‘Climate Refugees’, Capitalism and the Australian Bushfires

Harry Sanders is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration lawyers providing free advice and support to asylum seekers and victims of abuse.


As the new decade dawned roughly one month ago, humanity collectively breathed a sigh of relief, hoping at least for some small respite from the global mania of the 2010s. Within a few days, such hopes were quickly shattered by an onslaught of disasters – amongst which are the Australian bushfires which are still raging at the time of writing. The environmental impact of such widespread destruction is unquestionable (it is believed that around one billion animals have died in the fires), but in contrast with the flurry of wildlife appeals, the matter of human displacement has flown – relatively speaking – under the radar.


The bushfires presently wreaking havoc across Australia follow the country’s hottest year on record in 2019, with average temperatures 1.52C above the 1961-1990 average. Forgetting the views of the most hard-line of sceptics, this huge rise in temperature is the result of climate change caused by humans and our greenhouse gas emissions. Since the fires began, over 2,000 homes have been destroyed in the south of the country, and their former inhabitants have been made the first ‘climate refugees’ of the 2020s. 

Regrettably, though, Australia is not the first to experience climate-induced displacement. Since 2008, an average of 25.3 million people have been forcibly displaced due to environmental disasters every year. It is crucial to reinforce that these affected people are not simply joining family or taking up employment abroad; they have been forced to leave their homes by a change in circumstances that are in no way their choice or their fault. Thankfully, the UN has recently made it unlawful for climate refugees to be returned to their home country if this would leave them at risk from a climate disaster.

The communities hit hardest by these disasters are, unjustly yet unsurprisingly, the poorest and most rural. A recent IPCC report found that indigenous and disadvantaged populations are at a disproportionately higher risk from global warming of 1.5C and over. Agricultural and coastal populations – which are fundamentally dependent on a stable environment for their way of life – are destined to struggle with the rising unpredictability of our global climate. In fact, it is expected that by 2050 a gargantuan 143 million people from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America will be displaced. 

The present is morbid; the future, even more so. We have known this for so long that it is included in the national curriculum. However, it is still unclear what is actually being done to prevent this future of hellfire and brimstone from materialising. 

In reality, very little is being done for one plain and simple reason: to act on climate change is not in the best interests of anyone who benefits from our global capitalist and consumerist economy.

The biggest culprit is undeniably the fossil fuel industry, with its regard for the future wellbeing of the planet and its colourful tapestry of peoples and cultures always coming second to profit. A now infamous statistic often floated in discussions on climate change is that just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. For example, Shell – a household name – is just one of these companies, and alone is responsible for 1.7% of global emissions for the last 30 years.

Companies dealing in fossil fuels such as Shell quite literally get away with murder, thanks to the greed and carelessness of the politicians which protect them. Australia has one of the worst records in this department due to its status as the world’s fourth largest coal producer, and largest exporter of both coal and liquefied natural gas

As a result, Australia’s fossil fuel interests are protected by politicians and lobbyists who stand to profit from continued coal and gas production. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is one of many politicians who deny Australia’s involvement in global emissions in order to maintain profit margins. In the wake of the recent bushfires, Mr Morrison claimed that Australia is doing enough to limit its emissions

Mr Morrison’s apparent heartlessness in the face of immense death and destruction sweeping his country should not be surprising, as he was also one of the architects of Australia’s troubled and brutal immigration policies. Since 2013, refugees arriving to Australia by boat have been intercepted and sent to detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea where they wait to be processed amidst myriad human rights abuses. Ironically, both Nauru and Papua New Guinea are islands ‘at risk’ from potential environmental disaster.


In this new decade, the governments of not only Australia but of all nations face a choice of monumental importance. Will politicians continue to pander to the profit-driven robots of the fossil fuel industry, and in doing so ensure the continued escalation of the global climate disaster and the eventual displacement and death of millions globally? Or perhaps, for once, will thought be given to reason and humanity over zeroes in bank accounts?

Read more

Disabled Asylum-Seekers are Falling Through the Cracks of a Flawed System

Luna Williams is the political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation that offers full and free legal advice and assistance for asylum seekers, trafficking survivors, and detainees.


It is no secret that, over the past decade, Britain has become an increasingly hostile place for those seeking refuge in it. 

A combination of stricter border controls, hostile policies, and anti-immigration rhetoric has meant that the UK’s asylum process has become infused with a ‘culture of disbelief’, with the default response to claims founded in scepticism. 

This has evolved over time, and has been shaped by various factors, including the hostile environment policy, which has introduced a number of practices that continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people looking for safety in the UK, including unaccompanied children, victims of modern slavery, and pregnant migrants. Reports have surfaced recently which show these individuals continually falling through the cracks of the asylum process, as these individuals are unable to receive the care they desperately need. This fact is true for those awaiting the outcome of their asylum claim in the community and in detention centres.  


Lack of care is widespread

In detention, victims of trafficking — including people who have been held hostage and tortured — are detained indefinitely for months, and sometimes years. If this was not damaging enough in itself, reports have consistently found that these individuals have not received proper care during this time, despite the fact many are victims of physical violence still recovering from their wounds and most experience some form of mental health issue, like PTSD. In fact, analysis by the organisation Women for Refugee Women found that all the women interviewed at Yarl’s Wood in 2017-18 were suffering from some form of mental health condition, which was brought on by traumatic experiences in their home countries, on their journeys, and during their ongoing detention. 

