Meely Cooper

“Particularly vulnerable” Afghan child challenges Home Office on Dubs

Help Refugees is pleased to hear that ZS – a vulnerable Afghan minor, who previously lived in the Calais “Jungle” – will have his case heard at the High Court today. 

 

ZS is a particularly vulnerable child, considered by his support workers to be at high risk of exploitation. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and has attempted suicide three times. It is reported that his father assisted western interests: as a result he was abducted, and his son shot. ZS fled Afghanistan more than three years ago, and has been trying to reach the UK since then.

 

When the “Jungle” was demolished in October 2016, he – alongside hundreds of other children – applied for relocation to the UK under the Dubs Amendment. A month later, he and others were told that their applications had been refused. ZS was not given any written reasons for this life-defining decision.

 

ZS’ case, in which he is represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors, has been brought separately from Help Refugees Ltd.’s litigation. However, they build on a common premise: that the Secretary of State, Amber Rudd, failed in her duties required by the Dubs Amendment.

 

From the failure to transfer a single child in the six months that followed the Dubs Amendment’s passage, to the fact that less than half of the Dubs places have been filled so far, the Secretary of State’s record on implementing the Amendment is shocking.

 

Josie Naughton, Help Refugees’ CEO and co-founder, said:

“ZS’ case is just one of hundreds of incidences in which the Secretary of State has failed vulnerable children, through her crude and inadequate implementation of the Dubs Amendment. The failure to offer a child any written explanation of a decision that affects the course of his life is unclear, unfair, and – by normal standards – unlawful.

In the context of the government’s ongoing failure to implement the Dubs Amendment, this is another shocking demonstration of the Home Office’s insensitivity to some of the most vulnerable children in Europe today.”

 

Furthermore, the crisis that is faced by lone refugee children is no less acute now than it was when the Amendment passed.

 

There are 100-150 homeless unaccompanied children in Calais and Grande Synthe, still facing unimaginable dangers. They have no shelter besides tents provided by NGOs, which are routinely confiscated by the police. They are sleeping in freezing temperatures, snow and rain. They are threatened by exploitative and violent smuggling gangs. And every night, vulnerable children attempt to cross the border while hidden on lorries – which has claimed the lives of 5 children over the past 2 years.

 

Over two-thirds of unaccompanied children in Greece (2, 158 out of a total 3, 090) are currently on the waiting list for shelter, yet there are only 1, 115 places – and all are currently filled. At least 27% of the waiting children are currently homeless, and are sleeping in squats or on the streets. They are at grave risk of exploitation, and youth workers in Athens have reported that children have entered in to sexual or labour relationships with adults in order to gain shelter.

 

In Italy, unaccompanied children often face a hostile first reception. Shelters are overburdened, workers often underprepared, and vulnerable minors face a long wait with little information. While efforts have been made to improve Italy’s child protection framework, the protection of unaccompanied minors is not yet assured.

 

Despite the lifting of the eligibility deadline for the Dubs Amendment, we have yet to see any signs of progress from the Home Office to take action and bring vulnerable children to safety. Foot-dragging and failure have characterised the Secretary of State’s response to the Dubs Amendment, and have left children out in the cold for yet another winter. On behalf of vulnerable children across Europe, and in the name of fairness, we hope that ZS’ case is successful.

 


Help Refugees supports vulnerable children across Europe and the Middle East, providing services from shelter to psychosocial support, child-friendly spaces to advocacy in the UK. To help us help them, please donate here. Thank you.

 

 

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Joint statement: NGOs denounce draft French asylum and immigration bill

In view of the adoption of the draft asylum and immigration bill by the French Council of Ministers on 21 February 2018, we, a group of international refugee aid and human rights organisations operating in northern France, express our condemnation of the draft bill. It is incompatible with internationally recognised human rights standards and provisions for refugee protection.

 

Conscious of the harmful impact of the current government policies on thousands of refugees and displaced people across northern France and Paris – which includes sustained use of tear gas, police brutality and destitution – we are deeply concerned that the lived realities of these people will further deteriorate, should the proposed bill be implemented.

 

The draft bill, if implemented, would reform asylum procedures, cutting the waiting time on asylum applications from eleven months to six. While this may sound progressive, we are concerned that such a reform is based on an incorrect assumption that refugees and displaced people are well informed and can access the asylum procedure swiftly and assert their rights with ease.

 

Overall, if adopted, we are deeply concerned that the draft asylum and immigration bill would lead to the further deterioration of the human rights situation on French soil. Our fears are shared by, among others, the French Defender of Rights, lawyers, trade unions, journalists and even members of Macron’s En Marche party. We add our voice to theirs, and call on President Macron, the French government and parliament to withdraw the bill and ensure that the human rights of refugees and displaced people seeking sanctuary from conflict, persecution and extreme poverty are placed at the heart of any future migration policy.

 

Finally, we fully endorse and stand in solidarity with the organisations of the “États Généraux des Migrations”, who are operating across France to develop a set of proposals for a humane and dignified migration policy through careful consultations. See here for further information.

