Tom Steadman

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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Three Questions About Volunteer Intimidation In Calais

The authorities in Calais have a long history of obstructing, intimidating and harassing aid workers who provide food, material aid, shelter, social services and legal support to refugees.

In June of this year, a team of three volunteers were detained by police in Dunkirk for providing aid to over four hundred refugees sleeping rough on a patch of waste ground by the A16 motorway. A team distributing food was turned away. Members of the Refugee Women and Children’s Centre were detained for working with vulnerable families. The reason? The volunteers possessed English passports. All non-French volunteers, regardless of the legal status of their organization in the country, had been banned from providing aid to or even interacting with the members of the community of refugees living there. When asked to explain the legal basis for the order, an officer told the volunteers to “go to Paris, and ask the President.”

Actions like this come as no surprise to those of us familiar with Calais and Dunkirk. Volunteers are subject to near-constant ID checks and roadside stops, and are often detained on the most trivial of grounds. They are shoved to the ground, insulted, and filmed on personal devices by police officers during the course of their work. Their phones are broken as they try to record police activity, something that is entirely within their rights. The water containers they deliver to refugees are quietly tear-gassed, so that they cause intense pain and discomfort to those who return to pick them up. All of this has been reported to authorities, and can be seen in the new report written by L’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees, Refugee Info Bus and Utopia 56. Yet, little-to-none of this behaviour is punished, or responded to in any way by senior officials. Macron, during his visit to Calais at the beginning of the year, flatly denied any abuses of power by police personnel.

Such behaviour must not be dismissed as the excesses of individual officers. The legality and acceptability of grassroots solidarity is being systematically eroded across Europe in response to what governments perceive to be a growing refugee crisis. In many places, aid organisations are the only gap in an otherwise lethally securitised place. Without them, the process of seeking refuge would be far more difficult, and far more lethal. As long as European governments are willing to tolerate the deaths of refugees in order to maintain the bureaucratic sanctity of the border, the service these volunteers provide is vital. A society hostile to migrants has real and tangible impacts: the recent spate of murders in Italy is a grim illustration of this.

Basic humanitarian advocacy has even landed one of my own colleagues in a courtroom, forcing him to play along with an entirely legal absurdity, all on public expense. Hungary is one step ahead on this grim campaign, having passed the ‘Stop Soros’ law that criminalizes anyone who assists asylum seekers in the country. In June the Italian government turned away the rescue ships Aquarius, Seefuchs, and Lifeline; in the first three days of July 200 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean.

This kind of treatment is not new. Not so long ago, what we recognize as modern activism would hardly have been permitted at all. But it is crucial to frame the suppression of activism in Europe within the global context. Brazil’s environmental activists experience violence and intimidation, something that Europe condemns. LGBT+ activists are under similar threat in Russia, and free-speech ‘barefoot lawyers’ of China. Conditions may not be ‘worse’ for non-state human rights actors in Europe, as opposed to other places, but they are still not in line with the stated ideals of that nation.

We look on in horror as U.S. Border Patrol officers destroy water left in the desert for people crossing the border on foot. But here it is no different. While temperatures rise over 30 celsius, our water barrels, the only source of safe drinking water for many people living here, continue to be confiscated during forced evictions of campsites, knifed into uselessness, or covered in CS gas as a trap for the next person who carries them. A recent investigation by Refugee Rights Europe stated 71% of refugees in Calais reported being tear gassed or pepper sprayed in the weeks prior to writing. Violent forced evictions are a weekly occurrence, and leave refugees without shelter or their belongings.

While nothing I have experienced while conducting human rights observation work in the field comes close to the abuse experienced on a regular basis by refugees, I have never felt so disrespected, dehumanized, and hated as during those shifts.

Why is this happening? It’s hard to tell. Deterrence doesn’t work. All it does is force people into the margins, where they are most vulnerable to trafficking, exposure, abuse, and death. Hannah Arendt warned us that the contradiction between universal human rights and enclosed national sovereignty would have a bloody and unjust conclusion, a premonition that rings terrifyingly true when we look at the figures. 40,000 refugees have died since the year 2000, including around 120 in Calais. Forty thousand. That’s the Blitz, or the first day of the Somme. The reasons given usually have something to do with security, order, economic security and the sanctity of national borders for their own sake, none of which ring true.

