Meely Cooper

15, 000 refugees face another winter on the Greek islands

Almost fifteen thousand refugees, including young children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities, remain stranded on the Greek islands. Conditions are dire, and as arrivals continue – unabated by the approach of winter – the existing, inadequate facilities are placed under greater strain.

Following the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016, the Greek islands have effectively become sites of indefinite detention. The agreement stipulated that all irregular arrivals to Greece, i.e. those who arrived on boats or without prior approval, would be returned to Turkey. Both the foundations and the consequences of the deal, either involuntary return or effective detention on the islands, violate the human rights of those subject to it.

Asylum seekers who arrived in the days following the deal have been stranded in Greece for almost nineteenth months. They are in tortuous limbo, unable to leave and often denied access to adequate asylum information and procedures. Help Refugees recently endorsed an open letter by 19 human rights and aid organizations, calling for an end to this “containment policy”.

Overcrowding reaches critical levels

Arrivals continue at a far greater pace than relocation to Turkey or to the mainland, placing further strain on already overstretched facilities. As winter approaches, thousands face another winter with little more than a flimsy tent to protect them.

Help Refugees has signed an open letter, alongside 86 other organisations, that calls for urgent action to relocate those currently on the islands. The letter recalls the six people who lost their lives last year in Moria, a camp on Lesvos, due to inhumane winter living conditions.

In Lesvos, a group of refugees who have resided in Moria – including five women and teenage girls – began a hunger strike some ten days ago to protest the conditions that they are forced to live in.

On Samos and Lesvos, more than 8,300 asylum seekers are living in hotspot facilities meant for just 3,000. An emergency decongestion plan, announced in late October, pledged to resettle 2,000 asylum seekers within two weeks: while a positive commitment, its implementation has been slow and as yet incomplete. Moreover, it fails to offer a sustainable solution to the systemic cause of this emergency: the containment policy induced by the EU-Turkey deal.

Under the agreement, only individuals deemed particularly vulnerable are transferred from island hotspots to camps on the mainland. However, a lack of both practical and procedural capacity means that many of those who are provisionally eligible cannot be relocated.

 

Delays in relocation to the mainland

There are only 1,130 places in mainland shelters for unaccompanied minors, despite the fact that almost triple that number live in Greece. The remaining 1800 children wait alone in camps, reception centres, and de facto detention centres – or on the streets.

“Unaccompanied children stuck on the islands should be transferred to shelters on the mainland without delay; existing shelters with the right standards should receive available funding and there needs to be more foster care or supervised living schemes. This can all be done,” said Laurent Chapuis, Country Coordinator for UNICEF’s refugee and migrant response in Greece.

Furthermore, there are additional delays in relocation for vulnerable adults and children alike. These are produced by delays in both the identification of vulnerable people for transfer, and in the lifting of georestrictions on their asylum booklets. MSF noted, for example, that only a third of their patients who are survivors of sexual violence have been identified as vulnerable. As such, most patients will not get access to the protection and care that they need, and will not be transferred to the mainland.

It must not be forgotten that delays represent at least another day, and another night, living in deplorable conditions as winter sets in.

“We feel abandoned,” says Diab, a 23-year-old from Homs, Syria, protesting the scarcity of medicine, clothes, and supplies on Samos.

 

Mental health crisis

Organisations on the ground have warned that a mental health emergency is developing on the islands, fuelled by inadequate living conditions, neglect and violence. The UN has also reported that the long delays, of up to five months, in transferring children to the mainland are compounding their emotional and mental strain.

A recent report by Medicins Sans Frontières (MSF) states, unequivocally, that “the conditions asylum seekers are living in on the Greek islands constitute continuous traumatic stress.”

“It is harrowing…to see the mental health status of the asylum seekers in Lesvos progressively getting worse,” said an MSF psychologist in September 2017. “We do our best to help those that we can, but the situation they are in is so horrendous. We hear of 15 suicide attempts every month in Moria – it’s an unbearable situation.”

 

How you can help

The situation on the Greek islands is only getting worse. Despite the cold weather, the number of people arriving in October surpassed that of the previous month; they now face a winter in tents, either pitched in the overcrowded state facilities or in the makeshift camps that are springing up nearby.