Unfortunately, for those awaiting the results of their claim in the community, the story is not much brighter. Recent cases have shown high numbers of asylum-seekers refusing to seek care, including pregnant women, on the basis that they may risk their asylum claim or must pay extortionate fees. 

The hostile environment feeds directly into this. The Immigration Act 2014, which was rolled out as part of the policy, encouraged NHS trusts to refuse their services to those who couldn’t produce the proper documents, as well as share the data of those receiving healthcare. Although the latter practice was stamped out at the beginning of last year – owing to the fact it was seen as a breach of trust and data – it still continues to influence the decisions of those who need care, as many still fear they will still have their details shared with immigration officials if they visit a practice or hospital. 


Asylum seekers with disabilities at a high-risk

While this issue is certainly harmful to any vulnerable asylum-seeker, there are certain groups which are disproportionately affected. For instance, asylum seekers who have a disability of any sort are especially susceptible to missing out on the care they need in the UK. 

A disability is an umbrella term which can be used to describe any form of long-term condition which restricts a person in some way from completing everyday activities and tasks.   

Britain’s immigration system is already brutal in its treatment of and effect on asylum seekers and refugees, but it is even harder to navigate for those with physical, mental, emotional, educational, or sensory impairments and care needs. And hostile attitudes and practices shoulder a significant blame for this, resulting in many disabled people’s care needs being either debated or ignored by immigration officials – particularly in detention facilities. 

One case from last year saw a 22-year old man with severe learning disabilities and medical issues (including epilepsy) wrongly detained and cut off from his basic human rights without essential care by officers.

 Charles, who was being cared for by his Pakistani parents Ruth and Wilson Mukerjee was physically grabbed and held by immigration offices when he visited the British Home Office in Liverpool for what he thought would be a routine check up last April.  When Charles’ medical records were presented to the officers his father, who was with him at the time, said that they were met with indifference and disbelief. “This is not in our records, nor do I want to see this” the officer told him. 

After this, Charles was forced into a van with his parents, and driven without food, water or bathroom breaks for approximately six hours. During this time, Charles have several seizures due to the stress, and told his father that he wanted to commit suicide. 

Though the length of time Charles was detained was relatively short, as his lawyer stood in to have him removed from the centre, his treatment bought to light the extent to which those with disabilities are not only neglected, but also punished by Britain’s asylum process.

 Sadly, this story is not unique. Asylum seekers with disabilities and long-term care needs have been falling to the wayside since the hostile environment policy was first implemented in 2012. As a result of the policy, innocent people looking for refuge have been treated as criminals, refused vital services and cut off from essential care. A report released this January found that there had been various instances in which disabled asylum seekers in Scotland were refusing to seek medical assistance because they are worried about high costs (though these fees only exist in hospitals in England) and their identities being shared with the Home Office. This is particularly true for asylum-seekers with mental health issues, or mental disabilities – as many believe it will affect the outcome of their claim if they come forward to report them to health professionals.   


What needs to happen next?

Urgent action must be taken to address this issue and ensure that vulnerable people with disabilities receive the care and support they need. 

According to the current 2014 Care Act, which outlines how asylum seekers with disabilities should be cared for, they become the responsibility of a local authority if ‘the adult is ordinarily resident in the authority’s area or is present in its area but of no settled residence’. 

However, there is an issue with this statement. It leaves local authorities entirely responsible for the wellbeing of asylum seekers and forces them to find and account for individuals who are stateless, or without a home, which leaves the onus entirely on them. This leaves far more room for such individuals to fall through the cracks. 

Notably, the Act also fails to set up any clear referral scheme with which those applying for refuge with care needs can be easily pared with their local authority and does not put provisions in place to monitor whether these are being met. 

As a result, it is imperative that the 2014 Care Act is reviewed and redrafted to ensure that there is a clearer passage for referrals so that the care needs of individual asylum seekers can be more effectively assessed and provided. 

As well as this, movements should be made to secure a ban on detaining anyone with disabilities where this is not an absolute necessity and, where it is absolutely necessary (for example, if there is a clear history of violence or they pose a demonstratable flight risk) that they be detained in an environment which has been catered for them. This would be safe and accessible and would host care professionals to suit a range of disability needs. Here, individuals would be able to wait out their claim with the support and care they require and deserve as a human right. 

Ultimately though, detention and hostile practices must stop being the default approach to dealing with vulnerable people – particularly those who are disabled, who are already at a disadvantage when it comes to making the perilous journey to the UK in the first place.


Read more

Drones and Dogs: The EU’s Pursuit of Refugees Undermines Basic Human Rights

Elise Middleton, content writer for the Immigration Advice Service (IAS), writes about the criminalisation of rescue work at Europe’s borders and the lack of safe, legal routes for asylum seekers to the UK. IAS offers legal aid for asylum-seekers, trafficking survivors and survivors of domestic abuse.


War, the climate crisis, oppression and violations of human rights across the world consistently result in the displacement of people looking to escape life-threatening situations. Figures from the UN International Organisation for Migration estimating how many people will migrate as a result of the rapidly developing climate crisis range from 25 million to 1 billion by 2050, bringing the consequences of our own selfish greed directly to our front doors. The UK, alongside the other EU member states, has a moral and legal responsibility to hear their claims.