Calais volunteers sort clothes

Volunteers for Help Refugees sort clothes in the Calais warehouse. Photo: Futuro Berg

A better question to ask is, why are volunteers here? For one, we’re here because we disagree with state efforts to make our communities hostile bydesign. If you’ve ended up in Calais without papers, history and politics have been cruel enough to you already. The deck has already been stacked against you. I don’t want to be a member of a society that sees such a person and decides they need to be beaten down again. None of us do. We’re not here to fix Calais or Dunkirk, we’re not here to make them good places. We’re here to make them bearable. Because they’ve become part of a broader strategy across Europe, the strategy that is never spoken of, that no one ever agreed to or voted for. This plan is Europe’s disgrace, it’s best guess as to how to ‘solve’ the refugee crisis, by making itself so unwelcoming as to convince newcomers to go back to the terrible situations that drove them away. Volunteers are here because they have seen that as a society we have become willing to deconstruct our own communities, to destroy what makes our places good places, just to make sure that they remain ‘ours’. 

 The volunteers that man Europe’s migratory routes do so because they see that strategy for what it is: Hostile. Paranoid. Destructive. Traumatising. Shameful.

Why doesn’t this campaign of harassment, obstruction, and deterrence of volunteers work? Because the acts of kindness they show to refugees in this terrible situation are not morally optional. They are obligatory. One cannot deny food to a hungry child, or a sleeping bag to a freezing man. One cannot fail to extend a hand to a drowning person in the Mediterranean. Our states demand that we do these things, but they cannot be done, or be allowed to occur, for the sake of rules common to humanity that go far, far deeper than states and borders.

This article was written by long-term volunteer for Help Refugees in Calais, Oscar Leonard. To support our work, and help us help people currently sleeping rough in Calais, please donate, sign up to volunteer, or organise a collection at home.

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Report reveals excessive police violence and intimidation of aid workers in Northern France

Help Refugees, L’Auberge des Migrants, Utopia 56 and Refugee InfoBus have released a report revealing police intimidation and harassment of aid workers supporting refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. You can read the full report here

Over eight months, aid workers have been subjected to 645 incidents of police surveillance, repeated ID checks, stop and searches, physical and verbal violence. They have also been forcibly prevented from administering aid to refugees in desperate need of shelter, food and water.

Between 1 November 2017 and 1 July 2018, Help Refugees and partners have compiled the report as part of the Human Rights Observers project. The project follows the activities of aid workers who are trained to operate peacefully and within the law in support of 1,500 refugees still sleeping rough in northern France.

There have been 37 incidents of physical violence, with police pushing aid workers to the ground, snatching phones and forcing them away from distribution sites.

Aid workers have experienced 104 incidents of verbal abuse including threats of detainment, prosecution and fines, some of which were followed through. Police build physical barriers to prevent aid reaching refugees and conduct a constant campaign of surveillance, following aid vehicles in police cars, filming volunteers and performing constant ID checks.

A common tactic employed by the police is physical searches of aid workers, specifically targeting women. The report reveals that female aid workers were the subject of 87% of body searches, despite 57.2% of aid workers being women.

Maddy Allen, Field Manager for Help Refugees in Northern France, says:

‘The scale and frequency of police harassment in Northern France is completely unjustifiable. Police forces, the very people employed by the State to provide safety and uphold the law, are violating human rights on a daily basis. The intimidation volunteers experience whilst working in Calais halts our daily operations and increases the distress and emotional toil of the situation for all those involved.

We will not stand by and accept these conditions. The aggression we experience is a fraction of the violence experienced by refugees living in Calais. We call for the french police to be held accountable for their actions and refrain from operating ‘above’ the law. We must be able to continue our work here, calmly and safely, in complete solidarity with the communities we support.’

You can view the full report, released by Help Refugees, L’Auberge des Migrants, Utopia 56 and Refugee InfoBus here.

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Stand Up For Asylum: Lift the Ban on Asylum Seekers’ Right To Work

People seeking asylum in the UK are effectively prohibited from working. As a result, many are left to live in poverty, struggling to support themselves and their families, whilst the Government wastes the talents of thousands of people.

It is not fair to deprive people of the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families while they wait, often years, for a decision on their asylum claim. It is not effective to waste the talents of our population, or to keep people suffering in limbo. We want people who have risked everything to find safety in our country to have the best chance of contributing to our society and integrating into our communities. This means giving people seeking asylum right to work so that they can use their skills and live in dignity. Help Refugees join the calls made by Refugee Action for a fair and effective immigration system – the government must lift the ban and grant asylum seekers the right to work.

Why is this change needed?

The current system is not fair: Everyone wants the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. It is simply unfair that those who have risked everything to find safety in the UK and have had to wait longer than the Government’s target of 6 months for a decision on their claim are not allowed to do this most basic of things.