Help Refugees funds over forty grassroots projects in Greece, ranging from search and rescue, to the provision of warming and nutritious food, to the construction of shelters and distribution of tents. As temperatures continue to drop, the pressure on our projects mounts.

If you are able to donate funds, goods or your time, please do so. Our work relies on the generosity of people like you. Thank you.

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For Refugees. For Locals. For Everyone.

Our wonderful partners, Free Movement Skateboarding, are excited to announce their plans to open a new skatepark in Athens! Their brilliant work, in collaboration with the Refugee Youth Service, has improved the lives of many young refugees – and locals – in the area. We’re so proud to support them, and can’t wait to see what the new centre could bring.

For Refugees. For Locals. For Everyone.

The mission is to build a skatepark and youth centre in Central Athens, for the young refugee and local population. We need a safe and secure environment to run our sessions, while also offering a space for the wider skate community: integration is key to our operation. 

In association with Refugee Youth Service, we will offer support for vulnerable young people and collaborate with other organisations to promote dignity and well-being for all.

With regular sessions – day and night, seven days a week – the skatepark will offer a safe place where people can meet, hang out and skateboard. Our studio space will also provide yoga, art therapy, music and other cultural activities, encouraging a more diverse user group. We will create long-lasting social bonds through therapeutic skate and art sessions, and offer access to other services and support networks.

Affectionately referred to as the Gnarthenon, this skatepark will be open to everybody, with mixed sessions, Girls Only sessions, lessons and cultural events. The skate park will cater to the needs and passions of our community.


Empowering Young Refugees Through Skateboarding

Gender Equality – Skateboarding is for everyone. While western skateboarding is often a male-dominated activity, we encourage female participation by promoting skateboarding as a mixed sport, using female instructors and offering women-only sessions. We hope that skateboarding will be an activity that can empower girls and women beyond our sessions.

Integration – The majority of refugees in Athens are awaiting asylum here or further afield, and this wait can take years. During that time, people need a sense of community beyond the camps or squats where they live. By employing local skateboarders and including Greek young people in our sessions, we are creating a new and diverse generation of Athenian skateboarders. Everyone slams when skateboarding. Everyone can help up a friend. Everyone likes to land new tricks. Everyone likes to see friends do the same.

Mental & Physical Wellbeing –  Refugees have suffered – and continue to face – trauma, loss and adversity. The impact that this can have on their physical and mental health is especially apparent in the behaviour of some of our young skateboarders. Our sessions help them to find a new focus. We begin each one with a ‘skate yoga’ warm up, to calm the mind and help them to concentrate throughout the session.

Young refugees warm up at FMS

Creating Opportunities

Skills for later employment – We will run volunteer and leadership schemes, offering skill-building opportunities to young skaters. We want to explain the ins and outs of our work, and help them to develop skills for use in later life.

Jobs for locals – Youth unemployment in Greece is currently over 40%. Our skatepark will bring employment opportunities for locals, including positions like Skatepark Manager, Youth Support and Inclusion Manager.

Cultural Education – Our skatepark facility will provide a space for collaborations with other projects, as well as activities including music, film, art and cooking classes. These sessions help to show young people that skateboarding can go hand in hand with other mind-expanding activities.


Why Skateboarding?

Friendship – Skateboarding is about community: girls, boys, young, old, Greek, Syrian, Afghan, British. We’re all skateboarders, and we’re all focussing on improving ourselves and encouraging each other.

Sanctuary – Skateboarding has saved the lives of countless lost adolescents – through the mental calm it requires, through the skate scene who support you, through the lust for exploration and development. It is a pure sanctuary.

Tricks at FMS, Athens

Why Athens?

Crisis – Athens is in the midst of a dual economic and refugee crisis. Greece’s €323-billion debt has resulted in increasingly harsh austerity deals with the European Central Bank and the IMF. The effects are particularly evident in the capital, where over 15,000 refugees inhabit the city for the foreseeable future. This stagnant economy is not equipped to sustain these people, and the poverty is palpable. We are committed to keeping our team local and creating jobs for Greek people as the project grows.