After the Libya migrant shipwrecks of April 2015, the EU established ‘Operation Sophia’. Described as part of the EU’s ‘response to the migration issue’ and with a mandate to reduce and prevent instances of international smuggling and trafficking, the operation began with a focus on cracking down on the trade yet ended up aiding victims and rescuing migrant boats in distress. The operation’s name was actually amended from EUNAVFOR MED in a touching move when 453 migrants were rescued including a Somali mother who subsequently gave birth to a baby girl who she called Sophia. The operation was changed to “honour the lives of the people [the EU was] saving”, but this now seems to be more performative than indicative of their intentions. 


Despite these humanitarian origins, by 2017 Operation Sophia began to lose its focus. Italy’s parliament passed a law that wanted to penalise NGO boats attempting to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, with a threat of fining the captains up to €1 million and the destruction of Libyan fishing boats. This also gave Matteo Salvini, the far-right Interior Minister, the ability to prevent migrant rescue boats docking in Italian ports. 


Yet it is not just Italy that is cracking down on asylum seekers with an iron fist: the UK and EU have collaboratively designed new techniques and methods to essentially ensure refugees never reach the doors of sanctuary, even if it means the death toll increases. 


The first initiative of this new strategy saw Operation Sophia close its rescue missions this March – although the EU did decide to open it again this September for another six months, but seemingly pointlessly so as it functions without any ships. Many critics such as the  EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, have spoken out against the move as her spokeswoman declared that “Sophia is a maritime operation and it’s clear that without naval assets, the operation will not be able to effectively implement its mandate”. The UN similarly claims the Mediterranean risks becoming a ‘sea of blood’ as a result


Alongside the sea restrictions, responses to the migrant crisis have also been met with militarised borders and technological advancements – supposedly to catch traffickers. Yet in a sadistic turn of events, naval vessels have been replaced with unmanned aerial vehicles which record devastating scenes of migrants struggling and potentially drowning instead.

The UK poured over £44 million into the drones alongside additional super-sensitive security scanners, the construction – and destruction – of Calais and Dunkirk camps and night vision technology goggles


Not one single official rescue mission has taken place in the Mediterranean since August 2018, and the journey to the UK to try and claim asylum has become increasingly dangerous. Consequently since 2015, the number of people dying as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean has dramatically increased nine-fold while the Channel witnessed its first ever refugee drownings from August to October this year in which four people have so far lost their lives. 


The fact that the UK and EU wish to diminish crossings – jeopardising lives in the process – is a serious cause for concern. Not only does it undermine basic humanitarian principles, but it has a drastic and terrifying impact on the lives of those who are merely exercising their international human right while traffickers gain even more margin to make profits since higher risks comes with a higher cost.


There are no planes to board when fleeing from a war-torn country. Slavery and torture victims similarly can’t flee easily, often escaping in a rush and out the backdoor to avoid unscrupulous officials. The decision to migrate is not one ever taken lightly and it is always in the hope of having a better qualify of life, to flee from human rights abuses and to raise children in a country free from violence. Asylum seekers are often leaving behind the only country they’ve ever known, including friends and family, and must travel for days – if not weeks – by foot, car, bus, train or however means necessary in their search for sanctuary. 


Refugees arrive in Britain via dinghies and lorries in the absence of legal alternatives – and they are only following protocol in doing so since asylum claims can only be filed once physically in the UK. What’s more is that international law protects asylum seekers from being penalised for illegally entering; the way someone makes their way to the UK in pursuit of asylum has no bearing on the outcome of their case for asylum.


39 Vietnamese and Chinese citizens have recently been found dead in a refrigerator trailer in Essex, serving as a timely and tragic reminder of what happens when asylum seekers are both forced to take the most dangerous routes and put their lives in the hands of smugglers. Tra My, a Vietnamese woman named by a human rights group as one of the victims, reportedly texted her parents: “So sorry mum and dad. The route to abroad didn’t succeed. Mum. I love you and dad so much. I am dying because I can’t breathe.” This is irrefutable proof that placing more barriers in front of people looking for safety and survival outside of systems of oppression and countries savaged by war or poverty can only lead to more death.


Such horrendous loss of life that is tallying up could have been avoided if the member states were truly committed to preservation. Instead, the Home Office sees fit to funnel millions into prevention, building barriers, walls and traps to ensure migrants can’t arrive into the UK – or at least can’t arrive while they’re still alive.


Vulnerable individuals should not have to risk their lives just to have their story heard in the UK – which is their right. The UK must do more to protect refugees by implementing safe passages. Setting up a safe route or allowing asylum seekers to claim in juxtaposed ports abroad would rapidly reduce the death toll and the trafficking trade. It would also come at a far cheaper cost than scattering dangerous obstacles. 


However, even if it were more expensive, there is surely no such higher priority than the preservation of life. Without serious revaluation into the UK asylum system and treatment of refugees, rigid immigration policies will continue to serve as a death sentence. 

Read more

Climate Refugees: A Global Crisis

Maddie Grounds, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service (IAS), writes about the global plight of environmentally displaced people. IAS offers legal aid for asylum-seekers, trafficking survivors and domestic abuse survivors.


Climate Refugees are defined as people who have been forcibly displaced as a result of environmental factors caused by climate change and natural disasters. Every year since 2008, 26.4 million people are forced to leave their homes due to severe weather events such as flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes and droughts.

Despite the global magnitude of this issue, environmentally induced displacement is not covered by the 1951 Refugee Convention on the grounds that climate refugees are not fleeing persecution: a requirement needed to fulfil the traditional ‘refugee’ model when  applying for resettlement in another country.