It provides a route out of poverty – from destitution to dignity: People seeking asylum are given just £5.39 per day to meet all their essential living costs, including food, clothing, toiletries and transport and the cost of their asylum application.  Forcing people to live in poverty for months, or even years at a time, while they seek safety from persecution is inhumane and has a detrimental impact on their physical and mental health. Enabling people to work provides them with the human dignity of being able to provide for themselves and their families, if they are able.

The current system is wasteful: People seeking asylum who are able to work would not need to be supported for extended periods and could contribute to the economy through increased tax revenues and consumer spending. Recent research has demonstrated that even with a modest labour force participation rate of 25% among people seeking asylum a saving of £43.5m could be made each year from the asylum support budget if the permission to work rules were liberalised.

It would help integration: For those who are eventually given refugee status, avoiding an extended period outside the labour market is key to ensuring their long-term integration into UK society and encouraging them to be self-sufficient. The Home Office’s own research into the factors that influence refugee integration concluded that “disrupted employment histories [have] an adverse effect on future employment”.[1] Early access to employment increases the chances of smooth economic and social integration by allowing refugees to improve their English, acquire new skills and make new friends and social contacts in the wider community. The vast majority of people seeking asylum want to work and contribute to society and are frustrated at being forced to remain idle and dependent on asylum support.

The public support this: More than two thirds of the public (68%) agree that “When people come to Britain seeking protection, it is important that they integrate, learning English and getting to know people. It would be helpful if asylum-seekers were allowed to work if their claim takes more than six months to process.”

It would bring the UK into line with the approaches taken across Europe: The restrictive approach that the UK takes on access to the labour market makes it an outlier within Europe. In almost all other European states people are given an opportunity to support themselves at an earlier stage and with fewer restrictions.

The solution

The Government must lift its ban, which is preventing people who are seeking safety in our country from being able to work and provide for themselves and their families. Together, let’s make our immigration system fair and effective for everyone. #StandUpForAsylum today and write to your MP calling for reform to the British asylum system.

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Aaron’s challenge for Help Refugees

Last week Aaron Francis completed his first ever triathlon and generously donated all the money he raised to Help Refugees. The race consisted of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run, which he completed in the very impressive time of 11 hours, 46 minutes and 24 seconds!

Read on to hear about how it went and to find out how you can do something similar to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Why did you decide to fundraise for Help Refugees?
One of the main reasons I decided to raise money for Help Refugees was because of a documentary that I had watched on Netflix called ‘Cries of Syria’. I was always aware of the struggle people were going through and that they were fleeing from horrible situations. There was a part on the ‘Cries of Syria’ documentary that I remember, where kids were doing an after-school art class. They were putting their drawings up on the wall and showing their mums and dads; everyone was getting involved. During that class a bomb came down and killed the parents and kids… That really hit hard with me and was why I knew I had to choose Help Refugees. That documentary really gave me more of an insight as to what they were going through and how we could help!

When did the idea of doing an Ironman come into the picture?
Well originally, I did want to do an Ironman and was very inspired by other people and I was really starting to get into health and fitness.  I thought to myself, lets raise money for a charity that is close to my heart and smash a triathlon at the same time!

Was there anything that helped to keep you motivated and get up in the mornings when you were training?
Yea sure, a lot of the times especially when I was swimming, even on race day I had this same image in my head. When I would get in the water feeling fatigue and I didn’t want to be there because I just felt so tired from training and work all day.  I would picture those refugees, people fleeing on boats. Some of those people couldn’t even swim. One image that will always stick in my head is of this little kid wearing a life jacket with his head faced in the sand washed up onto shore. This little kid was probably only 5 or 6 years old and an innocent child. So keeping things like that in my head reminded me why I’m doing this. The fact that I’m lucky enough to get up and I can go to training and go to a facility where I can swim and move that way. When there are people out there that are fighting for their lives and basic human needs. My coach often gave me wise words about having gratitude and feeling thankful that we have the opportunities to do these things every day.

How did you go about raising the funds on top of a busy training schedule?
Firstly I started a Facebook fundraising page called Aaron’s Tri for Change. I did this so the ‘TRI’ represented triathlon but also trying to make a difference and change through the efforts that I was putting in. It was shared around by my friends and family and I think within a couple of days people started donating. A friend of mine, Lucy, also made me a spreadsheet with information about what I was doing. I was able to take it into work to get more sponsors. I also contacted my local newspaper and they were able to write a piece about what I was doing.

How much money were you able to raise?
So far it has been about £1,200! I do still have money to collect in so, hopefully fingers crossed, over £1,300 will have been raised for Help Refugees!