 

Help Refugees

Refugee Rights Europe

L’Auberge des Migrants

Refugee Info Bus

The School Bus Project

Appendices

A recent research study by Refugee Rights Europe, based on interviews with 283 displaced people in Paris in January 2018, indicated that a whole 70% were unable to access immigration and asylum information and advice. Similarly, 66% of respondents said they were lacking access to information about their rights. There can be no doubts that the proposed bill would weaken the asylum procedure by reducing the timeframe for submitting a court appeal against refused asylum claims, leaving more individuals at risk of deportation without having had a chance to appeal.

 

Moreover, the draft asylum and immigration bill would increase the maximum period of asylum detention from 45 to 90 days. This is particularly disconcerting in light of a research study based on interviews with 233 refugees and displaced people in Calais in October 2017, where 72% of respondents had been arrested or detained during their time in France, several of whom reported being physically abused in detention whilst having access to very little water and food. One 22-year old man from Afghanistan recounted: “The police arrested me and took me to the [detention] centre. They have taken me four times and I was kept there for several days with little food and only one bottle of water.” A number of respondents reported having been held in a cell without a toilet, leaving them with no choice but to relieve themselves on the floor. During the aforementioned research study in Paris in January 2018, a 15-year old Sudanese boy recounted being beaten and arrested, and left to sleep naked on the floor “like an animal”. The boy said that he was later released without charge.

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‘Emergency’ accommodation centres are failing the most vulnerable in Calais

“I do not want to have men and women on the streets, in the woods. I want emergency accommodations everywhere,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in July 2017. He set the end of the year as his target. While local authorities did open shelters for the homeless populations, in line with Macron’s pledges, the majority of displaced people are still sleeping outside with no shelter from the elements. They are subject to harsher realities than you or I could ever imagine.

There are 1,000+ refugees — including 200 children — living rough on the streets and in wooded areas around Calais and Dunkirk. Only a small percentage are provided with accommodation and it is not offered every night, let alone throughout the whole of winter.

 

A snow day was the first time the emergency accommodation centres opened. There are two centres in total; one takes in women and children, and the other is for men only. After several weeks of increasingly cold weather, it was only after L’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees spent the day applying pressure to the local prefecture that Calais city authorities decided to open these two centres. Men, women, children, the elderly and the sick; they all woke up that day covered in snow. It took that long, and some persuading, for action to be taken.

 

“First time in my life, when I wake up, I see all my body and my sleeping bag with snow. It is really, really cold” – M, Calais

 

This was in December, and the centre was only open a few days that month. There is no consistency with knowing when these centres will be open. Maybe tonight, maybe next week, maybe next month… Only the prefecture has the power to decide when they will open, and when they will close again. It then falls on the aid organisations to disseminate the mixed information provided, and at extremely short notice, making it even more difficult for people to access these shelters.

 

The centres were open on more days in January, but it was still not enough. We are in the midst of the worst winter in years. In Calais, there is a ten year old boy sleeping outside. Ten years old and unaccompanied with no safe space to sleep or protection from the wind, rain and snow.

 

French law requires opening emergency accommodation for all homeless people, including undocumented migrants, when the weather meets certain conditions. However, despite this, the criteria for opening the ‘emergency’ accommodation centres in Calais is a sham.

 

“Calais no good. Europa no good. They do not treat us as human” — J, Calais 

 

Emergency accommodation in Calais. Photo: Radio France, Matthieu Darriet.

Emergency accommodation in Calais. Photo: Radio France, Matthieu Darriet.

The first centre is 200 spaces inside a industrial warehouse. I emphasise again that this accommodates only a minority of the displaced people in Calais. There is an inconveniently small time slot in which adults can arrive, and people are required to take specific buses from specific locations in order to gain entry. If you are lucky enough to bag yourself, expect to sleep on a cold stone floor in a small space cramped next to lots of other men.

 

“There is no oxygen. They lock the doors at night. Everyone feet smell” — M, Calais

 

Those who do not sleep in the centres take refuge in the so-called “Jungle”, or the streets of Calais. They are the majority, and that majority face another night of sleeping — hiding — outside in sub-zero temperatures and in fear of the police destroying their sub-standard tents, stealing their belongings and/or tear gassing them during the night, which would leave anyone in an increasingly desperate situation.

 

“Sister, why does the municipality take our tents?” — H, Dunkirk

 

There is also a second centre only for women and minors (under 18 years old). This consists of 11 shipping containers. Literally just metal shipping containers. I believe they are the same ones that the children slept in during the eviction of the old Jungle. Ten of these containers have beds inside, and one container has toilets and showers.

 

The situation is slightly better in Dunkirk as the ‘emergency’ shelter remains open throughout the day too. In December, the Mayor’s Office opened a gymnasium in the centre of Grande-Synthe which sleeps around 150 to 200 displaced people — predominantly from the Kurdistan region. Again, this was the result of aid organisations applying pressure to the local authorities in order to shelter people living rough in the surrounding areas.

