Tom Steadman

Why are so many people fleeing Eritrea?

“I go UK,” he says, “And I have job, I work.  And I have house, and bed. Maybe television.  But house, and bed.  Here, three people in tent for one people.  In UK, I have bed.”

 

I’m sitting in a waiting room in Calais, France with three young men.  They’re fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen – all here to see the doctor, all refugees. The oldest, Eferm, continues: “Is no good have money.  Money no good.”  His friends laugh and punch his arm – “No, is good be rich!” – but he shakes his head and tells me gravely that money is not important.  “Important is be happy.  I be very happy, have job and bed.”

 

Eferm was born in Eritrea, a small country on the Red Sea, bordered by Sudan, Djibouti, and Ethiopia.  Of its population of 5.3 million people, more than 480 000 have been forcibly displaced.  The majority flee to neighbouring countries, but tens of thousands have made it to the European Union, hoping for asylum.  There are just under 50,000 Eritrean refugees in Germany – in 2017, the tiny country came just after Syria for the number of refugee applicants in Europe.  If the same proportion of the UK were to be displaced, there would be over 7 million UK asylum-seekers in the world.

 

Why are Eritreans fleeing their country in such staggering numbers? 

“What is no good in Eritrea?”  I ask Eferm.  “I know that everyone has to go to the army.”  He counts on his fingers: “No work, no food, army, bad government.”

 

Bad may be a misnomer.  Eritrea has a totalitarian government that has been in place for 25 years.  There are no elections, no constitution, and no independent press.  The slightest rumour of political activism, or even sympathy with dissenters, is grounds for immediate arrest and indefinite detention.  The United Nations Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea is a horrifying read, as is the US 2017 Human Rights ReportEven the most clinical language cannot soften the list of human rights abuses: arbitrary arrests and indefinite detentions, the widespread use of torture in prisons and during military service and training, complete government control of movement and resources, and compulsory, indefinite national service.  The government maintains complete control by forcing its citizens to spy on one another – if they refuse, they might be disappeared; if they have nothing to report, they can be jailed.  Any journey, even to the next city, requires a yellow travel pass. Coupons are used to buy foods in government stores, and can be frozen at any time. The average wage during national service is equivalent to €52 a month; in a government store, a litre of sunflower oil and half a kilo of pasta cost €5 each.

 

Eferm was lucky to have gone to school until he was seventeen, but like all  Eritreans, at eighteen he was to transfer to a military barracks where his national service would begin.  “That’s why you left?” I ask Eferm. “So you didn’t have to go to the army?”  He shrugs. “Some people, they go fight Ethiopia people, Sudan people.  My brother, he go.  Very bad.  Fighting, very bad.  I say, better try go UK.”

 

Ethiopia and Eritrea have been fighting a bloody border war for twenty years.  Peace was officially and unexpectedly declared in July of last year, but the Horn of Africa, which includes Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somali, is the site of economic and political power struggles between China and the USA, and European and Middle Eastern influences.  I spoke with Eferm in June, before the peace declaration, but since then, other Eritrean refugees have told me that they are doubtful that the peace will last, or that there will be other problems soon with Yemen and Sudan. And in any case, they say, there is no future for them in Eritrea. Returning refugees are often jailed and tortured, and the government shows no signs of considering democracy or changes to the mandatory national service.

 

“Eritrea finish.  I love Eritrea, my country. But Eritrea, me, finish,” says Eferm matter-of-factly.  When I ask him if he has family or friends in the UK, his eyes drop down to his hands.  He shows me a small black heart, clumsily tattooed between his finger and thumb.  “My mother, one month no phone.  Calais is very bad.  I tell mother is okay, no problem.  Not true, no good.  So, no phone.”

Eritrean refugees in Calais

Two people living rough in Calais comfort each other outside the Refugee Info Bus, a mobile information and wifi service enabling people to connect with loved ones and access information about the asylum system in France.

 

I have no comfort to offer Eferm. Calais is, indeed, very bad. We are at the clinic today for the boys to use the shower: they need to wash off the scabies cream applied yesterday. The treatment may offer them relief for a short time, but they will be back to the clinic again soon; the boys are living outside in tents, and the cold weather forces them to share their infected shelters.  The organization I volunteer with distributes clean tents, blankets, and sleeping bags when we have enough donations, but we can’t keep up with the scabies – we barely manage to replace the tents and blankets taken by the police during the daily evictions.  Their clothes are likewise infected.