First Response – The city is a first port-of-call for many refugees who have made it to mainland Europe, but it often fails to provide the security that they deserve. Many inspirational projects, which operate outside the limited state provisions, have emerged that bring hope to refugees and Greeks alike. We play a small part in this, bringing dignity and well-being to some of the most deserving people in Europe.

However, Free Movement Skateboarding need your help to realise their plans. If you are able to donate to the construction of the Gnarthenon, or would like to read more about their plans, please click here. As ever, all our projects depend on the generosity of people like you. Thank you.

 

Young refugee with her skateboard at FMS, Athens

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Camilla Thurlow, HuffPost ‘New Activist’ and star of Love Island, visits Calais

Camilla Thurlow, explosive ordnance disposal expert and star of Love Island 2017, has continued to support Help Refugees with a recent trip to Calais and Dunkirk.

Camilla’s involvement with our work began in the late summer. Soon after she and boyfriend Jamie Jewitt left Love Island, they visited a number of our partner projects in Greece. From preparing nutritious meals with the Soul Food Kitchen to assisting Intervolve in Larissa Camp, they were fully immersed in the volunteer effort – and used their new-found platforms to raise awareness of the situation faced by refugees in Greece.

More recently, Camilla has been selected to feature in Huffington Post’s docu-reality series, New Activists. It profiles the daily lives of five young campaigners, and Camilla’s episodes have documented her trip to Northern France.


Camilla joined Help Refugees and our partner projects, the Refugee Community Kitchen and the Refugee Youth Service, in Calais and Dunkirk. 


Calais’ physical landscape continues to be characterised by the £2.4 million wall, funded by UK taxpayers, that encircles the port; as Camilla notes, that cost could have easily relocated every unaccompanied minor who was living in the Jungle at the time of its demolition.

During her visit, Camilla did everything from washing up, to sorting and distributing warm clothes, to clearing the draining system around the water point in Dunkirk – certainly not the most glamorous jobs, but all absolutely crucial to aid operations.

She also accompanied the Refugee Youth Service’s outreach service, and led a letter writing exercise with some of the young people. During her trip, she met a twelve year old boy being looked after by his two thirteen year old friends. Annie Gavrilescu, Northern France Regional Manager for Help Refugees, noted that such a situation is not new: in the Jungle, for example, a nine-year-old boy took care of his eight-year-old nephew.

Camilla noted the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors left exposed to both the elements, due to the lack of shelter, and the threat of violence and exploitation.

“I wish I could do justice to [the situation],” she said, “because if you had seen this, you would never want it to happen…We have to get those children out of there as soon as possible.”

We’re so incredibly grateful to Camilla for visiting our projects, for her help during the trip, and for using her new platform in a way that benefits refugees and the organisations working to support them. You can see her most recent video below, or watch all of her episodes here.

Thank you, Cam, for all that you’ve done for Help Refugees – we really are so grateful for your support!

As winter approaches, we need your help more than ever. The cold weather brings with it a host of challenges, from an increased need for medical support, to the need for insulation and warm bedding. If, like Camilla, you feel moved by the situation and are able to give your time or support, you can find out more about volunteering or donate here. Thank you.

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Ragida’s Story: A Syrian Family’s Life in Greece

Ragida, 24, and her husband Moayyed, 28, recently welcomed a beautiful daughter. Baby Elena was born by C-section in a Greek hospital; her parents, and one-year-old brother Haji, are refugees from Raqqa, Syria.

The family fled their home when Ragida was heavily pregnant with Haji, as the intense conflict in and around Raqqa was only getting worse.

It took around ten days for Ragida and Moayyed to reach Turkey. From there, they crossed the Mediterranean in an overcrowded dinghy with other refugees.

Ragida said that she wanted to make the journey while pregnant, because her baby would be safer inside her. She was afraid that he would die if she was holding him.

Just four days after arriving on Lesbos, Haji was born by caesarean.

Haji was unwell, and it was an incredibly difficult time for the family. They were transferred to Athens, where they stayed in an apartment for seven months. While they enjoyed being in the city, and soon made friends, they had to share the apartment with another family and therefore had little privacy.