 

Refugee Community Kitchen carries out two food distributions every evening in Dunkirk — one at the gymnasium and one near a nature reserve where groups of Iranian, Pakistani, Sudanese and Afghani people live. We estimate around 70–80 people are still there, due to the gymnasium being at full capacity.

 

Around 10 people live outside the gymnasium on cardboard boxes, where security and sometimes the police barricade the door from the inside with a stick to stop people coming in. Every time someone wants to leave and re-enter, they are forced to show a numbered wristband which permits them entry.

 

“I’m sorry for being angry. I was very angry because the security was racist to me.” — A, Dunkirk

 

The reality of accommodation in Calais, Winter 2017-18. Photo: Futuro Berg.

The reality of accommodation in Calais, Winter 2017-18. Photo: Futuro Berg.

A family pitched a tent around the side of the gymnasium. The rain beats down but it still takes some convincing to get the man on the door to allow them inside. The mother can barely stand up or even hold a cup of tea. I can’t tell you the amount of times a day you are shocked by the abhorrent and inhumane acts that take place here; in France, in Europe.

 

How are you supposed to recover from a cold with no shelter? How are you supposed to heal a wound that is constantly wet from the rain? How are you supposed to stay sane when this is your reality?

 

These people are being denied basic needs and deserve consistent accommodation during these winter months, with enough space for everyone, and throughout the day as well as night to ensure adequate protection of the most vulnerable people living in northern France. I bet there are plenty more empty, industrial spaces in Calais which could be utilised in this way. These people have fled war and destitution, and they deserve to be treated like human beings — as you would treat anyone who has suffered trauma, lost their home or is in need of compassion.

 

The emergency accommodation centres have been open in Calais for the past week. Thankfully. This is the longest time they have been open consecutively, but what happens after? More people will face yet another brutal night outside, risking dying of the cold, and not only that, they are also subject to more tent clearances. We have witnessed the police come and take tents and tarps when temperatures have plummeted to -1 degrees.

 

Where is the humanity in that?

 


This piece was written by Georgia Iddiols, a volunteer in Calais, and was first published on The Warehouse – Calais’ Medium page.

More than six months since Macron made his statement, hundreds of displaced people – in Calais, Paris and beyond – are sleeping on the streets. They have faced another winter without shelter, and are dependent on volunteers for support. If you are able to help us help them, please donate here. Thank you.

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Voices from Serbia: “Are you here to open the borders?”

In Serbia alone, there are approximately 4,500 refugees – including many unaccompanied children from countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a crisis that has fallen away from the world’s media.

I recently travelled to Serbia, working alongside Paris-based Irish artist Bryan McCormack and his colleague Stratis Vouyucas, from France. We were working on Bryan’s art project called ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’. He and Stratis have been travelling around refugee camps, centres and squats in Europe for around 18 months, asking refugees to draw their past life (yesterday), their current life (today)and their future life (tomorrow). I began working on this project in October 2016 at my university in England. Now, fast-forward another 18 months from that time, we have taken the project to Italy, France and now to working directly in the centres in Serbia.

 

Adasevci Centre: 12th February 2018

On the first day, on a cold February morning, we arrived at our first centre, Adasevci, close to the Serbian/ Croatian border. I was nervous, anticipating all I would see and all I would hear. Walking through the doors of the centre, surrounded by fencing, a new addition, we were greeted by curious stares and smiles. The room that we would be working in, felt like a pre-school, with children, no more than 5 years old, and their mothers. There were a number of nationalities, Iraqi, Afghan, Iranian as well as a woman from Sierra Leone in West Africa. Immediately, I was struck by a young girl who was perhaps 3 years old from Iraq. As we began the project, handing out the paper and pens for the drawings, her eyes widened with excitement. She proceeded to draw many colourful swirls, regularly holding up her artwork for approval. If we didn’t respond she would tap us to get our attention. It was heart-warming and heart-breaking all at the same time. For the most part, these children’s lives have only been spent in war and they have more than any child should have to see. The centre was by the side of a busy motorway with young children playing right alongside as cars raced past.

 

Principovac Centre: 12th February 2018

“Are you here to open the borders?” This was the first question I received from an Afghan woman in Principovac Centre just a few metres shy from the Croatian border. I was numb having only just travelled from the Adasevci Centre. Principovac is a former hospital for children who are mentally handicapped, now a centre for refugees. With very strict rules and guidelines enforced by the Commissariat (the governing body for all the refugee centres in Serbia), there are fears that the centres will close, becoming more and more like a detention centre with nobody allowed to enter or leave.

In Principovac, I met a 13-year-old artist – a painter – from Kabul, Afghanistan. She had been at the centre for approximately a year. “Art is what keeps me alive, she tells me. I could see both the raw determination and the pain from the last few years of her life, all that she has sacrificed in order to give herself the best opportunities for her future.