 

I sit with Eferm in silence until the nurse pokes his head in the room and beckons him to the showers. He comes back with wet hair, looking sheepish in flip-flops and a baggy t-shirt.  He holds out a plastic bag: “Doctor say, new shirt, new jean, new sock.  This no good.”  I glare at the nurse as the boys run ahead to the van – Étienne knows very well that my organization doesn’t have the resources to provide clean clothes for every refugee with scabies.  But today I’ll go to the hoppers where we keep the donations and choose a good jumper and jeans for Eferm.

 

A laughing, teasing crowd of young Eritreans swoops down on the van as I drop Eferm and his friends back at their tents.  They pile into the van, turn up the music, fuss with their hair in the mirrors.  Each of these boys defied Eritrea’s shoot-to-kill border policy and crossed into Ethiopia or Sudan.  They survived crossing the Mediterranean, evaded or escaped kidnapping for ransom by human traffickers, crossed through Europe, and have ended up here in Calais: so close, and so far, from  their dream of a safe haven in England.

 

The vast majority of displaced people and asylum seekers stay as refugees in neighbouring countries.  80% of the world’s refugees are hosted in developing countries, most in Africa. It’s a small percentage that decide to make the long, dangerous journey across hostile borders to reach the safest and richest countries in the world.  These boys are amongst that minority.  Many have family or friends that have been resettled in English towns and cities, but most of them know very little about what to expect in the UK.  They tell me that people are kinder there, less racist, nicer to refugees.  I’ve asked some of the boys if they’ve considered claiming asylum in other countries – here in France, perhaps. “France, no good.  France police, all day beat, spray,” Eferm says. He’s not wrong.  Last November the organizations I work with released a report on police violence against refugees in Calais.  Some of the hundreds of testimonies of human rights abuses were ones that I recorded myself.  After having held the hands of a crying sixteen-year-old Eritrean as he described being beaten by five police officers, I find it hard to love France, let alone tell Eferm that the asylum system is England is no better than in other European countries.

 

I never ask any of the refugees that I accompany to the clinic if they regret leaving their country.  I want them to look to the future, to focus on their goals – many of which are as simple as a job, and a bed.

Eritrean host countries

 


This article was written by Help Refugees volunteer Laura Heit, who currently works out of our warehouse in Calais. You can support our work here.

Header photo was taken by David Levene for the Guardian.

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Lift the Ban: busting some myths around asylum seekers and work

Alongside more than 150 organisations across the UK, Help Refugees is calling on the Government to give people seeking asylum in the UK the right to work. At the moment, asylum seekers are banned from working while they await a decision on their application and have to survive on a little over £5 per day.

There are some common misconceptions about asylum seekers and work that appear in the media. These are often used to argue that people seeking asylum should not be allowed to work, but they do not stand up to scrutiny.

 

Allowing people seeking asylum to work does not create a “pull-factor”

A common argument for restricting work rights for people seeking asylum is that allowing people to work would create a “pull-factor” – an extra incentive to come to this country. But research by the University of Warwick shows this is simply not the case .

Studies, including one commissioned by the Home Office, have shown that access to work has little, if any, affect on where people seek asylum. The Lift the Ban report shows there is not one piece of credible, published evidence of a long-term link between labour market access and asylum destination.

Often, people have little choice in where they seek asylum. In cases where people have some degree of choice, it is primarily based on language, colonial links between their home country and the host country, having family or friends in the host country, or a belief that the host country is safe, tolerant and democratic.

Furthermore, the report shows that people seeking asylum often do not have knowledge of the host country’s policies on working rights prior to their arrival. And research has shown that restricting the right to work has no effect on the number of asylum applications a country receives.

Allowing people seeking asylum to work does not encourage “economic migrants”

Some go further and argue that such a policy would lead to more “economic migrants” applying for asylum in order to work. This, too, is not borne out by the evidence. It also makes little sense.

Our coalition is calling for asylum seekers who had been waiting for a decision on their application for over six months to be allowed to work. Researchers have widely discredited that this would encourage people to come to the country solely for economic reasons.

For people who arrive in the UK without a visa and intend to work, research suggests it is easier for them to remain hidden and work illegally. It is unlikely they would put themselves through the asylum process and bring themselves to the attention of the authorities, putting themselves at risk of deportation, in the hope that their application will be delayed and they won’t be able to work for at least six months.