Five months ago, Ragida, Moayyed and Haji arrived in LM Village, a housing project near Patros. By this point, she was pregnant with Elena.

Ragida and baby in LM Village refugee housing project, Greece

Given that Haji was born by C-section, Ragida was booked in to the local Greek hospital for Elena’s birth. It was a confusing and worrying time for the family, as Ragida stayed in the hospital for almost a week without knowing when the caesarean would take place. After three days, the doctors prepped her for the operation; they then postponed it for another two days.

She is in pain following the operation, but is not allowed to take painkillers; she is unsure why this is the case.

Yet in spite of these challenges, Elena is healthy and happy, and Ragida is doing well.

From the photos, you can see what an adoring and caring mother Ragida is.

Ragida and baby in LM Village refugee housing project, Greece

One of our partner organisations, Refugee Support, spoke to her while she was resting in bed, at home, with her new baby sleeping in her lap. Moayyed is very attentive, and is not allowing Ragida to do anything while she recovers from the birth!

Ragida and Moayyed want to get leave to remain, so that he can find work and earn a living. However, the couple think that this may be difficult because of the economic crisis in Greece.

 


We wish Ragida, Moayyed, Haji and Elena all the very best, and hope that their status is secured soon.

The family’s story was initially shared by Refugee Support, one of our partner organisations that work in LM Village.

Refugee Support is one of the 35 grassroots groups that we support across Greece. We rely on your generosity to help them, and to help families like Ragida and Moayyed’s.

With winter coming, the need is only increasing: we need to prepare the camps for the harsh weather, as well as ensure that we can provide everything from warming and nutritious food to medical care. Please, if you are able to donate, do so here. Thank you – we couldn’t do our work without people like you.

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#ChooseLove in Ibiza: Cosmic Pineapple’s Community Fundraiser!

An enormous thank you to Kim and the team at Cosmic Pineapple, who organised a fantastic fundraiser for Help Refugees – in Ibiza! We are so grateful to Kim for coordinating such a wonderful event. She has written a summary of it below:

 

“I started Cosmic Pineapple in March 2014, with the intention of sharing good vibes and information from healers and magic people around the globe.

Choose Love: fundraiser in Ibiza

In 2016, Cosmic Pineapple developed from a website in to a series of charity events in Ibiza. We did four events at Pikes Ibiza, and raised money for different causes in the process. These events were subliminally themed on the elements – earth, air, fire, water.

In 2017, I decided to hold just one event and focus on the fifth element, which is love.

Help Refugees
 is doing beautiful work: I love it when a charity gives people a strong impression of what they do, while they do it.

I had heard of their work, as well as how they are independent and have strong values based on empowering people, communities and humanity. I had also seen the Katharine Hamnett tee shirts, and had bought one a few months ago.

 

They have already done great things, and I hope that they will be able to continue doing so in the future!

The Cosmic Pineapple LOVE event was really magical. We split the door donations between three different causes – Help Refugees, Love Support Unite and a homeless project in Ibiza.

The LOVE event was like a mini-festival. We had yoga, talks, and dance during the day time, and it evolved in to a party that evening.

In a sense, people were celebrating for a cause, which made it a really special experience. Thank you for your work, and I hope this can go towards helping people in need!”

 


Help Refugees is so grateful to Kim and all who were involved in this wonderful event! Thank you so, so much to all who gave their time and energy in creating this amazing evening.

If Cosmic Pineapple’s festival of love has inspired you to hold a fundraiser of your own, you’ll find more information on the community fundraising section of our website. There’s plenty of ideas there – why not try an adventurous #ChooseLove challenge, or hold a Christmas event?

Winter is fast approaching, and we need your help more than ever as we prepare for the harsh season ahead. Our work depends on the generosity of people like you: if you are able to help us continue helping others, please donate here.

 

 

 

 

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European policies are endangering refugees in Libya and the central Mediterranean

The risk of death for asylum seekers and migrants crossing the central Mediterranean is one in fifty. The vast majority – 95% – of those who attempt this passage have come via Libya, a country in domestic turmoil. A recent investigation by NewsDeeply details the impact of E.U. states’ politicking and policies on the security of vulnerable people who make the crossing, as well as those trapped inside Libya.