I met a toddler, around 18 months old who was born in the centre. Her mother brings her to the centre each day and leaves her, meaning that the NGO’s present practically became her family. What was perhaps most shocking to me was that if a child is born in a refugee camp or centre, the child is stateless. They will have no rights, making the situation all the more horrific and tragic.

As I walked around the room, watching as the refugees drew their memories, their lives today and their aspirations, one, in particular, caught my eye and needed no explanation. A woman from Afghanistan had drawn the memory of seeing “half a body with the leg cut off” read the words beneath as she explained her drawing to me via a translator. Another drawing detailed how the Taliban mutilated corpses after a car bomb attack in Kabul.

 

Obrenovac Centre: 13th February 2018

The next day, we travelled to Obrenovac Centre on the outskirts of Belgrade. It is a former army barracks, now a well-equipped space for refugees with gym facilities and a recreation game room. The centre is entirely for single male refugees and unaccompanied male minors bringing the total to around 900 refugees. It is the largest refugee centre in Serbia. The men and boys have classes in a variety of subjects: English, Serbian, Mathematics, Geography and Civil Rights.

We were told that one member of the centre began to cry when he was told about human rights, something that he had never had or known about in Afghanistan.

While at Obrenovac, I met a young man, 21 years old, again from Kabul. He explained to me how he hid in the forests in Bulgaria for 4 days, watched as people drowned on the crossing from Turkey.  He said: “there was no difference between being beaten by police in Bulgaria and being beaten by the Taliban.”

I had no words.

At night, I was restless, my mind racing, having nightmare after nightmare from the previous days spent at the centres. During the day, I was often either numb or in a kind of dazed state as I struggled to process what I was seeing and hearing. The crisis in Serbia is intense with thousands simply waiting for answers, unsure of what the next day will bring.

If there is one thing that I have learned through this experience, it is that we all have a voice that needs to be heard, no matter what nationality we are, our religion, the language we speak. We are all human, we all have gifts and talents to share and we should not be made to feel inhuman.

 


 

This piece was written by Elizabeth Pennington, who volunteered in Serbia, and was first published on her blog.

Help Refugees supports grassroots groups working in these centres and across Serbia, providing a range of services from education to hygiene items. To support our work, please donate here. Thank you: we couldn’t do what we do, without people like you.

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Voices from Calais: “The ground that doesn’t want you”


You wake to this cold, hard ground, with footsteps moving along it, to move you along. Slashing your tent, your blankets. You walk to the food distribution, to the clothes distribution, to keep warm and for something to do. You hide in the woods. You try to avoid the police with huge guns and tear gas and muzzled dogs and you ask “Are we not human? Why do they treat us worse than animals?”. You’re ‘illegal’, you’re in limbo.

Winter on the ground. The cold ground, the hard ground, the ground that as a family you’ve been moved to from the winter outside. Side to side with barriers made from camping beds for a sliver of privacy, you wait: For food. For clothes. For medical attention. For news of family and friends. For the lights to go off. For the lights to go on. For another families baby to stop crying. For your smuggler. For the world to see you. For the choices that others have, who weren’t born where you were born.

"The ground that doesn't want you". Calais, Winter 2017-18. Photo: Futuro Berg.

“The ground that doesn’t want you”. Calais, Winter 2017-18. Photo: Futuro Berg.

 

You show us your arms that you’ve freshly cut and you call us and cry and say “this is bullshit” and ask “what’s the point?”. You show us your beautiful country, your group selfies, your Grandparents, your wedding photos, I don’t have a husband? You will find me one from your country that you love and you hold my hand when you laugh. This cold, hard ground, carries the sound of small feet running across it, immediately calling new kids friend and us: who knows what they think of us. They’re babies and children who dab and flip bottles, who love music and art, who play chases and football, who smile easily, hug clumsily, and cry with all their heart. But they’re illegal, they’re in limbo.


Winter on the ground. The ground that as a family you’ve been moved to from the winter outside. T
he ground with a thin blanket, that you show us with excitement, your face mainly cheeks that shine up like spotlights. “Very good!”, you say. Your sister kisses us on each cheek and goes back to heating her feet over a portable electric hob. Your brothers and Dad shake our hands and your Mum holds us so tight our souls touch. We’ve travelled an hour and a half to visit, to give you duvets and clothes and to chat: it’s late, it’s New Year’s Eve, and we try not to show how tired we are. “You like?”, the eldest brother asks us, his arms gesturing that we look at the room. “It’s lovely!” we say. Amongst a conversation of mainly smiles, body movements, attempts at Kurdish and far better English, the sounds and smells of a feast travel from behind a closed door. Another day will end with bellies full to burst, fed with the most delicious of foods and watered with the sweetest of teas.

Tea in Calais, November 2017. Photo: Futuro Berg.

Tea in Calais, November 2017. Photo: Futuro Berg.