The benefits of giving asylum seekers the right to work

If the UK were to adopt a six-month waiting period, it would go from being an outlier to joining the international mainstream.

Spain, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and many more countries across Europe have already shown that giving asylum seekers the right to work after six months or less can bring benefits to both the local community and people seeking asylum.

Our coalition of charities, think tanks and faith groups argue that giving people seeking asylum the right to work would:

• Strengthen people’s chances of being able to integrate into and contribute to their new communities.
• Allow people seeking asylum to live in dignity and to provide for themselves and their families.
• Give people the opportunity to use their skills and make the most of their potential.
• Improve the mental health of people in the asylum system.
• Help to challenge forced labour, exploitation, and modern slavery.

It’s time for a change. Join us in urging the Government to move rapidly to grant the right to work for people seeking asylum by reading the full report and signing our petition demanding the government #LiftTheBan.


This article was written for Help Refugees by James Burgess.

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We need 3,000 sleeping bags in Calais!

Our stock of sleeping bags and blankets for Calais & Dunkirk is running desperately low, and right now we’re unable to keep up with demand. In the next 15 days, we need your help to collect 3,000 sleeping bags and 5,000 blankets.

Thanks to incredible public support in December, we’ve been able to distribute bedding every week of winter so far. But with over 100 evictions last month, people are once again being left in the cold with nothing to protect themselves. Our stocks are running low, and we need help to make sure anyone sleeping rough in Northern France, at the very least, has a blanket or sleeping bag to keep them warm at night.

 

What can you do to help? Don’t have a spare sleeping bag or blanket?

On 26th February, we’re sending a truck to all the drop offs in London to pick up donated sleeping bags and blankets. For the rest of the UK, all donations will be picked up in the coming weeks!

So if you have any spares (or would like to organise a collection), please please please send to your local donation drop-off point before the end of the month!

A sleeping bag isn’t a bed. It’s not enough. But in the freezing cold of night, it can be the key to preventing hypothermia. Find out any and everything you’ll need to know about organising a donation in our information pack. 

 

Where is my local drop-off?

PLEASE NOTE: If your local drop-off is an Emmaus location – please make sure to label your donation “HELP REFUGEES – CALAIS” 

If you have any questions at all, feel free to contact us at calaisdonations@helprefugees.org. Thank you so much for your continued support – we love you!


If you don’t have a sleeping bag or blanket, but would still like to help, buy one from our Choose Love store, and we’ll get them to where they’re most needed!

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Open letter: Home Office’s ‘Joint Action Plan’ ignores international law

The “Joint action plan by the UK and France on combating illegal migration involving small boats in the English Channel” sea crossings is, primarily, a symptom of the desperation, untenable conditions and lack of safe and effective routes to seek asylum faced by displaced people in Northern France. Until these root causes are addressed, asylum seekers will continue to take perilous journeys in their attempt to seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom.

 

The right to seek asylum

The 1951 Refugee Convention and the subsequent 1967 Protocol, ratified by both the UK and France, assert and protect the right of individuals to seek asylum. Yet you consistently refer to the women, children and men in the Northern France area as ‘illegal migrants’. We would like to remind you of your obligation to assess each displaced person’s asylum claim, before pre-judging the outcome and assigning them a certain legal status. The majority of the displaced community in Northern France originate from countries that are well-known for their persecution (including, but not limited to, Iran and Eritrea) and others plagued by war, conflict and generalised violence (including, but not limited to, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Sudan).

According to §14 of the ‘Joint Action Plan’, and if recent media reports are to be trusted, you will be sending asylum-seekers back to France without allowing them to have their claims assessed adequately in Britain. This violates both their rights and the UK’s obligations, as established above. Those who arrive by boat have the same right to have their asylum claim fairly assessed, as do others arriving by different means.

The UK in Northern France: spending and securitisation

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We have seen little evidence of the £3.6 million Development Fund, allocated by the Sandhurst Treaty in January 2018 to improve the process for those seeking asylum in the UK, in action.

The UK has spent, and continues to spend, vast sums of money on policies in Northern France thatneither support the displaced population nor address the causes of their irregular crossings. There has been little evidence of the £3.6 million Development Fund, allocated by the Sandhurst Treaty in January 2018, in action. Organisations on the ground, including those who have co-signed this letter, affirm that its impact on asylum procedures and the living conditions for those in Northern France has been negligible at best.

