Yemen conflict enters fifth year

On March 26th, fighting in Yemen – which has resulted in what is now accepted to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – entered its fifth year. This week MPs have called for an end to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while the UN has continued talks with Yemen’s government and its Houthi opposition in the hope of salvaging a crucial truce deal.


In 2018 alone, 30,000 people lost their lives as a result of ongoing conflict in Yemen. Thousands of others have been displaced across the country; others still are suffering from starvation and malnutrition. Despite all this, the UK is continuing to supply arms to one of the main parties in the conflict, Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabia is the UK’s biggest arms customer. Since bombings in Yemen began in 2015, the British government has authorised the sale of £4.6 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, despite overwhelming evidence of repeated Saudi breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen which have led to the deaths of thousands. The Government has even publicly acknowledged that UK-made arms have been used by Saudi Arabia in the conflict, but sales have not been stopped and strikes continue.


This week, on the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Yemen, five opposition parties finally called on the UK to end its weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. In a joint letter to foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, MPs from Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green party and Plaid Cymru requested that all arms sales to Saudi Arabia be stopped while an independent investigation is carried out in to Saudi actions in Yemen. They wrote:


“It is morally reprehensible that the UK government is not only not considering changing its policy, but is actively lobbying other foreign governments, as it did with Germany, to resume arms sales to Saudi”.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, told the UN’s Human Rights Council this week that since December of last year, it is estimated that eight children have been killed or injured in Yemen every day. For as long as we continue to sell arms to those involved in the conflict, we are complicit in these children’s deaths and the deaths of so many others.

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The human cost of keeping refugees out of Europe

Recent footage from inside detention camps in Libya shows people being forced to live in abysmal conditions. Frequently locked in dark rooms and denied food, water and medication, some are reportedly resorting to drinking toilet water to survive. On top of this, there have been disturbing accounts of torture and abuse at the hands of people traffickers.


The people in these camps are being held indefinitely and against their will. Most of them were intercepted and arrested by the Libyan coastguard as they attempted to cross in to European waters in the Mediterranean Sea, a process which is receiving full support from the EU (via a deal of tens of millions of euros between Italy and the Libyan coastguard) as a way of outsourcing control over people migrating to European countries.


It is true, as EU leaders claim, that numbers of arrivals on the shores of Europe are dropping, but what these leaders fail to mention is that this is not because fewer people are making the journey in the first place. This is because these people – men, women, unaccompanied children, entire families – are instead being stopped in Libya and subjected to unbearable treatment for months on end. In the two years that have passed since the EU-Libya deal was agreed, refugees and migrants have been dying in Libya as a direct result of EU policy.


Channel 4 has produced this ten-minute piece with footage obtained from people who have managed to hide mobile phones in their cells. Please be aware that the video does contain distressing content.


Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have publicly condemned the conditions in Libya, and last month many major international organisations published an open letter criticising EU leaders for their inaction in the face of such a tragedy.


Writing secretly to Sally Hayden for the Guardian, an Eritrean man imprisoned in one of the detention centres makes this plea:


“It is hard to talk about this life. I am losing hope. Please share this to the world and tell [them] our problems before many lives are gone.”

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Why are Iranian people risking their lives to reach the UK?

Zena Belhalfaoui, Help Refugees volunteer in Calais.


Namdar Baghaei-Yazdi still remembers the warm welcome he received in the UK when he and his family fled the revolution in Iran forty years ago, in 1979. They were forced to flee after his father was executed by a newly-formed Iranian government.


“We came here and we were very much welcomed”, Namdar says, describing how back then Home Office officials would meet the family at their local refugee centre, rather than make them travel all the way to their official offices.

This welcome couldn’t be more at odds with the Home Office’s now hostile response to people fleeing war and persecution, exemplified in Sajid Javid’s recent labelling of the very small rise in the number of boats crossing the Channel as a ‘major incident’.

Since this declaration, the Home Office has been unlawfully deporting people to Calais without adequately assessing their asylum claims. The aim: to deter asylum seekers attempting or planning to attempt the journey to the UK.

We want to take a moment to debunk the hate-fueled narrative surrounding Iranian refugees coming to the UK from Calais, by explaining why these people flee their homes and why they have a right to claim asylum where they choose.


Why are people fleeing Iran?


The 1979 Iranian Revolution installed a new, ultra conservative dictatorship in the country. Since then, human rights violations there have been well-documented and all too commonplace.

Executions continue to occur frequently, particularly for drugs-related offenses. 273 were reported in 2018, the second-highest in the world last year. Iran’s judiciary is also targeting journalists, online media activists and human rights defenders in an ongoing crackdown on the freedom of speech, in blatant disregard of international and domestic legal standards.