The next week we visit, “No good”, you say, yet cheeks still big and bright like spotlights. Your Mum shows us her torso riddled with scabies, soon to spread to the whole family, and her burned leg, soon to be infected. “No good. Dirty, no good”, the oldest brother frowns, his eyes roam the room. We try not to scratch the instant itch that crawls over us and focus on trying to piece together what happened when you went to the doctors, why you left with nothing, where to get burn treatme
nt, if your Dad’s inhaler can get filled up, what’s wrong with your sister’s phone, why you’ve been told you need to leave the accommodation soon. Why. Where. What. Why. You’re ‘illegal’ you’re in limbo.


Winter on the ground. The cold ground, the hard ground, that somewhere feels the drip, drip, drip of damp and everywhere sees nothing of sunshine. Clouds of condensation rise from the bustling volunteers, clad like they’re at the airport triumphantly wearing as many of their (and their extended families) clothes as possible (shove your luggage weight allowance!). Topped off with a huge high vis jacket from the huge high vis jacket pile, seemingly donated by kind giants. Th
is multi-generational bundle of layers navigate the warehouse like ants, each with their own role, order amongst disorder, creating a nest of solidarity and essential functionality.


This cold, hard ground hosts a hive of human compassion. Crucial material donations arrive from all over and in a time of time poverty (for some), people give what time they have. Jumpers, shoes, blankets, sanitary towels, socks, scarves, nappies, gloves, teddies, duvets, trousers, jackets, pants, bras, chosen in someone’s home, washed, folded, packed, posted or hand delivered, then unpacked, categorised, bundled in to trolleys, unpacked to the correct area, folded, then searched for, found, packed for distribution, then, finally, in the hands of their new owners. What needs fixed finds itself at The Repair Station where skilled shoulders hunch over the persistent drumming of needles, proving the human capacity to solve and to save.

Volunteers at the warehouse in Calais, November 2017. Photo: Futuro Berg.

Volunteers at the warehouse in Calais, November 2017. Photo: Futuro Berg.


On goes the warehouse: the sounds of music, of someone humming along, of shuffling feet at an impromptu dance, of huddled urgent conversations, of “Yes!” when that long top is found, of “Where is the sticky tape?”, of squeaky trolleys, of boxes slamming and bags rustling, of old vans reversing, of introductions and inductions, of “Should I pack the size 42 shoes even although they’re the last pair left?”, of “The baby would look so cute in this!”, of 2500 meals being cooked per day, of “Argh, I can’t find small leggings!”, of salut and ça va and hello and hugs.


The cold, hard ground of winter is juxtaposed by the warmth of the volunteers. They have wrapped themselves up, determined not to let in the mainstream narrative and systematic oppression that stares them right in the face, taunting them, challenging them to look away. Eyes fixed, heads high, hearts true: they will win that stare-off.

 


This piece was written by Paddy McKenna, who spent December and January with the Refugee Women’s Centre in Northern France. This post was originally published on their blog.

Help Refugees, in partnership with L’Auberge des Migrants, has been present in Northern France since 2015. Our work has long depended on the generous donations – of time, materials and funds – from people who can help. Please, if you are able to help, do so here. Thank you. 

 

 

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“We just need to be safe and free,” says 17-year-old Sammy in Calais

Follow Sammy’s story from being the son of an opposition party member in Ethiopia, being traded between the hands of gangs in Libya, to living in limbo in Calais.

Sitting in the waiting room at La PASS, the small clinic for destitute persons in Calais, several people are speaking at once. One man tells the story of his life in Ethiopia, recounting daily routines and ways of living; his friend chiming in occasionally with extra details. Two men pace up and down the lino-paved corridor. They are waiting the eternity that everyone at the doctors seems to experience: they nod to new arrivals as they enter, occasionally murmuring greetings in their mother tongue.

 

This morning, there is an abundance of energy in the room. Two unexpected buses arrived at the large distribution point, out of the blue around 9 am surprising associations and refugees alike. Thus there are many rumours and much confusion, anticipation and excitement.

Photo: Futuro Berg.

All of these will soon turn to frustration as once again there is not enough information to go round. One unaccompanied minor sits down next to me, anxiously trying to extract information that I simply do not have, asking me to call his cousin and explain what is going on.

 

In the midst of all this, between summons by the nurse and the general hubbub of the room, Sammy sits next to me, talking to me about his life. As he speaks, I ask him if it’s okay note it down, to let other people hear what he has to say. He nods enthusiastically, and starts from the beginning.

 

“My name is Sammy and I came from Ethiopia and I’m an Oromo refugee, suffering from mass crackdown of the government. They have killed my parents in the past, when I was a teenager,and I’ve been raised by my uncle. I decided to leave my country because I was threatened by the government, because my parents were opposition-party supporters and my father was a soldier of [the] opposition [group] called OLF. That’s why I decided to save my life and I rushed to Sudan.

 

I went to Libya to make [the] journey through to Europe. I sustained multiple accounts of civil[ian] beating; You can call it slavery. I’ve been taken hostage to one gangster’s group and I worked for them for free and they treat[ed] me really bad. They beat me almost every day and night, whenever I did something wrong.