The Joint Action Plan commits a further £6m of public funds to fortifying the border, and thus perpetuates the British government’s prioritisation of a buttressed concept of state security over the rights and protection of vulnerable individuals.

We further note with concern that, in §6, the signatories appear to conflate such spending with the protection of Britain from terrorism. This contributes to the legitimisation of rhetoric which collapses the topics of asylum, migration and counter-terrorism into one, and narratives which frame asylum-seekers as a threat to public safety.

In §2, you assert that recent security measures have been a ‘success’, but also note that they are one of the reasons that individuals have attempted perilous journeys across the Channel in order to seek asylum. In short, it follows that the measures have succeeded in pushing vulnerable individuals to take greater risks and forcing smuggling networks further underground.

Furthermore, such a claim seeks to detach the dire conditions in Northern France from the reasons that drive people in to small boats at night. By placing the emphasis on the evasion of border security, it removes individuals’ actions from the context in which they exist. In Northern France, that is one characterised by ongoing police violence and harassment; a lack of effective access to asylum procedures; and a profound lack of shelter and support for vulnerable people.

Prior experience of destitution and precarity elsewhere in Europe, coupled with the knowledge that any informal settlements and shelters re-emerging in the Northern France area would be imminently demolished, seems to be a key motivator for displaced individuals to accept any possible ‘exit plan’ available. The ongoing government response to human suffering in Northern France appears to consist of dispersals and push-backs, arbitrary detention and removals, evictions and demolitions, the blocking of humanitarian aid, sanitation and medical care, potentially intentional sleep deprivation and the overall criminalisation of solidarity. This raft of measures has contributed to the continuous application of structural and physical violence against displaced people in the area, driving individuals to take desperate measures.

Strategic communication

It is of utmost importance that the ‘strategic communication campaign’ referred to in §13 has, as its ultimate aim, the goal of ensuring that vulnerable individuals are familiar with and can access the support that they need, including the processes by which they can seek asylum in the UK (including Dublin III and s. 67) or in France. It must be designed in collaboration with aid groups operating in the Northern France, and ensure that any information is presented in an accessible, sensitive and child-friendly manner.

In sum, your approach chooses to ignore not only international law, but also the wider context of asylum in Europe, and asylum seekers’ individual circumstances. We invite you to enter into dialogue with us about these matters.

Sincerely,

Refugee Rights Europe

Help Refugees

Refugee Infobus

Refugee Youth Service

Utopia 56

L’Auberge des Migrants

Refugee Community Kitchen

School Bus Project

Refugee Women’s Centre

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The impact of indefinite detention: an introduction

‘They treat us like animals, what do we have? …I don’t know when I am going to go out, its like hell over here’ (Asylum Seeker, Harmondsworth Detention Centre)

The UK has one of the largest immigration detention complexes in Europe: in 2017, more than 26,000 people entered detention, and some 2,500 – 3,000 people are held at any given time. Yet unlike any other country in Europe, the UK’s immigration system has no time limit for detention, leaving vulnerable people trapped in an uncertain limbo.

People can legally be held in immigration detention if their asylum applications are being processed or have been refused by the Home Office. Last year, more than a quarter of detainees were held for one to four months, and almost two thousand people were detained for more than four months. As of 30 June 2017, the longest detention time was 1,514 days – more than four years – a figure that massively surpasses other European detention standards, such as the 32-day detention limit in France and six-week detention limit in Germany.

Detention, abuse and mental health

The harm caused by such lengthy deprivations of liberty is compounded by the fact that those claiming asylum are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the general population.

An ‘adults at risk’ framework was created in 2016 to ensure that ‘genuine cases of vulnerability are consistently identified’ and ‘vulnerable people are not detained inappropriately’.

However, this framework has failed to protect victims of torture, sexual or gender-based violence, human trafficking and modern slavery, all of whom continue to be detained in unacceptable conditions, lacking the specialised support that they require, for prolonged amounts of time.

indefinite detention suicides

A truly shocking statistic: there were two suicide attempts by detainees every day last year.

Indefinite detention has a devastating impact on the mental health of detainees. Self-harm is common; last year, there were two suicide attempts by detainees each day, and eleven deaths. A BBC Panorama investigation included shocking footage of the abusive treatment faced by asylum seekers at Brook House Detention centre in September 2017. Recordings showed an officer appearing to throttle one man and threatening to put him to sleep. Additional footage showed serious verbal assaults and psychological abuse towards detainees.