The Protection Gap


Currently, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees extends solely to people who are fearful of being persecuted as a result of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and as a result, are unable to seek protection in their home country.

As environment-related causes neither fit this category nor are present as their own separate category, an increasing number of people experience inexorable peril – with no choice but to leave their homes – whilst being unable to receive the same protection as those falling under the ‘refugee’ classification.

For the estimated 200,000 Bangladeshis who are displaced each year due to river-bank erosion, appealing for resettlement will entail almost impossible barriers in proving their desperation. Similarly, the populations of the islands Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu – a tenth of whom have migrated within the past decade – will have to struggle against their absence of current international legal recognition.

A key challenge in legislating protection for ‘climate refugees’ lies in the complexities of defining the term: the idea of human displacement as a result of climate change is a comparatively recent concept, predominantly emerging in accordance to the rapid and destructive effects of Global Warming.

The proposed definition by academic researchers Docherty et al. (2009) is certainly useful in defining the circumstances of ‘climate refugees’, comprised of the following parts: ‘forced migration, temporary or permanent relocation, movement across the borders, disruption consistent with climate change, sudden or gradual environmental disruption, and a more than likely standard for human contribution to the disruption.’


The impact of our climate on human mobility


Global Warming – overwhelmingly as a result of human activity – has had enormous and irreversible effects on our climate, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. In the near future, Latin America will see water availability decrease, Europe’s coastal flooding will rise and the death rate from disease associated with floods and droughts is expected to increase in some regions of Asia. In Africa, between 75 and 250 million people are predicted to be exposed to increased water stress by next year.

Whilst climate change will undoubtedly affect us all, it is the world’s poorest people,  already living in precarious environments, who will be hit the hardest. Rising sea-levels and extreme weather events will be disastrous for those living on marginal land, or in drought or flood-prone cities and countryside, leading to huge numbers of human mobility. Chad, with one of the fastest-growing populations in the world, was rated as facing the greatest peril, out of 186 countries assessed in a European Parliament report.

Yet, according to an Oxfam report, the poorest 50% of the global population emit only 10% of emissions whilst the richest 10% are responsible for 50% of emissions. With far more resources, richer countries like the UK have a duty to act fast to avoid dangerous climate change, prevent increasingly disastrous impacts from forcing more people out of their homes and support the growing number of desperate climate refugees already facing the  consequences of Climate Change.


Migrants or Refugees?


Whether or not these groups should be labelled as ‘migrants’ or ‘refugees’ is another highly debated issue. Dina Ionesco, Head of Migration, Environment and Climate Change at the UN, believes the latter term fails to recognise that migration is not necessarily forced and could weaken the refugee status of those who are in need of protection because of war and persecution.

Her argument includes the fact that climate migration is mainly internal – and therefore does not require another country’s protection – whilst the creation of a special refugee status could detract from discussions of preventative measures and environmental solutions that would mean people would not have to leave their homes in the first place. 

Comparatively, the organization Friends of the Earth argues the phrase ‘migrant’ implies their move to be voluntary, even in cases where they are fleeing for their lives. Current refugee law makes clear distinctions between refugees and migrants, with the latter automatically labelling someone as less entitled to legal assistance due to their choice in relocating. For individuals who have forcibly become homeless and remain trapped in worsening environmental conditions, ‘migrant’ simply cannot account for their vulnerable and dangerous state.

For example, Sahia, a woman living in Bangladesh, was displaced by river erosion after her house was completely consumed by water. Her and her family are now struggling to survive, having to migrate seasonally so her husband can work in a brick factory whilst saving only £10 a week for essentials other than food.  

In today’s aggravated environmental climate, ingraining the protection of environmentally-displaced persons into a context of law is paramount. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that, as a result of extreme environment changes, there could be as many as 200 million of these refugees by 2050. For those who have no choice but to leave their country, a chance of resettlement – or even to apply for British Citizenship – must be taken seriously in consideration of our rapidly deteriorating climate. Now is the time to legislatively secure a new category of refugees and finally close the protection gap for a huge number of environmentally displaced victims.


Read more

Life in Greece: I Wish I Was A Bird


Ali spent 7 months in Greece on his journey from Iran to Germany. While he was there he took videos and photos on his phone and kept a diary, to record the harsh reality of daily life he and so many others who flee their homes and become stranded on the edge of Europe are forced to endure.


While he was there he met Aya and Cucutenna, and Aya has since compiled Ali’s words and footage in to a film spanning three months of his time in Greece. It portrays his intimate relationships with other refugees and the volunteers who stood with them in solidarity, and is a rare opportunity to see these conditions from the point of view of a person who has actually experienced them.


You can watch the full, 40-minute film below. Please note it has the options of both English and Bulgarian subtitles.



For more information on the film and Ali’s work, please head to the official website or Instagram page.


Below you can find a recent interview with Ali (full video version available here), who is now living in Germany and hopes to one day make films that will push for real change in the world.


Ali: The connection is not good. I’ll open the door so the WiFi can come in.


[Aya and Cucutenna laugh]


Ali: Yeah? Is it better now?


Aya: Yeah, I think it’s ok. So… the three of us met in Thessaloniki. We found out about Soul Food Kitchen so we started volunteering there. We actually thought that we would record a movie, but when we started working we just got very involved with that, and also it didn’t really feel right to just go and record the people because we didn’t really know them. But you were taking videos of people every day, and photos, and writing things, and you were posting them on Facebook. As soon as we left I just kept looking on your Facebook, what’s happening back in Thessaloniki. It just seemed like a good idea to put them together into a little movie so you can remember and so other people can see how it was. What motivated you to post so much?