 

And then finally I make it by boat through to Europe. I’ve been rescued by [a] rescue team from the ocean. I arrived in Italy, in the port of Lampedusa, then we were taken to the shelter. We stayed multiple days there, then they threatened us to make fingerprints. However, my destination, my favourite destination to seek asylum was [the] United Kingdom, actually England. But I was stuck there and they took my fingerprint, and they kicked me out of the house after [several] days. I was just sixteen years [old] and now I’m here in France.”

 

He smiles at my surprise when he reveals that he is only seventeen. He tells me how much younger he looked when he first left Ethiopia, at just twelve years old. But it’s not only his appearance that masks his true age. Whilst we wait, he discusses the political and economic options for Oromia to declare itself an independent state. He talks at length about federalism, the complexities of Ethiopia’s promise to release political prisoners, and the importance of education. “My dream is to be a civil engineer”, he tells me. He ruffles his hair and laughs as we discuss things that he wants to do in his life. “I like the royal family”, he chuckles. “I want to shake hands with the Queen, in Buckingham Palace.” But the realities of his situation are not lost on him.

 

“I came to Calais multiple times. The cold is really severe. At midnight, the temperature is getting below zero degrees. We sleep rough, in the shelter. It will be raining and the drainage is leaking. We just feel the terrible cold and there are days where I’ve felt like I’m going to die, because all my blood will stop, frozen. I’m just calling on the government to treat us better.

 

Photo: Futuro Berg.

The police brutality is way too tough too. The police are kicking us, pepper-sprayed on our eyes, while we are gathering for food, and they just kick us out. Sometimes, they [the government] gives us a shelter and in the morning, we’ll leave and we’ve got no shower. We are suffering from massive hygienic problems, like bleeding teeth and wounds between our thighs. We are suffering here.”

 

We look at each other, knowing neither of us has the solution within our grasp. He continues,

 

“We are just calling on an organisation which can help us to get us to the UK or settle down in France, wherever. We just need to be safe and free, so we can get education and see our future not like a ‘lost generation’, but [with] an optimistic future. This is what I’m saying, this is my opinion. I’m calling on the government to help us. We are just teenagers suffering. [We] lost our parents at a young age, and we are here to just suffer? We are not criminals, we’re just seeking asylum.”

 

Short and to the point. Sammy’s request, like many others in Calais, is clear:

We’re human. We exist. Do not let us be forgotten.

 


This piece was written by Charlotte Head, long term-volunteer in Calais, and first published on The Warehouse – Calais. Help Refugees has worked in Northern France since 2015, providing everything from hot food to psychosocial support to the transitory refugee population. To help us help people like Sammy, please donate here. Thank you.

All photos in this article are by Futuro Berg.

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Long Way But Short Days: A film by Wshear Wali

Wshear Wali – Kurdish photojournalist, filmmaker and co-founder of the Liva Collective – has created a beautiful and evocative film of his journey to the UK.

 

I met Wshear while we were in Grande-Synthe, during the winter of 2016. We talked film, photography, and art over cigarettes and tea. He had been filming his journey and he wanted some help putting it all together. We tried to get a laptop with the appropriate software but it sadly wasn’t within our capabilities at the time.

 

Months later I received a message. Wshear had cut together this absolutely stunning film:

Long Way But Short Days from wshear on Vimeo.

The confidence and artistry on show here really suggests promising future in photography and film; something Wshear has been proactive in achieving. Since arriving in Cardiff he has put on exhibitions, started a art collective, and like all artistic types, probably has a few hundred potential ideas on the backburner.

 


This piece was prepared by Adrian Abbott, and originally published on The Warehouse – Calais. Help Refugees, in partnership with L’Auberge des Migrants, has worked in Northern France since 2015. To help us continue our work, meeting the basic needs of the estimated 800 refugees still in the area, please donate here.

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Asylum seekers at risk of abuse and violence in state-provided housing, report finds

Asylum seekers in the UK are being placed in inadequate housing and are at risk of abuse and violence, a new report from Refugee Rights Europe has found. Their survey joins numerous expositions and statements, from leading NGOs to the Home Affairs Select Committee, that criticize the “disgraceful”, “rat-infested”, “squalid” and “unsafe” accommodation provisions.

 

Refugee Rights Europe (RRE), a human rights organization, conducted 33 in-depth interviews with asylum seekers living inside a north London Home Office asylum accommodation centre. It found that more than two-thirds of interviewees felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe” there. One 17-year-old said: “I feel scared sometimes. I don’t like this hostel, it is very bad.”

 

The Home Office contracts to provide housing for dispersed asylum seekers were awarded in 2012 to three providers: G4S, Serco and Clearsprings Ready Homes. Each company has faced significant criticism related to the conditions of accommodation and services that they provide, including prolonged delays in responding

 

A key concern shared by RRE interviewees was the fact that non-residents would come into the buildings at night. While the vast majority (97%) of respondents to RRE’s survey said that their door had a functioning lock, previous reports have found that vulnerable asylum seekers – including women who had been trafficked – had been put in housing with internal and external doors that did not lock securely.