Complaints of sexual mistreatment and violence by staff at Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre housing women and families, are ongoing. Recent reports include guards propositioning women for sex and humiliating them during strip-searches.

Unlawful detention

It has recently been revealed that the Home Office has unlawfully held individuals in detention, after Courts have ruled that they can be released. This is due to Home Office failures to provide accommodation for asylum seekers, despite having a legal duty to do so. Their defence? That emergency housing is ‘not dissimilar’ to detention, save for the deprivation of detainees’ liberty.

Taken with the fact that asylum accommodation has been reported as ‘damp, dirty [and] vermin infested’, and that detention centres have been ruled ‘prison-like’, we are presented with a damning picture of Britain’s attitudes towards vulnerable asylum seekers.

One asylum seeker, who was granted bail after spending 10 months in detention, was rejected for accommodation by the Home Office on the grounds that he ‘was not destitute by the fact he is being housed [in detention] and his dietary needs are catered to’.

The letter drew similarities between the facilities in detention and asylum accommodation, arguing the main difference to be the ‘lack of liberty’. This inhumane disregard for a person’s freedom has enormous costs, both mental (to the detainee) and financial (to the taxpayer): beyond the immediate costs of incarceration, the Home Office has paid £21m in compensation in the past five years alone for holding people in unlawful and prolonged detention.

If individuals are released, huge backlogs of work and severe staff shortages have resulted in multiple failures by the Home Office in providing accommodation. In January, the government repealed a law that had allowed homeless detainees to apply for accommodation whilst still in detention, leaving many on the streets, reliant on the good will of charities and individuals for food and housing.

The campaign to end detention

A tentative step forward has been identified in the government’s recent announcement that Campsfield detention centre will close by May 2019, an encouraging step by Home Secretary Sajid Javid to reduce the number of people detained at any given time.

The decision marks a move towards reducing the Home Office’s targets by almost 40% and has meant nearly 300 less bed spaces in the UK’s detention domain. However, civil society organisations have expressed concern that these beds may instead be replaced in plans for expanded detention centres at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Compassion and understanding should be at the heart of our immigration and asylum policies. Instead, the detention of refugees and migrants is a manifestation of systemic disregard for the wellbeing of vulnerable individuals.  Until an alternative is implemented, it will continue to produce heart-breaking and unnecessary consequences.

This article has been written by Maddie Grounds, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service, for Help Refugees.

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An offer for the Home Secretary

Over the last few weeks we have become increasingly concerned at the statements coming from the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid. In response, our partners Good Chance Theatre have made him an offer he can’t refuse.

Good Chance have have sent a letter to the Home Secretary offering to organise a special performance of The Jungle Play so that he can learn about the histories of the people who are making these journeys, and meet people who have themselves come through Calais and are now working and succeeding in the UK.

We’ve offered to give a presentation on the deteriorating conditions and hostile environment in Northern France forcing people to risk their lives in search of safety in the UK.

The posts are gaining traction but we need your support. Together we want to #StartAConversation about why people seek asylum, worsening conditions in Calais causing people to risk their lives & help more people better understand the human beings behind the headlines.

Will you retweet the post, and urge the Home Secretary to accept our offer? 

 

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A Brief Timeline Of The Human Rights Situation In Calais

On the occasion of the two-year milestone since the demolition of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp, we have co-published a report with Refugee Rights Europe in order to highlight the human rights situation which has been unfolding in Northern France.

After decades of encampments and evictions, it is evident that the state approach tried so far is simply not working. It is high time for meaningful change. In light of this, Refugee Rights Europe and Help Refugees urgently call on the French and British governments to find new, constructive solutions, including:

  • A non-violent approach adopted as the default position by French authorities, and a de-escalation of the tense situation for refugees and displaced people in Northern France.
  • The urgent provision of adequate shelter, food, water and sanitation, as well as accessible information and legal guidance.
  • An increased presence of social workers, interpreters, medical staff and psychologists in northern France, and assurance that such services are available without discrimination based on immigration status.
  • An end to the harassment and intimidation of volunteers and charities providing displaced people with humanitarian aid.
  • Expanded safe and legal pathways to Britain, through which asylum applications, Dublin Regulation family reunification applications and Dubs cases can be processed.