Ali: Uum. Okay. Yeah I didn’t have Facebook because in Iran it’s blocked and I was also not interested in using it in the beginning. I was just lost in Thessaloniki for I think 2-3 days, and confused, I was in a place which language was different, everything was different, people were different, and I was there without any documents, without any passport. After a few days I saw the train station and the people who were living around there. In this time there were just a doctor from Italy and a guy from Greece who were coming there every afternoon to check the people, and another guy named Christos from Thessaloniki who was bringing food two times per week for sharing with people, there were around 500 people sleeping on the street. I just tried to cross the border in Macedonia, after 20 days I was sent back to Thessaloniki. But now even more people were coming because it was getting warmer and warmer. It was super busy and not that many volunteers. The doctor who was there before left. I already tried and I couldn’t do it so I said “f*ck it” I won’t think about my goal, I will just live in the moment, right now I need to do something for the situation, and I thought maybe with sharing posts on Facebook some people can come to help, who have more power than me.


Cucutenna: The events of the film happened over 2 years ago – do you know what the situation is like right now in Thessaloniki?


Ali: Right now not, I’m in Germany and I have my own life. I was more active and getting news from Thessaloniki until last February when I went to Greece again. I was two weeks there and almost nothing changed! There were a lot of people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, and there were other Africans also, like from Ethiopia. From Afghanistan and Pakistan especially there were a lot in this train station area, living in abandoned building and in other parts. Almost no change, I mean maybe some people get the chance to go further but as the problems are not gonna stop in their country they are gonna come. Since 30-40 years ago in Afghanistan there was always war, so when that problem is not stopping people are just leaving because they are losing everything and they have nothing more to lose. I also know refugees who couldn’t cross, they tried 20 times but they couldn’t so they decided to just stay in Greece although it’s really hard for them. Some of them live in flats, they are getting not from the government but from some organisation, like 150 euros per adult and 90 euros per kids. But it is not stable money…


Aya: Do you have any fond memories from your time in Thessaloniki?


A: Now that I’m thinking about that time I feel that I was a happy person although I was in a bad situation. Except for the first 40 days that I was in a really… [he chuckles] …I mean I could die in Macedonia forest alone, I was there for almost 19 days. So except of that part, I think every second was a happy memory. But one that can be on top was the time that I could do my first project. There was a doctor from Germany who was giving me every day some grapes for the adults and chocolate for the kids, and I was distributing them. He left after a while. After two months some kids came to me and said “Uncle Ali, Uncle Ali!”, I just said “Yeaah?” and they said “Hey! Give us some chocolate!” “What chocolate?! I don’t have chocolate.” “No, you were giving us every day!” Then I remembered and I felt really sad, I had a little bit money and I bought them some chocolate. But how can I do it every day? I wrote a letter and I put it on the table on some volunteers’ flat, and I made an origami boat for a money box, and everybody was putting as much as they could, and then I buy them chocolate for the next days. I said, now it’s working, cool. But I can’t take money from volunteers, I mean they giving their time, they are not getting any money, so I wrote a post in Facebook. After a few days I got a message from a guy I didn’t know. He said “Are you Michael Ali?” I said “Yeah… who are you?” “Can you come in the parking of train station?” I really scared in the beginning, I don’t know who is this person, and I knew everybody, all the refugees and volunteers, so it was a bit weird but I said OK. I went there and it was a black van, it was very scary. They opened the doors of the van, and I look and it was a big van full of chocolate! There were 2 old nice man from Germany, they saw my post. That was a really good memory.


Cucutenna: What is the most important lesson you learned in Thessaloniki?


Ali: I mean there are some cliché sentence, but I learned, I felt it, what can’t kill you make you really stronger. First night that I was alone in Macedonia forest I was crying for 3 hours because it was really dark. In Persian we call forest “jungle”, and I thought OK it’s a jungle! I didn’t know that it’s not that big. But it was still scary, you are in another place, you are in forest! There’s nobody who you can talk to. I didn’t have anything with me so I slept on a tree, because I scared of some animal. I thought that I’m gonna die, I was 100% sure. But then I was laughing, I’m gonna die, why shouldn’t I enjoy the rest of my life? Let’s see what will happen, the sun is gonna shine tomorrow. After that trip when I went back to Thessaloniki, I felt I don’t scare from anything, I don’t have any fear now. Even now I’m doing a lot of activities which are unbelievable for other people because I was in a really hard situation and I feel stronger. We should live in the moment that we are, not thinking just about future, future is gonna come, but your present right now is gonna be past in a few seconds, so why shouldn’t I enjoy?


Cucutenna: Can you tell us a bit about why you decided to leave, and also was it the first time you ever left Iran?


A: Yeah it was my first time that I left Iran. And… [he laughs]… The reason, I can’t just tell you…There are a lot but…


Cucutenna: It’s complicated?


Ali: Yeah it’s complicated, you know there are reasons, but they are not enough strong to get asylum. If I say the reason was that I was not a tree, I was a human, and if I was a tree I wouldn’t move. So I was not a tree, that’s why I moved! This reason is not gonna be enough strong to get asylum. I mean, there are a lot of things which are forbidden in Iran. There are people who like to live in that kind of life but there are things that were bothering me. I mean, they were killing me somehow.