Iran ranks as the 18th worst country in the world for freedom of expression. As a result, scores of human rights defenders and political activists remain behind bars for their peaceful activism, with little idea of when or if they will be freed. Laws surrounding notions of modesty, morality and public decency are also incredibly strict: just this week a young couple was arrested after a video clip of their public marriage proposal went viral. The justification for the arrest provided by Iranian authorities was that the proposal contravened the country’s “religious and cultural values”.


People protest in 2017 in support of Soheil Arabi, a prominent political prisoner.


Why are they claiming asylum in the UK?


In reality, an incredibly small proportion of displaced people from Iran claim asylum in the UK each year. In 2018, 500 people attempted to cross the channel in small vessels. So far in 2019, this figure stands at just over 130.

In the media, people attempting the crossing have been vilified and labelled ‘illegal immigrants’. Their claims to asylum have been rejected before they have even been made.

Sajid Javid publicly questioned whether the people in these boats were genuine asylum seekers, completely ignoring their legal, human right to proper assessment. Before speaking to them, before listening and understanding each of their stories, a decision had been made: one entrenched in hostility and one which contravenes international law.

If we look at recent asylum statistics for the year ended September 2018, 47% of all asylum claims by people from Iran were accepted. Of those rejected, 46% won on appeal. This means that roughly three-quarters of all people from Iran are granted refugee status.

For the reasons listed above, and looking at the acception rate in the UK, it’s clear that the huge majority of people fleeing Iran do so because their lives are at risk.


But why the UK?


Again, a very small minority are trying to claim asylum in the UK. For the most part, people have little choice in where they seek asylum. In the cases where people do have some degree of choice, it is primarily based on language, colonial links between their home country and the new country, having family or friends in the new country, or a belief that the new country is safe, tolerant and democratic.

Refugees are under no obligation to claim asylum in the first country they reach. Given this, the chances are that the large majority of Iranian asylum seekers attempting the crossing would be granted refugee status. The UK is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and must start adhering to it to ensure that these people are given the protection they deserve.


How should the Home Secretary respond?


The Home Office is adamant that asylum seekers entering illegally must be deported quickly in order to deter others from making a similar journey. In so doing, though, we are neglecting our international duty – not to mention our legal and moral responsibility – to protect the rights of those who have been displaced.


The plea to the British Home Secretary is this: give people hope. Respect their human rights and don’t push them further into the margins of society. Don’t use the recent boats crossing the Channel as an excuse to clamp down hard on innocent people. Don’t pander to the divisive rhetoric prevalent in so much of the British press.


We need strong leaders willing to work on real solutions, who are ready to cooperate with groups and governments to protect people from exploitation and abuse. Let’s transform the hostile environment into the hospitable environment and work together to give sanctuary to those in need.

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“Right to rent” checks ruled discriminatory

Last week, the High Court ruled that ‘Right to Rent’ checks – implemented in the UK under the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy as a way of preventing irregular migrants renting homes – have been causing racial and nationality-based discrimination on the part of landlords against prospective tenants.


Such discrimination, the judge ruled in response to a challenge from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. He declared that the government has acted outside the limits of human rights law and that to extend the scheme beyond England in to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be irrational and unlawful.


Representatives of the Home Office attempted to argue that a) such discrimination is not happening on the large scale that is being suggested, and b) that even if it is happening it is the fault of the landlords, not of the Home Office itself. This argument was rejected by the judge, who said that if the scheme had not been put in place landlords would not have felt it necessary to discriminate in this way:


It is my view that the scheme introduced by the government does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not… the Government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the Scheme”.

– Mr Justice Martin Spencer 


The ruling has been celebrated by civil society rights groups and asylum-seeking individuals across the UK, but unfortunately the Home Office has been granted permission to appeal the decision, arguing that it cannot be blamed for the actions of individual landlords. With no system of monitoring and evaluation in place from the government for the scheme itself, though, it is difficult to see how Home Office representatives will be able to prove this, and we sincerely hope that the appeal is an unsuccessful one.


The Government’s hostile environment policy has made claiming asylum in the UK a miserable process. When it was introduced in 2012-13, Theresa May described one of its key principles as being to “deport first and hear appeals later”, setting a bleak scene for the approach towards asylum seekers in the years that have followed. The UK is now one of the most unwelcoming countries in which to claim asylum. The number of people being granted refugee status is dropping year on year (most recent statistics can be viewed here), and Sajid Javid’s public statements about people crossing the Channel in boats – not to mention his response to the recent case of Shamima Begum – serve as a demonstration of the hostile and insular direction in which our politicians want to take us.