For many years, a bottle-neck scenario has been unfolding in Northern France, characterised by precarity, rough-sleeping, dangerous and unauthorised border-crossings, and excessive police violence whichoften takes the shape of dangerous interventions.

A child walks towards police during a raid of the 20 establishments providing food for the residents of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp (Refugee Info Bus)

The use of tear gas and intimidation tactics, as well as what would appear to amount to intentional sleep deprivation, appears to be part of a conscious tactic by the French state to create a hostile environment for refugees and asylum seekers in Northern France.

Such an approach – combined with an undeniable failure on part of the British government to meaningfully facilitate safe and legal passage for prospective asylum-seekers and those looking to be reunited with family in Britain – directly hinders an effective resolution to a detrimental and decades-long situation. Will you take action and write to your MP condemning the current approach? We have written a template letter that you can send in less than 60 seconds. Please join us in demanding a better response to the crisis in France today. 

 


Hundreds of displaced people – in Calais, Grande-Synthe and beyond – are sleeping on the streets. They are preparing to face another winter without shelter, and are dependent on volunteers for support. If you are able to help us help them, please donate here.

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Lift the Ban: why people seeking asylum should have the right to work

Right now, right here in the UK, people seeking asylum are banned from working and forced to live on just £5.39 a day. We think this is wrong.

That’s why today, alongside 87 charities, unions, think tanks, faith groups and businesses, we are launching a new campaign to #LiftTheBan and fight for the right to work. Join us. Read the report and sign the petition and tell the Home Secretary to #LiftTheBan!

71% of the public agree that people seeking asylum should be allowed to work, an amazingly high level of agreement for any issue.

But high public support is just one of the countless good reasons and practical arguments to lift the ban.

“I want to work – I don’t want any more hand-me-downs. I want to enjoy the reward of my sweat. I don’t want to rely on the Government’s benefits – I want to work so I can prove myself to my children.” Rose

We believe that people who have risked everything to find safety should have the best chance of contributing to our society and integrating into our communities. This means giving people seeking asylum the right to work so that they can use their skills and live in dignity.

Our coalition of charities, think tanks and faith groups argue in this report that giving people seeking asylum the right to work would:

  • Strengthen people’s chances of being able to integrate into their new communities.
  • Allow people seeking asylum to live in dignity and to provide for themselves and their families.
  • Give people the opportunity to use their skills and make the most of their potential.
  • Improve the mental health of people in the asylum system.
  • Help to challenge forced labour, exploitation, and modern slavery

It’s time for a change. Join us in urging the Government to move rapidly to grant the right to work for people seeking asylum by reading the full report and signing our petition demanding the government #LiftTheBan.


We want to thank all the brilliant organisations that have contributed to the Lift The Ban campaign. We are honoured to be a part of the coalition to grant asylum seekers the right to work, and work with 87 organisations all demonstrating that when we work together, we can create long-lasting, positive change at the highest level. #ChooseLove.

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Evictions in Dunkirk leave hundreds without shelter

Yesterday, authorities in Grande-Synthe evicted an unofficial camp of approximately 800 people.

Over 400 people, including 60 families and nearly 100 children, were taken onto buses destined for accommodation.

By midnight last night, two buses had returned to Grande-Synthe due to lack of space in the accommodation centres. People were left on the streets to fend for themselves. One person on the bus reported to aid workers that they had been driven around for eight hours with no access to food and water before being told to get off the bus.

We welcome attempts to get displaced people housed in appropriate accommodation, but we denounce the lack of information given to people during this process.

Further reports from the field state that approximately 100 people had desired access to accommodation but were turned away, with one testimony detailing “they break everything, they crush everything and they say to the people ‘go’ – but where do we go? ‘Anywhere else. Just don’t stay in the jungle.’”

Due to the police perimeter surrounding the recently evicted camp, ex-inhabitants had no access to water for the entire day. Throughout the night and day, more families continued to arrive back in Grande-Synthe. One family had a 10-month year old baby with severe asthma. Thanks to quick reactions from Gynécologie sans Frontières the child was receiving medical treatment and hopefully will be accommodated appropriately soon.