European leaders have been accused of prioritising a tough immigration approach over one that responds in a responsible, sustainable manner to the crisis in Libya and the central Mediterranean.

The impact of this has been multifaceted: not only has it resulted in the ceding of primary search and rescue responsibility to NGOs, but it has encroached on EU policies from foreign affairs to aid and development. Giulia Lagana, E.U. migration and asylum analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, has said that “development targets, democracy and human rights, and even security in fragile areas, are being sidelined in the search for quick fixes to stem arrivals or step up migrant returns.”

Details of the central Mediterranean passage used by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants

The European response to the dangerous central Mediterranean passage has been limited at best. Since the closure of Italy’s vital search-and-rescue mission, Mare Nostrum, the EU has failed to provide a service which prioritises rescue missions. Instead, privately-funded charity boats have stepped in to fill the gap as far as they can. During the first three months of this year the number of rescues by non-governmental organisations exceeded that of official coastguards. Unfortunately, the success of such efforts was met with an unprecedented backlash.

The scale of physical, political and legal threats that ensued meant that by September 2017, only one private rescue vessel remained.

Threats to NGO efforts came from many different sources. Boats funded by far-right groups in Europe sought to intimidate and even, on occasion, inhibit rescuers. Ironically, one such far-right vessel became itself a beneficiary of non-governmental rescue efforts after falling in to difficulties in August.

The last eighteen months have also seen a spike in the number of threatening incidents with supposed members of the Libyan coastguard. As NGOs move closer to Libyan waters, their presence threatens to disrupt rival smuggling gangs’ lucrative practice of intercepting refugees and migrants heading out from the coast, abducting them, then selling them to detention centres back on the mainland.

A new code of conduct prepared by the Italian Interior Ministry included a prohibition on NGOs’ use of flares and phones while at sea, and banned the transfer of those rescued from other ships to Italy. The code was highly controversial, both within Italian political debates and beyond. MSF refused to sign it, arguing that the new code would result in more deaths at sea.

Recent negotiations between Italian authorities and the Libyan coastguard are assumed to be responsible, at least in part, for the reduced number of people attempting to cross. However, collaboration with certain Libyan groups has been accused of encouraging support for institutions which lack legitimacy, in turn precluding a lasting peace in the beleaguered country. Furthermore, the international funds granted to improve conditions in detention centres in Libya have reportedly created additional incentives for armed groups to seize control of such centres, in search of both money and legitimacy.

Women refugees held in detention in Libya

In collaborating with Libyan groups to prevent people from attempting the crossing, rather than investing in search-and-rescue efforts, European governments have been accused of leaving vulnerable people exposed to a litany of rights abuses.

 

Libya is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees: it does not offer asylum, rather detains undocumented refugees and migrants in deplorable conditions.

In September 2017, Joanne Liu (MSF’s International President) detailed the abuses, including rape, torture and slavery, that MSF has witnessed in Libyan detention centres. She wrote that “the reduced numbers of people leaving Libyan shores has been lauded by some as a success in preventing loss of life at sea, and smashing smugglers’ networks.”

“But with the knowledge of what is happening in Libya, that this should be lauded as a success demonstrates, at best, pure hypocrisy and at worse, a cynical complicity in the organised business of reducing human beings to merchandise in human traffickers’ hands.”

“European funding is helping to stop the boats from departing Libyan waters,” she wrote, “but this policy is also feeding a criminal system of abuse.”

 

To read the full investigation by NewsDeeply, please click here.


Help Refugees funds over 80 projects across Europe and the Middle East, and with winter approaching, we are in desperate need of funds to continue our work. We are barely able to provide things as simple as food, clothes and shelter right now. To help us to continue our work supporting vulnerable people, as we enter the harshest season, please donate here.

 

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The Incredible Innes Family’s #ChooseLove Challenge

Bill Innes and his two daughters, Morag and Rhona, undertook an epic climb to raise money for Help Refugees. Bracing the August heat on a continuous three-day trek, they reached the highest peak in Spain – and summited two others. We are in awe of their efforts, and so grateful for the funds that they raised! This is their account:

 

“We really wanted to do something useful in response to the refugee crisis; something that would be of practical use, such as fundraising. We became aware of the amazing work of Help Refugees, and decided to support it by taking on a sponsored challenge: climbing the 3 highest mountains in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, which includes the highest mountain in Spain, in one continuous three day trek.