 

Housing provisions for asylum seekers, 2018

Insecure asylum accommodation: more than two-thirds of interviewees in a North London centre felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe”. Photo: Refugee Rights Europe

The presence of non-residents was not only an indication of insecurity, but also a source of violence, trauma and fear. Many asylum seekers have experienced conflict or violent persecution: they are a vulnerable group, deserving of safe and secure housing. Yet more than a fifth of interviewees had experienced physical violence from either a resident or non-resident. Others had experienced frightening or traumatic events: the report said that, “on one occasion, someone who appeared to be a drug-user entered [the accommodation] and attempted to commit suicide in one of the kitchens. ‘He didn’t even live here. Blood was on the wall, the floor, everywhere; I was scared,’ said one of the youths [RRE] interviewed.”

The report found a general sense of overcrowding in the accommodation. All but two respondents shared bedrooms with at least one other person, with almost half of the respondents sharing with two or more people – often strangers. One young respondent said “he was sharing a small room measuring approximately ten square meters with one other, leaving little space for personal belongings.”

There was a significant problem with vermin in the accommodation: 82% of respondents said that there were mice in their rooms, and almost two thirds said that they had seen at least one rat in the accommodation. Furthermore, 73% of respondents said that their accommodation was “dirty” or “very dirty” when they moved in to their accommodation. The unsanitary environment no doubt has an effect on residents’ health, both mental and physical.

 

Housing provisions for asylum seekers, 2018

Many respondents complained of mould and damp in their housing, which irritated allergies and medical conditions. Photo: Refugee Rights Europe

Perhaps most shocking was the duration of time that residents had been forced to live in such inadequate accommodation. The average length of stay was 11.6 months, and more than a fifth had lived there for two years or more. Half the residents said that they did not feel comfortable speaking to anyone about the problems they had encountered: the report said that “for some, this hesitance was rooted in a fear of losing their accommodation…For most respondents, however, the main reluctance appears to have been caused by the fact that their previous attempts to report grievances had not had any positive outcome.”

 

It is more than a year since the Home Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Yvette Cooper MP, called for a systemic overhaul of the accommodation given to asylum seekers. Their findings – including mice, rat and cockroach infestations, cockroaches, damp, long stays in poor-quality housing, and inadequate response times for complaints – continue to be reported, and were all included in RRE’s survey.

 

The systemic neglect of asylum seekers that was seen then, continues to be identified now. RRE’s report is a shocking indictment of the government’s ongoing failure to protect vulnerable people, and the recommendations put forth – both by them, and previous reports – require urgent action.

 


 

Help Refugees supports asylum seekers living in the UK through the Meena Centre for women and children in Birmingham, and through occasional grants given to other projects. As ever, our work donates on the generosity of people like you: please, if you are able, donate here.

Photo credits to Refugee Rights Europe.

 

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A harvest supper to fuel The Food Project


 

During the winter months it’s more important than ever for us to what we can to ensure people can have nutritious meals with fresh vegetables. The Food Project gives people the opportunity to prepare and cook their own food, seasoned and flavoured as they like. The simple act of being able to prepare a meal for your family can bring some much-needed normality in what can be incredibly challenging living conditions with little daily stimulation. 

 

Zoe, one of the event organisers, said:

Our church has a justice group – full of people who are passionate about justice issues around the world. About a year ago we see one of our priorities to be the Refugee Crisis – to pray about it, to highlight the issue to the wider church, and to do what we can to support it. This has involved individual members campaigning but also us writing as a group to our council and MP.

 

When we got the email through from Help Refugees about the funding for the food project drying up, we were inspired to organise and plan a fundraiser. One of our members, Mandy, is super creative and she came up with an idea to link the fruit and veg thing with harvest, and do a harvest supper. We had the idea that we could encourage the church to bring what they had – what they could offer – and that we could auction that off in a ‘gift auction’.

 

We were absolutely blown away by the amount people offered – when you combine the bits that everyone can bring you end up with a lot!! We had offers of meals, homemade products, maths lessons, dog walking, cleaning, and our star lot on the night was an original painting by a talented artist in our church, which fetched £250.

 

On the night in November, around 90 people of all ages gathered for a veg-based supper and the auction. People had paid out already for their tickets, which was already generous, but then everyone was incredibly generous on the night – and really got into the spirit and fun of the auction. It was one of the most successful social evenings the church had put on for a while… there were both church members and their guests. And a wide range of ages from 7-90! 

 

It was the energy of the justice group that really made it a success, a real team-effort with joint-ownership from people who were passionate to make a difference and put their all into putting on an amazing night!

 

Ashwood Church's community fundraiser for the Food Project

 

If you are interested in organising an event at work, at school, with your faith group or with friends check out the community fundraising section of our website and email fundraising@helprefugees.org if you have any questions!

 

Thank you to the community at Ashwood Church, and to everyone who has contributed to this movement. We couldn’t do what we do, without people like you. 