Cucutenna: And now that you live in Germany do you feel like you can do everything you want to do?


Ali: Not everything. I can do more than I could do in Iran. After leaving Iran it’s almost impossible for me to live there again. It’s even harder than the past, because now you felt a bit of freedom. Sorry… there are reasons but I can’t say. What I told you, I mean, that can be enough reason that you might move.


Aya: Yeah of course. What are you up to now in Berlin? What do you do in your free time?


Ali: Huh! I’m climbing on the trees… When I’m bored and I have nothing else to do I just go to the park and start climbing on the trees, and then the kids are coming to me, and you know how is my friendship with kids. Here in the middle of Europe it’s a bit weird but we are becoming friends really fast. In the beginning the parents are looking at me like raises eybrows? [He laughs] And then when I leave the parents just come and say “Hey, thank you!” I’m going to study in October hopefully, in a film school here in Berlin. I was filming a lot but as I didn’t have a laptop I couldn’t edit them, but hopefully soon I will be able to do it. Before October I’m gonna learn something from you guys!


Cucutenna: What kinda movies do you want to make?


Ali: Sometimes I dream something and when I wake up I have a notebook and immediately I try to write it down that I don’t forget it. I already have 3-4 really nice stories, one comedy, one against racism – these two are short but I have idea about long film too.


Cucutenna: What are your dreams for the future?


Ali: Hm! Dreams… I think dreams are something that can be reachable or not reachable, but what I say are gonna 100% happen so… [he laughs]. I can say that my reachable goal is to make films which are gonna make changes in the world. Like the people who are watching them, they are gonna change in a good way. Not just watching a movie in a cinema and “OK, hahaha, I’m sad because of this situation but I’m not gonna do something. I don’t have time, I have my life”. Like with volunteering – some person goes there for work just for 2 weeks, but this helps, it’s not as small as they are thinking. I mean, even if the person was just washing the salads, it was keeping 400 people, it was keeping me alive! At the beginning that I was there, I met people who were 3-4 months there and they lost all their money, some of them to smugglers, they couldn’t talk with their family, they were ashamed. Some were going to a place, something called Cinema, where old men was taking them, and these people were having sex with that old man, and this person was giving them 5-10 euros, so they were buying some french fries with ketchup, five people were eating this, from the job which…I mean they had to do it to get something to eat. So these things you think are small, they are not really. It’s helping.


Aya: I have one last question. Do you still wish you were a bird?


Ali: I wish I was a bird. Then I could travel without any problems, fly anywhere that I want. But now I’m a bird that can just travel in Schengen. [He laughs]. So I’m a bird in a cage. So then I don’t take your time and we’ll talk later. Love both of you, miss you.


Aya + Cucutenna: We love you.



Website                         Instagram
Read more

Innocent, abused and imprisoned: the women of Yarl’s Wood


Luna Williams, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service (IAS), writes about the women detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. IAS offers legal aid for asylum-seekers, trafficking survivors and domestic abuse survivors.


Abused and imprisoned: the women of Yarl’s Wood


Every year, 2,000 women seeking refuge in the UK are detained. Most are held in Yarl’s Wood in
Bedfordshire; widely regarded as Britain’s most infamous detention and removal centre.
According to findings from Women for Refugee Women, between 77 and 85 percent of the women
who are detained here are survivors of abuse, with many surviving sex trafficking, rape, female
genital mutilation (FGM) and domestic violence.


Set Her Free

Women for Refugee Women began its investigation into Yarl’s Wood in 2014, launching an ongoing
campaign titled Set Her Free.

This campaign involved interviewing groups of women who were claiming asylum in the UK and had
been detained in Yarl’s Wood at some point during the process of their application, to find out about
trends and patterns in their experiences. Many of the women were being detained at the time they
were interviewed, and some had been released from detention and were living in the community to
wait out their claim.

The interviews were conducted by the group over three set periods, between 2014 and 2017, as a
means of discovering how things had changed and developed year-on-year.
In 2017, the campaigners released a report called ‘We are still here’, which assessed whether
proposed changes to the removal & detention process had created any sort of shift in the
experiences of women who were being detained.



The vast majority of the women interviewed (85 percent) were survivors of gender-based or sexual
violence, including rape, forced prostitution, and FGM. For many of these women, this was the
reason they had fled their home countries and were seeking refuge in the UK in the first place.
An issue which was highlighted by Women for Refugee Women in previous reports was the re-
traumatising affect of detention for these women. Unfortunately, this was something which was still
very present in 2017, with all the women interviewed stating that being detained had exacerbated
their mental health issues and trauma. Many victims of abuse experience PTSD, anxiety or
depression as a direct result of their experiences. Human rights activists argue that the detention
process makes these symptoms worse, ultimately re-traumatising survivors of abuse and violence.
Every woman interviewed for the ‘We are still here’ report described her mood as depressed; 8 in 10
said that they had had suicidal thoughts while they were detained; and 3 in 10 had attempted
suicide while there. Notably, when asked whether they felt being detained had contributed to their
mental illness, all the women interviewed said yes.

The experience of being detained can often cause those who have been abused to re-live their
traumas; many women who have suffered abuse in their home countries were actually held hostage
or imprisoned by their abusers, and so being detained physically places them back in the same
situation. This can severely trigger spikes in mental illness, particularly for those experiencing PTSD. Others may be traumatised by being in close proximity to men – who are overwhelmingly the
perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

This is another factor which contributes to the concerns of groups like Women for Refugee Women,
who argue that positioning male staff in detention centres can cause huge amounts of emotional
and psychological distress for women who have experienced sexual or gender-based abuse.
Additionally, women who have been imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood have consistently accused staff
members of abusing them – both physically and sexually.

