponsorship

Some of the HHWR team.

It is easy to forget this final component of the sponsorship equation: our own community. So much focus is rightly directed towards the resettlement of the refugee family that we had almost not noticed the bonds that were being created in our Herne Hill neighbourhood. Our monthly meetings are warm occasions, punctuated by ripples of laughter as we catch up and share the hard work we’ve been doing. Progress is exciting, teamwork is rewarding.

 

When I walk through my neighbourhood, a place where I’ve lived since I was a child, I recognise more faces now than ever before. A trip to the shops will often involve a wave and a hello from a HHWR member passing by. This is no small thing for a community in London, a city famous for its aversion to eye contact. In the coming months, among those familiar faces will be those of resettled refugees. I couldn’t be more excited.



This article was written for Help Refugees by Nick Jeyarajah, a freelance journalist. If you are interested in community sponsorship, please follow the links in this article to find out more.

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Child refugees should be able to join their families after Brexit – but we need to act now.

In a matter of days, MPs will vote on an Amendment that could keep open a vital family reunion route for refugees, including unaccompanied children, after Britain leaves the EU.

Write to your MP asking them to attend, and vote in favour, of Lord Alf Dubs’ new Amendment.

Currently, refugees who reach Europe can request to be reunited with members of their family who are living in another European country. This means that if a lone child arrives to Greece, and they have a close family member living in the UK, they can be safely brought here – without having to take a perilous journey across the continent, sleeping rough and at grave risk of exploitation.

This route has given safe passage to hundreds of unaccompanied children – and in doing so, it has kept them from the hands of exploitative smugglers, and has allowed them to rebuild their lives in the care of their loved ones. Rather than growing up in a refugee camp, they can live in safety with a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle.

But Britain’s exit from the European Union could result in our exit from this scheme – and so, on behalf of unaccompanied children and refugee families, we need your help.

Lord Alf Dubs welcomes unaccompanied refugee children to the UK. Source: Rob Stothard/Getty Images Europe

An Amendment proposed by our dear friend, Lord Alf Dubs, will be debated in the House of Commons in a matter of days. The Amendment will enshrine this route (currently part of the EU’s Dublin III Regulation) in law – and give refugee families, fleeing war and persecution, the chance to rebuild their lives together.

Will you write to your MP, and ask them to vote for Lord Dubs’ Amendment when it comes to the Commons? We’ve written a template you can use. It takes 10 seconds (please add your own comments to make it personal), and could change the fortunes of thousands of families. Please write to your MP today. 

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Legal aid crisis denying justice to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants

Since March this year, criminal barristers have been on strike. They are rejecting state-funded cases, to protest cuts to legal aid that are keeping those most in need from accessing adequate legal representation. On the 8th May, Labour MP Richard Burgon stated in the House of Commons that 90% of criminal barristers voted for this industrial action. The justice system is facing a crisis over this issue.

 

Legal aid for asylum seekers

For immigration cases, the scope of legal aid has been rolled back considerably. Now, it primarily covers applications for asylum.

Previous grounds for legal aid included detention appeals, support for victims of trafficking who wished to remain in the UK, and asylum support (e.g. housing or maintenance funds).

A report led by Labour’s Lord Bach stated that legal aid funding had fallen by £950million from 2010-2017. The aforementioned Richard Burgon MP also stated that, since 2010, the Ministry of Justice’s budget is expected to be slashed by a further 10% (£600million) in the near future.

 

Issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers

The lack of legal aid provisions has resulted in serious difficulties for many refugees, including children. Amnesty International warned, in 2016, that teenagers may be forced to represent themselves in cases where they face deportation, due to the lack of legal aid.

When asylum seekers are denied legal aid, they are left particularly vulnerable to exploitation. They are not given the right to work until their applications for asylum have been approved – which means that they must depend on their savings, or support from family and friends, to pay their legal fees.

If their cases are unsuccessful, failed asylum seekers are stuck – many detained indefinitely or facing removal – with no money to pay for additional appeals, and no recourse to public funds.

According to a study by BiD UK, less than half of those in detention in the UK have access to legal representation, with just over half of this number saying they have a legal aid solicitor.

Of 12,688 applications for asylum between January and June 2017, only 613 applications for legal aid were granted in the same time. There were also only three non-asylum cases granted legal aid last year.

 

Hostile environment

The government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies, which seek to make life as difficult as possible for undocumented people in Britain, have added to the injustices suffered by migrants (or those perceived to be such).

In recent weeks, the Windrush Scandal has dominated headlines in the UK. It was revealed that thousands of people, who were invited to come to the UK from the Caribbean (then a part of the Commonwealth) some seventy years ago, have had their right to be in the UK challenged. Many have lived here for their entire adult lives, but have recently been sacked from long-term jobs, denied benefits, and lost their housing. The latest news revealed that 63 people may have been wrongfully deported.

In light of the cuts to legal aid, the Windrush generation may be unable to access support to secure the legal status that they are entitled to. Former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has promised to waive fees for the relevant applications. However, applicants will still need to provide extensive documentation of their time in the UK before the Home Office grants them Indefinite Leave to Remain or British Citizenship.

 

Legal aid grants for IAS

The Immigration Advice Service, one of the largest immigration practices in the UK, have had their legal aid contracts renewed in most major cities. In addition to this, new contracts in Newcastle, Derby and Bristol have been granted, as well as contracts in every detention and removal centre across the UK.

While these grants are gratefully received, this does not indicate a widespread move by the government towards increased legal aid. Many law firms that accept legal aid cases will still be struggling under the massive demand, which outweighs their capacity and resources.

While IAS will be using this increased support to help some of those most of support, the struggle for fair access continues on throughout the justice system.



This article was written by Damon Culbert, a specialist content writer for the Immigration Advice Service. The IAS was formed out of the Immigration Advisory Service, the UK’s leading immigration law charity. They have aimed to stay true to their charitable history, undertaking many legal aid cases alongside commercial immigration services.

 

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