We discussed what our fundraising target should be and decided (with a little trepidation) to aim to raise £1,000. We got our MyDonate site set up in May, giving us about 4 months to get sponsorship.

We also needed to get in some serious training – especially Bill! This included tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks, a tough 24 mile hike over the three highest hills in the Yorkshire Dales, which is often done as a charity event itself.

Innes family training for their community fundraising challenge

On the 15th of August, we flew to Malaga and picked up our hire car. We drove to Lanjaron, a town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, for an overnight stay and to meet our guide, Felipe, from the trekking firm, Spanish Highs.

 

Day One: Pico Alcazaba

The following morning, we got the National Park bus to the road-head (well, a stony track-head really!) and started the climb over our first mountain, Alcazaba (3371m). This is a very remote peak, and it was a later than ideal start time: the noon sun was beating down as we set off.

Not being acclimatised, the altitude took its toll (particularly on Bill!) and we were relieved to reach the remote, lonely summit around four hours later. We had the peak all to ourselves, its superb views of the surrounding wilderness slightly obscured by heat haze.

We still had to get to the mountain refuge, Refugio del Poquiera, where we were staying that night. The journey involved many descents and ascents over mountain passes, until we thankfully arrived at about 7.30pm – pretty exhausted, to say the least!

Innes family having climbed the first peak of their community fundraising challenge

 

Day Two: Pico del Veleta

The next morning, we set off for our second summit, Veleta (3394m). We aimed to climb the peak, and return by a different route to the Refuge.

Innes family scaling a rock face for their community fundraising challenge

Our approach to this summit from the south is remote, and involves at one place an ‘airy’ traverse..!

The ascent from the south was in stark contrast to the northern side of Veleta, which has been developed for skiing and has tracks almost to the summit. It was weird getting to the summit and suddenly meeting lots of people who had been driven nearly to the top from the other side!

Once the obligatory summit photos were taken wearing our Choose Love tee shirts, we set off away from the crowds and didn’t see anyone else until we returned to the refuge by late afternoon.

Innes family, after climbing the second peak of their community fundraising challenge

 

Day Three: Mulhacen

It was an early start from Refugio del Poqueira to climb Mulhacen, the highest point in mainland Spain at 3478 meters. Although very tired by now, we were acclimatised to the altitude, and the early start meant that we gained quite a lot of distance and height before the sun found us.

The final stretch to reach the summit involved ‘zig zagging’ up relentlessly steep scree (loose stones), until at last, we were there: we had reached our final summit of this challenge! It being the highest mountain in Spain, we were not alone – but the feeling of camaraderie between everyone who had made it was brilliant, and overcame any language barriers.

Innes family, having reached the top of the third peak of their community fundraising challenge

It was a long hike from the summit to the road-head, where we got a lift back to Lanjaron. Welcome drinks, showers and a celebration meal followed – in that order!

The next day, we became regular tourists and visited the beautiful city of Granada. What a brilliant surprise to come across this sign declaring ‘Refugees Welcome’!

The Innes family found a Refugees Welcome sign on the final day of their community fundraising trip

This challenge was tough and the questions did get asked at times: “who’s idea was this, Dad?!”, or “why are we doing this, Dad?!”. The answer, and what kept us all going, was that we were doing something in response to the ongoing refugee crisis.

We hoped to raise awareness of the need and to encourage everyone, including the UK government, to do much more to give shelter and support to desperate displaced people: fellow human beings. We surpassed our target, raising £1,160 to assist the work of Help Refugees – which is what made it all worthwhile!

Thanks to everyone that sponsored our challenge and helped make a difference.”

– Bill, Morag and Rhona

 


Help Refugees are so amazed by, and so grateful for, everything that Bill, Morag and Rhona have achieved! Thank you so much to the incredible Innes family.