Earlier this year, Beatrice Guessie, an ex-detainee of Yarl’s Wood spoke out about her experience
there, in which she described her own physical abuse at the hands of guards and staff members, as
well as the sexual abuse of some of her female peers. This was at a self-lead conference, for which
she wanted to tell her story and raise awareness for her women’s support charity, Light in the



It is not just from an ethical standpoint that it is possible to disagree with the UK’s detention of
vulnerable asylum-seekers.

Only 15 per cent of women seeking asylum who were detained in 2017 were ultimately removed
from Britain, while the majority (85 per cent) were released back into the community to await the
results of their claims for refuge. Most of these women then went on to be granted refugee status
and eventually apply for British citizenship. With this in mind, one has to question what purpose
detaining these women achieved, and whether the decision had any meaningful results other than
needlessly causing the emotional, mental and physical distress of vulnerable detainees?



On top of being ultimately ineffective, the cost of detaining asylum-seekers also places more doubt
on the purpose of the detention process. When compared with the cost of allowing an individual to
wait out their claim while living in the community – which amounts to a maximum of £37.75 a week
for a single asylum-seeker – detention costs are astronomical. It costs an average of £87.71 a day to
hold an asylum-seeker in Yarl’s Wood, equating to £576.22 a month – 1154 per cent more than the
cost of accommodating asylum-seekers in the community.

The state of Britain’s detention & removal system needs to be addressed immediately; not only is
detaining innocent abuse victims unethical, it is also ineffective and uneconomic. Imprisonment can
no longer be the default, especially when it comes to vulnerable women who have already
experienced a lifetime of targeted abuse and violence in their home countries. Instead, the UK
should be extending a welcoming hand to these women and treating them with the respect and
kindness that they desperately need.


To discuss the information contained in this article further, please contact Luna on editor@iasservices.org.uk.


Read more

Asylum seekers and the NHS: are hostile policies damaging services?

Luna Williams, IAS, writes about the hardships faced by those attempting to claim asylum in the UK.


In 1948, the NHS was founded as an ethical body; a public health service which doesn’t discriminate and offers support for any person no matter what their wealth, class or background. Unfortunately, over the last decade, a combination of budget cuts and hostile immigration policies have caused the NHS to compromise these ethics and forced it into a position in which it must discriminate in order to stay afloat.


According to a report which was released by the Observer earlier this year, at least three-quarters of NHS trusts hired private debt collector firms over the past three years to deal with the debts of destitute asylum-seekers. 8,468 patient debts were referred, according to the report, between the years of 2016 and 2018. Members of the firms were found to use tactics such as intimidating phone calls, doorstep visits and, in some cases, property possession. Despite this, only 7% of the unpaid debts were recovered, making these tactics not only unethical, but also unnecessary. This behaviour was despite guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Social Care, stating that NHS trusts are allowed to write off unpaid patient debts if it is “clear that a person is destitute or genuinely without funds”.


This is yet another sign of a UK service-provider being confused by hostile policies. A report by the Joint Committee for Welfare for Immigrants (JCWI) found that after the introduction of the Right to Rent Scheme – which encouraged landlords to discriminate against those who might be ‘illegal’ immigrants – caused a huge spike in discriminatory decision-making. According to the report, 43% of landlords said they would be less likely to rent to a tenant who didn’t have British citizenship, while a shocking 27% said they would be less willing to negotiate with anyone who had a “foreign-sounding” name or accent.


The Right to Rent Scheme was introduced alongside many other Government procedures which encouraged service-providers to act as border control officers, as part of the larger “hostile environment policy”. This policy was introduced initially to make the UK as unwelcoming as possible for ‘illegal’ immigrants, in the hope that they may “voluntarily leave”. As is seen in the case of the Right to Rent Scheme, many elements of the policy ultimately resulted in mass-discrimination, which affected the lives of genuine asylum-seekers, refugees and settled migrants across the UK. The policy was ultimately ended after the Windrush scandal – which saw hundreds of settled Windrush citizens and their families harassed and deported after their paperwork had been lost by the Home Office – but still seems to be continuing to impact and confuse the decisions made by various service-providers, employers and individuals in the UK today.


As in the case of many landlords, the blame cannot be placed on the NHS itself for such issues. The NHS has received various budget cuts over the last decade and is struggling to stay afloat: according to the Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS), the public health sector’s budget has been cut by 40% over the last eight years. As a result of these cuts, NHS trusts are evidently having to compromise their ethics in order to make ends meet.


Nonetheless, doctors have come forward to argue that discriminative procedures aimed at asylum-seekers and vulnerable migrants go against their professional and personal ethics. In one particular case, which took place in January, an Eritrean asylum-seeker was refused urgent cancer treatment by an NHS trust because he was unable to produce the correct paperwork. Doctors claim that circumstances like this force them to compromise their Hippocratic Oath: “to treat the ill to the best of your ability”.


Equally, paediatricians have voiced their feelings on policies which mean they must refuse care to individuals who are unable to produce documents to show they are eligible or pay upfront. With at least 120,000 undocumented migrant children in the UK (many of whom are victims of human trafficking), the refusal of health services causes major barriers in allowing them to reach the correct authorities and ultimately be healthy and safe.