Another family was taken to emergency accommodation by Refugee Women’s Centre, who negotiated with the authorities to take the entire family and not abandon the father to sleep rough on the streets. Those in charge of emergency accommodation stated that they would not be willing to take in any more of the Kurdish community due to the large number of homeless Kurdish people in Grande-Synthe. This left people, evicted from their tents earlier in the day, homeless and without shelter – simply because of their race.

Dunkirk refugee

Refugees wait outside the warehouse, whilst Mobile Refugee Support provide phone charging and wifi. Photo: Mobile Refugee Support

At the emergency distribution point, hundreds of people arrived to access their first meal of the day. Food was distributed successfully by Refugee Community Kitchen and Mobile Refugee Support provided phone charging and WiFi, a much needed lifeline for people to be able to contact family and their support network.

When aid workers on the ground finally packed up and left after a hectic 10 hours they left up to 300 people huddled outside of an abandoned warehouse.

Some people had blankets. Some people just had the clothes on their back, but everyone had the same thought running through their mind: “what do we do now?”


Grassroots groups are continuing to response to the crisis. We support Refugee Info Bus, Refugee Community Kitchen and Refugee Women’s Centre, please help us continue to support their work here.

All the pictures above were taken by Mobile Refugee Support. They are on-the-ground everyday doing incredible work to help refugees in Dunkirk, and desperately need your support. Please support their work here.

You can also organise collections at home, and start getting involved in the response here.

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Refugee Stories: Mohammed Nabeel

This letter was written by Mohammed Nabeel, who was captured and tortured by the Syrian Regime. He is currently living in a refugee camp in Greece with his wife and son. This post was originally published on our partner Refugee Support’s website.

I grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, which was bombed. Missiles and mortar killed my friends and burnt my home.

I never wanted to leave Syria, but I had no choice. I was arrested and tortured by the Regime for six months. It felt like 60 years. They hung me for three hours each day in a 1×1 metre cell. I shared a cell with two other men; we had to sleep standing up because there wasn’t enough space. I thought I was dead. They accused me of being a rebel, but I had never fought in my life.

My shoulders cracked. I can’t even carry my child. When you enter interrogation, you are totally naked. People are dying and screaming in front of you. They hit me with electricity cables. But the most difficult part is the hanging. I was blindfolded and often lost consciousness.

When I finally came out of prison, I went home. But what I saw was incomprehensible. At each side of my town, militia were fighting each other with missiles. My wife was shot. Food was not available, and used as a weapon of war. My wife – Rania – was pregnant, but we lost our baby.

Mohammed’s wife, a successful wedding photographer in Syria, now lives in a container in a refugee camp in Greece. Photo: Celeste Hibbert

I had no choice but to leave. I carried my son the best I could, and my wife – who could barely walk because the bullet was still in her knee. We walked to Turkey, and eventually arrived in Greece. They call it ‘The Journey of Death.’

We had reached safety, but we were unprepared for what was to come.

After walking for two days, we were given a tent filled with rain. I had to use my only clothes to mop up the dirt. My son cried because it was so cold. Rats played inside the tent. My child didn’t understand why we had to leave. He developed a serious fever, but there was no ambulance and I had no money to transport him to the hospital. I walked for miles, and carried him on my cracked shoulders. Would we have been better off in Syria?

Mohammed with his wife and son in their container in refugee camp in Greece. Photo: Celeste Hibbert

My family now live in a container in a field. I am an engineer, and my wife is a successful wedding photographer, but we are not allowed to work. I don’t want to live on handouts, but we have no choice. We are at the mercy of government policies, and must wait until December 2019 for our next interview to claim asylum.

I feel so much shame, that I can’t provide for my wife and son. I am humiliated. We are stuck; a number in a system.

Even if I get residency in Greece, I have no passport, so I can’t visit my sister in Turkey or mother who is still trapped in Syria. There is also no work here. I don’t want anything from this life, I am not asking for money, housing or clothes. All I want is to secure a dignified life for my wife and son. I want to sweat, and work for their future. We are strong, we have survived pain only Syrians can understand. But, I need a new kind of strength: hope.

I miss my family. I haven’t seen them in three years. My brother is still imprisoned by the Regime, I pray he is alive. Why is it my sin, that I was born in Syria? Born as a Palestinian with no rights, no identity?

In the name of my family, I appeal to anyone who will listen. Is it not our right to sleep on a bed? Buy our own food? Protect our children from falling bullets?

Who knows. I sit in my container, waiting…and waiting. Trapped. Helpless.

It is not our right to live too?

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