If their trip has inspired you to do a similar #ChooseLove challenge, then you’ll find more information on the community fundraising section of our website. Alternatively, if you aren’t keen for such an energetic adventure, then why not have a look at some other examples of fundraising – a mini-festival or a Christmas event, perhaps?

As ever, our work depends on the generosity of people like you. If you are able to help us continue helping others, please donate here.

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Nisryn’s Story: a Syrian family’s journey to reunification in Europe

Nisryn is 35 years old. She lives at LM Village in Greece with her six children (aged 15, 13, 9, 6, 4 and 2). They have been waiting for well over a year to be reunified with their father in Germany.

 

Before the war

Before the war in Syria began, Nisryn and her family lived in Kobane, a city just south of the Turkish border. She went to college, and then in 2001, started a family with her husband. He was a carpenter. They had two homes, a car, and a good life.

In 2013, while Nisryn was heavily pregnant, Kobane became the site of fighting between different military factions. “The planes came and started to bomb everyone. Our house was hit. We lived in this house for one or two months with no water or electricity.”

Just six days after Nisryn gave birth, the family left Kobane.


The journey to Turkey

Nisryn and her family, among a group of other people, travelled by car to the Turkish border. A smuggler showed them where to cross the border by foot that night, and told them to head for the lights of a distant town.

But the walk was treacherous: “Because it was so dark, we couldn’t see anything – no light, nothing.”

Sabri, Nisryn’s 11-year-old son, tripped and fell in to a barbed wire-lined trench that had been dug to prevent people crossing. Sabri, and others in the group who fell, were badly cut – although Sabri, typical of a young boy, was more concerned about the damage to his new trainers!

Nisryn and her family walked, under cover of darkness, for two hours. On reaching the town, a car then took them to a local bus station for the 18-hour journey to Istanbul.

 

Life in Istanbul

The family lived in Istanbul for over two years, in a home arranged for them by relatives. Nisryn’s husband was able to find some carpentry work, but in order to earn enough for the family, Sabri and his younger brother Abdul (10) found jobs making clothes.

Sabri soon learnt Turkish: from the age of 12, he worked as a translator for Syrians trying to make their way to Europe.

 

A family divided

Nisryn’s husband left Turkey after 2 years, to try and find a better life for their family. He travelled first to Greece, then through Macedonia and Serbia, and then on to Germany.

After about six months, Nisryn and the children decided to follow him. Nisryn says: “[Istanbul] was better there than Syria, because there were no bombs –but everyone was working all the time, and the family was not together.”

Sabri was working ten hours a day. He says: “I liked working – it was like I was responsible, like a man, working with men. But I want to be a footballer. And we were working all the time, there was no time for friends or anything.”

 

The journey to Greece

Nisryn’s husband found someone who could assist the family’s onward journey to Europe, for a cost of about $2,500. Nisryn travelled alone with her six children, the youngest just a year old.

As Nisryn was unable to recount the traumatic trip, Sabri told the story:

“We took a car to the beach, and there were so many people there. They loaded up two boats and we got in the second one with other people from Syria and Afghanistan. The Turkish coastguard tried to stop the boat. They told us to stop, and wanted to arrest the man driving the boat, but he was just a refugee like us.

He said he would rather die than be arrested so we kept going, even though two of the coastguard boats drove on either side of ours causing water to come into our boat. It took about four and half hours, and then the Greek coastguard rescued us.”

Arriving in Greece

Nisryn and her children arrived in Greece in March 2016, shortly after the borders had been closed. The seven of them were moved from Lesvos to Athens, before being transferred to LM Village.

Nisryn and the children are eligible for family reunification, which gives them the legal right to join her husband – their father – in Germany. However, the bureaucratic process is slow: Nisryn and her family have been stuck in Greece for almost eighteen months.

Finally, in August of this year, Nisryn received the wonderful news that their application for asylum in Germany has been successful. We hope that the whole family will be reunited soon.

Nisyrn says she will learn German because she can’t go home. She asks what it is like in Germany.

Sabri is irrepressible: “I want to go to school, to learn German and I hope to be a football coach.”

 


We wish Nisryn, her husband and their children all the best for their next chapter in Germany – and send extra good luck to Sabri and his football dreams!