We cannot let such attitudes continue to govern our response to people in need of protection and support. We welcome last week’s decision on the ‘right to rent’ checks and look forward to supporting all future efforts towards ensuring it is not overturned.

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Help Refugees – open call for funding applications

Help Refugees is delighted to announce the Spring “Choose Love” Pot: an open call for small grant applications.


The Spring ‘Choose Love’ Pot opens March 1st and will close March 31st, 2019.

What is the Spring ‘Choose Love’ Pot?

Through the Spring ‘Choose Love’ Pot, we aim to support grassroots refugee support groups operating in Europe (including the UK!) and the Middle East. Unfortunately the Pot is not available to organisations based in the Americas.

The Spring ‘Choose Love’ Pot can be used to fund work in any humanitarian sector. We will not be able to fund any political activities.

Though our primary aim is to support people who have been displaced including refugees, asylum-seekers, internally-displaced persons and local communities affected by migration, we understand the intersectionality of displacement and hope to reflect this through our funding. We have funded organisations working with people who are homeless, for example (in the UK this can often include those who have been displaced and now find themselves without accommodation), and are open to receiving applications from similar groups.

Who can apply?

Through the Spring ‘Choose Love’ Pot, we aim to support grassroots groups operating in Europe and the Middle East.

Help Refugees does not, as a rule, fund large International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs). We exist to support and celebrate small teams of dedicated people.

Where possible, we work with local organisations. We firmly believe in supporting a local response from affected communities, displaced and local people alike. If you are an international group, the more local staff or volunteers you have, the more sustainable you are.

More information about the Pot:

❤ Successful applicants will receive a one-off grant of up to 10,000 GBP.
❤ The submission period for applications is 1st to 31st March 2019.
❤ We will get back to you by Friday 17th May 2019.
❤ We will respond to every applicant, but unfortunately are unable to provide detailed feedback on every proposal that is not accepted.
❤ If your application is shortlisted, we will 1) contact you to ask any immediate questions about the application and to let you know we’ll be contacting your referees; 2) arrange a call to talk about your work further; 3) come and visit you to see the work in person.
❤ For those shortlisted, we will request an updated financial report, an impact report, details of your governance and reporting processes.
❤ In the grant agreement we will ask for full narrative and financial reporting, including photographs and case studies.

How to apply:

Please download and fill out this form, then email with the title ‘Spring Choose Love Pot Application’.


  • My group has already received funding from Help Refugees. Can we still apply?
    Yes, we’re happy for existing or past partners to apply for this grant.
  • Can the grant make up part of a larger overall budget?
    Yes, however we will need to know exactly which aspect of the budget it will be used for.
  • Can I apply to retrospectively fill a gap in our funding?
    No, the Spring ‘Choose Love’ Pot cannot be used to cover past gaps.
  • Can the grant be used to cover ‘core’ or operational costs?
    Yes, we’re happy to support these costs.
  • Will you be able to offer support with reporting, if we need it?
    Yes, we will be happy to help on this front.
  • Who can I contact to ask further questions?
    You can reach us at with any questions we haven’t answered. Please bear in mind that we are a small team and may take a few days to get back to you.
  • Which projects will you not fund?
    – We are not able to fund projects working inside Syria at this time.
    – Significant asset purchases (e.g. land).
    – Generally theatrical productions and art-based projects.
    – Funding is also not available for student expeditions, schools, councils, volunteer-tourism projects, academic studies, sponsored activities (e.g. walks, runs, challenges etc), fundraising initiatives, or event sponsorship. Similarly, events and parades will also not be considered.
    – Film production will not be considered.
    – Finally, we cannot fund businesses or social enterprises.

The submission period for applications is 1st to 31st March 2019.

Who are Help Refugees?

Help Refugees was founded in 2015 by a group of friends who wanted to help. When we arrived in Calais with a van full of donations and a load of cash, there were no formal actors to hand it over to. Together with a huge number of amazing volunteers, and in partnership with French charity l’Auberge des Migrants, we rented and set up a warehouse and distribution system. By continuing to fundraise back home, we were able to financially support a lot of the grassroots groups operating in ‘the Jungle’ camp in Calais – and started to hear about the needs further east along the European migration routes. We are now a team of 10 in London, with 4 field staff, working in 11 different countries, supporting 80 local and grassroots projects across all sectors.

Our work spans emergency response, long-term and inclusive solutions, and advocacy. We operate inclusively, supporting local and ‘host’ communities as well as newer residents.

Everything we do is motivated by our core values of dignity, hope, respect and humanity.

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