Are there any points in the race when you just wanted to give up?
It got hard when I was on the bike. Don’t get me wrong it was a good bike; but after the first loop of the bike course I started to get pain in my left knee. I had to quickly whip an Allen key out and adjust my seat just to try and help with the pain. I was still in pain and it got worse towards the end of the race! I’d also say the hardest part for me was the second from last loop of the Marathon. All day you are moving and your body is living off hydration powder, gels, oats and you just want a bit of proper food. You know that your body needs the nutrients and energy; but your stomach just doesn’t want anything anymore. There were points where it was very hard but there was no way I was going to stop! I promised myself that I wasn’t walking that run and I for sure wasn’t getting off the bike. I was going to keep moving throughout the whole entire thing! My coach Samantha also said the same thing: “it’s not about speeding up. It’s about not slowing down and whatever you do… don’t stop!” So I kept her voice in my head and the cause of why I’m doing this race. I also did this to prove to myself that I can get through anything in life no matter what. Whatever happens you CAN push through it! Those words really helped me at times when I was struggling.

What are your tips for people who would like to do their own fundraising challenge but can’t decide what to do or are too nervous about some aspects of it?
My advice would be to try and find many ways to put it out when fundraising. The internet is a brilliant platform. You’ve got Facebook where you can even have your fundraising page on and they don’t take any percentage of it!
Choose something that you feel would be impossible to do. Don’t stay in your comfort zone! Do something you can look back on and think “that’s crazy, I can’t believe I actually did that!”. I’ve always been athletic but I never thought I’d be able to conquer a full Ironman, especially with it being my first ever triathlon. When I signed up the charity was my drive. I had people counting on me and I wanted to prove to myself I can do this. You have to apply yourself.  If you’re nervous about something, put the work in. Most importantly be patient and be kind to yourself. Just do your best – that’s all you can do. If you raise £10 or £10,000 for a charity it doesn’t matter. £10 can go a long way in a country like Syria. Especially for people that don’t have a place to stay or access to food to eat.
The fact that I raised over £1,000 is going to make a big difference. It’s a great feeling knowing that I have been able to help.

I would just like to say a huge thanks to anyone and everyone that has supported me. Especially those close to me. My girlfriend, Sam and my mum, Karen. They got all the things that people don’t see. People see the pictures and the videos of me training and running over the finish line but these two are the ones that get the bad tempers, the frustration on bad days and the brunt of how I’m feeling because it’s such an intense training regime that you stick to and it really does take it out of you. The first few months I felt like someone had beaten me up! It took over my immune system, I think I was ill 3 times in the space of just a few months! They were there with me from start to finish so thank you! Everyone who helped sponsor me and raise awareness I couldn’t have raised the money without you and I appreciate every penny donated. Thanks to my coach Samantha for guiding me and of course thank you to the charity for everything you do! I’m grateful for you all!

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Moria: Europe’s shame

Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos. Built to house 2,300 people, the camp currently groans at the seams with over 7,200 residents.

Many people have now been stuck on Lesvos for several years, marooned as a consequence of Turkey’s lucrative deal with the EU. And while Moria’s residents can come and go, its watchtowers and razor wire fences feel more prison than a refugee camp.

Stuck on the island with limited prospects for asylum and the ever-present threat of deportation, many people feel a growing sense of hopelessness. Having survived war and violence, desperate living conditions and no clear route off the island cause further damage to the mental health of the people trapped here. This was starkly illustrated in May, when a 26-year-old Syrian refugee set himself on fire in the camp, his application for asylum having been rejected for a second time.

In the face of enormous challenges, our partners are doing incredible work. Whether it’s fixing taps and showers so people can keep clean, providing water coolers to help people through the baking heat, distributing clothes and hygiene essentials, or providing desperately-needed community spaces.
While political leaders fail to provide a humane and dignified solution, grassroots groups work around the clock to provide for people’s basic needs. We desperately need your help to continue supporting our partners working on Lesvos. Please donate if you can today.

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There Is No Refugee Crisis

There is a crisis underway in Calais and Dunkirk. But not the one you may have heard about. The crisis is not caused by the presence of displaced people here. It is a crisis of inhumanity, of wasteful public spending and unsupervised, unsanctioned police misconduct. It is a crisis of conscience, a crisis of care.

This border is lethal. It kills with frightening regularity. It is never charged, never tried, never held to account. In May, a two-year old girl of Kurdish origin was shot and killed by police on the French and Belgian border. Her name joins a long list, a list that has been added to every three and a half weeks since 2012 . The space between these deaths is filled with beatings, intimidations, and forced evictions from squalid living spaces. These abuses receive little coverage in European media. Even new volunteers are shocked when they first realise, for example, that it is standard operating procedure here during the wintertime for police officers to forcibly confiscate jackets, tents, and sleeping bags from displaced persons.