Nisryn’s story was initially shared by Refugee Support, one of our partner organisations that work in LM Village.

Refugee Support is one of the 35 grassroots groups that we support across Greece. We rely on your generosity to help them, and to help families like Nisryn’s. To donate, please click here. Thank you.

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Choose Love at work this Christmas!

This Christmas we are asking our supporters to Choose Love once again by fundraising at work.

The news agenda may have moved on, but the crisis isn’t over. There are still families with no food, people are drowning in their quest to find safety and a generation of children risk growing up without an education.

With INGOs and governments not providing for many of the most basic needs of refugees across Europe and the Middle East, the grassroots movement continues to fill the huge gaps. This is where you come in…

Choose Love at work this Christmas!

With more than 96% of the funds we raise going straight to the frontline, your efforts this Christmas will translate into food, shelter, clothing and medical care for those most in need.

Here are some ideas for workplace fundraising activities:

  • How about a themed fancy dress day: everyone donates to wear Christmas jumper, hat, or sequins, to dress as their favourite festive character (or whatever takes your fancy!)
  • Make the Christmas party a fundraising opportunity! You could have an optional donation for attendance, a raffle or  an auction of promises (the MD making coffee for the admin team every day for a week?!)
  • Go green: encourage your colleagues to walk or cycle to work and donate what they saved on transport
  • Ask everyone to donate a day’s wages – and ask your company to match your donation
  • Buy each other Choose Love tees as your Secret Santa gifts
  • Plan a sponsored challenge with your team

Visit the community fundraising section of our website to find out more or emailcommunityfundraising@helprefugees.org for more details.

Please help us help this winter – we rely on the generosity of people like you.

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EU Countries have fulfilled less than 1/3 of asylum resettlement pledges

In September 2015, European states pledged to relocate 160,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over two years. As that period came to an end this week, only 19,740 people from Greece and 8,839 from Italy – or 17.5% of the promised number – were relocated under the program.

EU member and associated states now have until the end of this year to relocate individuals and families who have already been registered. The European Commission has predicted that this will bring the total number of resettled people to 37, 000, a far cry from their initial commitments.

The UN Migration Director, General William Lacy Swing, and the UNHCR have urged the EU to continue the programme beyond the deadline, albeit with recommendations for improvement. Both emphasized the acute need for collective action and responsibility sharing by European states, until the Dublin system is reformed.

The resettlement commitments that were made by European governments are legal obligations, and must be treated as such.

For asylum seekers who do not have family reunification claims, such pledges represent one of the very few options for safe onward passage. And yet states across the continent have flouted their duties, leaving thousands of eligible asylum seekers and refugees trapped.

Poland and Hungary have refused to accept a single asylum seeker under the programme, while Austria and the Czech Republic have filled less than 1% of their assigned places. Only 14 member states and associated countries have accepted unaccompanied minors. The UK chose to opt-out of the resettlement programme.

Such action contravenes states’ repeated affirmations of the principle of shared responsibility for refugees and displaced people. From the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees to the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, this has long underpinned international efforts to coordinate a response to the refugee crisis.

The EU’s relocation scheme was far from perfect.

The programme was only open to asylum seekers from countries with a high rate of acceptance across Europe, which meant that it largely focussed on those from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq. It therefore excluded other vulnerable groups based on nationality alone, which faced criticism from the UNHCR and calls to lower the threshold.

Furthermore, only those who arrived on the Greek islands before 20 March 2016 qualified for the scheme. The exclusion of asylum seekers from the scheme, on the arbitrary basis of their arrival date, is unlawful and must be overturned.

Furthermore, new initiatives released by the European Commission, including a pledge to resettle another 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers (with a particular focus on those in North Africa), must not be used to distract from those already in Greece and Italy.

The reticence of EU states to comply with their obligations under the 2015 Agenda has lead to the suffering of men, women and children caught in limbo in Greece and Italy. To end the scheme now would confirm their effective abandonment.

European governments can, and must, redouble their efforts to relocate vulnerable people from Greece and Italy. Failure to comply with their legal obligations condemns refugees to prolonged stasis and suffering.

Find out more about our work in Greece here and our work in Italy here.

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