It should not be up to the NHS to make decisions on the welfare and safety of asylum-seekers. Instead, the Government needs to clarify its stance on immigration policies and schemes in order to ensure that the NHS can retain its fundamental ethics of universality.


This article has been written by Luna Williams, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of immigration lawyers who give free legal advice and support to asylum seekers.

Read more

7 ways climate change affects refugees


1. Almost every second, someone is displaced by the effects of climate change or natural disaster.


41 people a minute are forced from their homes by extreme weather events. Floods, storms, heatwaves and drought will continue to worsen as temperatures rise, affecting people all over the world.


2. By 2050, there could be as many as one billion people displaced by rising temperatures.



Chris Madden climate change refugees


3. People fleeing climate change do not have the same legal rights as people fleeing war or persecution.


There is not currently adequate protection in international law for people fleeing the effects of climate change. They are “climate refugees”, but the refugee protection regime hasn’t yet been extended to cover them.


4. Those already displaced by violence, conflict or poverty are more vulnerable to secondary displacement as a result of climate change.


These people, who already have little choice over where they end up living, often reside in climate change ‘hotspots’ which expose them to secondary displacement.





5. By 2100, melting ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica could lead to a rise in sea level of almost two metres.


This would affect lower-lying cities in the US such as New York, flooding people’s homes and forcing them to move elsewhere.


6. Also by 2100, sea levels in Bangladesh’s coastal region are predicted to rise by as much as a metre.


This alone would displace 31.5 million people.


7. Rising temperatures could make places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar uninhabitable by 2071, leaving thousands of people with no choice but to flee.







Climate change is the most urgent threat of our time. People shouldn’t be forced to flee their homes because we are failing to stop its effects, but they are. We are the last generation that can act to prevent this.

Read more

Home Office profits £2 million a month from child citizenship fees

It has been revealed that the Home Office is charging fees so expensive for child citizenship applications that parents are being driven in to debt as they try to gather the funds to cover the costs.


The findings of a Freedom of Information request by charity Citizens UK show that the Home Office makes £2 million a month from these fees, amounting to £24 million a year (or £71,429 a day). It is estimated that 40,000 children in the UK are affected.


According to The Independent, the cost of a citizenship application for a child is £1,012. The cost of processing an application is £372. This means the Home Office is making a profit of roughly £640 per child application it receives. All the fees are non-refundable, so are not returned if an application fails.  


It’s incredibly difficult for many families in the UK to afford these prices without having to cut costs on other things. Some parents are being driven in to debt or overwork, and others are even being forced to skip meals to save money.


Also this week David Bolt, the UK’s Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, released a report on the Home Office’s mechanisms for charging for services in relation to asylum and immigration.


Bolt recommended that the Home Office take a closer look at the effects of such high fees on “vulnerable individuals, including children”, and “demonstrate that it has fully considered these effects in determining fee levels, annual increases, the availability of waivers, and refunds”. He reported that “a number of people [he spoke to within his research] were clearly distressed by the effect the fees had had on them or their family or friends”.


Without proper, legal documentation such as a passport, many children who have grown up in the UK are unable to progress to university should they want to, or even to secure full-time work. This will have an incredibly negative impact on them in later life, making it difficult for them to fulfill their potential and contribute to society in the ways in which they’d like to. Through these fees the Home Office is excluding thousands of children from society on the basis that their parents do not earn a high enough income.

Read more

Is the EU funding forced labour in Eritrea?

The EU has denied claims from Eritrean human rights activists that it is funding a scheme in Eritrea which uses forced labour.


It has pledged to spend £17m in Eritrea as part of its Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, a scheme which aims to curb “irregular migration” by supporting programmes creating jobs in various African countries. This £17m will be spent on improving Eritrea’s road network.


The problem with these road network improvements, though, is that National Service recruits will be used. At present there is an official requirement in Eritrea for people – once they reach the age of 18 and before they turn 40 – to carry out national service. This used to be for a period of 18 months per person, but since the end of the country’s civil war with Ethiopia in 2000 the period has been extended indefinitely.


According to Human Rights Watch, the majority of able-bodied adult Eritreans are currently partaking in “indefinite, compulsory” active national service. A fact-finding mission report published in 2008 by the European Parliament Committee on Development similarly indicated that military service “often extends over decades”. People have compared it to modern day slavery, reporting torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest, a lack of basic sanitation and hygiene provisions and forced labour on farms, in mines or on construction sites for less than US$60 a month.


Because of this, thousands of people – particularly those in their final year of high school – have fled Eritrea in the past few years to claim asylum elsewhere. According to Amnesty International, forced conscription has “robbed the country’s youth of their dreams, creating a generation of refugees… Eritrean youth have only two life options: undertake the compulsory, indefinite national service in conditions that amount to forced labour, or flee the country, risking their lives in search of a better life overseas.” 


Last year in the UK alone, 2,158 people from Eritrea submitted applications for asylum. In 2017, Eritrea was the top country of origin for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the UK. 


A spokesperson for the EU said in an email to the BBC that the EU does not support indefinite national service in Eritrea. If it goes ahead with plans to fund this road network improvement programme, though, it will be doing just that. As demonstrated, to support indefinite national service in Eritrea is to support forced labour in Eritrea.


FHRE is threatening to sue the EU, warning in a letter that it will take the organisation to court for violating its own Charter of Fundamental Rights if it does not withdraw from the road-building project.

Read more