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Refugees need legal aid for family reunion, say leading NGOs

A coalition of five organizations – UNHCR-UK, the British Red Cross, the Refugee Council, Oxfam and Amnesty – have launched a campaign to bring refugee #FamiliesTogether. Help Refugees is proud to support their campaign, and have published a series of articles explaining the campaign’s asks. You can read the first instalment, about child sponsorship of family members, here; and the second, on the need for a broader definition of the family, here. Today, we’ll explain the third and final ask of the campaign: the reintroduction of legal aid for refugee family reunion cases.

 
Legal aid was removed from family reunion cases in 2013, as part of a broader incision upon the availability of such support in England and Wales. Advice and representation for refugee family reunion cases were taken out of the scope of legal aid, because the government considered it a ‘straightforward immigration matter’ that did not warrant the need for specialist advice. Funded legal support, including advice on filling out the application form and preparing the requisite application materials, was removed. As a result, refugees who seek to reunite with their loved ones must make the application without assistance, rely on volunteer caseworkers, or pay for legal advisors.

 

The complexity of refugee family reunion cases

Despite the Government’s description of refugee family reunion as a straightforward matter, there is clear evidence to suggest reunion claims are often the opposite. The British Red Cross’ 2015 report, Not So Straightforward, demonstrated that many refugee family reunion cases are affected by a range of complexities, from the initial gathering of documentation to the submission of the application. Such issues disrupt the application process, and often require legal support in order to be overcome. In a study of 91 refugee family reunion cases, the report found that 33% relied on witness statements and statutory declarations that had to be provided by legal advisers. It also found that 62% of sponsors required English language support in order to complete their family reunion applications.

 

The challenges faced by applicants from the UK are dwarfed by the practical obstacles faced by their family members abroad. In December, an event was held in the House of Lords, in which two Syrian teenagers shared their experience of coming to the UK. Maya, who arrived in England four years ago, is now studying aeronautical engineering. Her father took the initial journey alone, and Maya and her mother were later able to join him. She spoke of how hard he worked to raise the funds for legal advice, and how her application was first frustrated by the perilous journey she had to take from Syria to the British embassy in Beirut – which she was then forced to repeat, as a spelling mistake made by her father’s lawyer in the UK delayed their application. The procedural convolutions in the UK compound the practical ones faced by refugees outside the country: as Baroness Sally Hamwee noted, “dangerous journeys to embassies and consulates to make applications are a common story. Travelling through war zones is not like catching a bus at the end of the road.”

 

The Home Office’s refugee family reunion policy provides further reason why legal aid is necessary for family reunion applications. The policy offers guidance on the “exceptional circumstances” where family members deemed ineligible under the rules (such as children over the age of 18, or elderly relatives) may nevertheless be reunited with settled refugees in the UK. The guidance is complex, and requires expertise to collect, organise and present evidence. Without legal aid, the possibility of making a family reunion application under exceptional circumstances will remain out of reach to many refugees in the UK. As such, without the existence of legal aid, the guidance will serve little practical benefit to refugee families.

 

 

The Human Cost of Removing of Legal Aid

Since 2013, refugees have been left to fund their own applications. There is a clear human cost to this process. Legal advice is often funded by the taking out of high-risk loans, borrowing from community members, or from in personal expenses. The costs prolong families’ separation, particularly as asylum seekers in the UK are not given the right to work.

 

Moreover, the emotional distress has had a profound effect on refugees in the UK. Many have reported experiencing isolation, anxiety, depression and guilt flowing from their financial barriers between them and their family. This psychological trauma has a large impact on people’s ability to integrate, as many are focus on finding work, learning English, and integrating into society.

 

The lack of public funding for refugee family reunion applications also impacts on the vulnerability of close relatives abroad, who wish to be reunited with their family in the UK. With claims failing due to a lack of funded legal support, family members abroad are exposing themselves to severe risks, either from being compelled to remain in areas in which they face grave danger and persecution, or from hazardous and unregulated journeys pursued in an attempt to join their loved ones.

 

Why reintroducing legal aid would improve the situation.

The findings presented above pour cold water on the claim that refugee family reunion is a straightforward immigration matter. Complexities can arise at each stage of the application process, requiring qualified legal advisers to resolve these issues so that applications don’t fail on procedural grounds alone. Legal aid must be reintroduced for refugee family reunion claims, so that refugees can receive funded advice navigating the complexities of the application system – and be reunited with their loved ones.

 

On 16th March 2018, the Family Reunion Bill will be debated in the House of Commons. If you believe that refugees settled in the UK deserve legal aid to help them with their family reunion claims, please contact your MP and ask them to attend the debate. You can do this in just a few moments, using the Oxfam website – after typing in your postcode, you will see who your local MP is, and you will also have a draft of the letter ready to send. Alternatively, you can tweet them here

 

It will take less than 5 minutes to send, but could help some of those forced to flee due to the global refugee crisis. We want these families to have a chance to rebuild their lives so they can have safe, happy futures together. Thank you.

 

This article was written by Daniel Taylor, who volunteered as a legal caseworker in Athens for four months. 

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