In January 2018, Theresa May & Emmanuel Macron signed the Sandhurst Treaty, a deal in which Britain pledged £44.5 million to help strengthen the French/British border in Calais.

In January 2018 the UK government pledged 44.5 million pounds to assist with the blocking of refugees at the French border. High fences stretch along the highways, and the truck stops and ports resemble fortresses. Across the EU, the price tag for these fortifications stands at around 500 million euros. Around 1,100 members of the security forces are present in Calais alone at any given time; roughly two for every refugee. Arrests and detainments of migrants are constant. According to human rights observers working on the ground, there were six mass evictions and clearances of refugees in Calais between the 11th and the 15th of June this year alone. One could be forgiven for thinking that the sole objective of the security forces in Calais was to make the city so unwelcoming that it would deter people who had fled some of the most dangerous places on the planet. The E.U. has just assigned 34.9 billion euros to border security for the period of 2021-2027, and has announced a plan to create a standing force of 10,000 new border guards. This acknowledges that migration will be a key issue in Europe for years to come, but seeks only to continue business as usual rather than rethinking the solutions that have caused so much unnecessary suffering for so little, if any, benefit to anyone.

Tents are confiscated and vandalised by police in Calais on a daily basis, giving people sleeping rough no protection during the cold nights.

Effort is a difficult thing to quantify but imagine for a moment that every set of hands engaged in Calais security was turned towards something constructive, towards a response that actually sought to achieve something. For example, consider tents, the main form of shelter available to displaced people in Calais. As of June 2018, there is a serious shortage. Thousands of pounds are raised and hundreds of tents bought every few months, but for every van of ours that delivers them, another arrives to take them away, no matter how bad the weather. Between December 2017 and May 2018 around two thousand tents were distributed in Calais and the surrounding areas. They didn’t go to two thousand people, but to less than eight hundred. Every time they were given out, they were slashed or binned by the police, and new ones had to be distributed. Now, for once, the massive section of our warehouse given over to storing tents stands empty. Once again the donors have come through, and several hundred more tents are on the way. The people have spoken and will not stand for people sleeping rough in this harsh climate.

It is frustrating, and sometimes that frustration comes back to us from the communities we support. “This is not a solution”, people have said to me, pointing to a van full of blankets or jackets. I know it isn’t. We all know. Very little of the strenuous efforts expended in Calais work towards a solution. They are simply a reaction to poor policy making, a filling put into the gaps of a collapsing structure. Real people fall through these gaps while Europe debates itself in circles. The work that the volunteers of L’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees, Utopia 56, and many other associated charities do is amazing, but it is a terrible shame that they have to be here at all. If they were not, there would be no defence against the anti-human infrastructure that exists only to make life in this difficult place even worse.

Protest following the death of two-year-old Mawda, who was shot and killed by Belgian police.

So what’s it all for? Ostensibly, this is done for the security of the United Kingdom. But a border itself needs no protection, nor does a country. It is its people who are protected. The blood spilled and the indignity suffered on its frontier is a toll taken on behalf of citizens of the U.K., but it is not something they have agreed to, or voted for, in any form. They have no oversight on the manner of their protection. This effort takes place completely out of sight and is conducted by organisations that most have probably never heard of. Were this violence to occur just a couple of miles away in Dover, you can guarantee that there would be inquests, investigations, and significant media attention. The UK, however, has chosen to export its border, and place its violence out of sight and out of mind.

There are less than one thousand displaced people here in Calais. That’s 0.003% of the current population of the United Kingdom. That’s one thousand tenacious, hardworking people who have made it thousands of miles away from home in pursuit of safety, security, and a chance at a better life. They come fleeing poverty, violence and oppression, and see the UK as a place of safety and hope. Even at its peak, there were only around 10,000 people in the Calais Jungle. (In comparison, there are nearly 700,000 people in the U.K. who were born in Ireland. Nearly 14,000 arrived in 2010 alone.)

In the end, none of these efforts ‘work’. The security forces do not prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel. They do serve, however, to drive the process further underground and ensure that it remains as dangerous as possible. Every week, word trickles across the Channel about people who have made it to the U.K. by various means, all of them having undertaken extraordinary risks. If it is the objective of the security forces to end migration to the U.K., they are failing in this, as they always have. They just charge a toll along the way, in blood and suffering and trauma. The question we need to ask is simple. Is that the kind of society we have decided to live in? Does that accurately represent our values as citizens of France, of the United Kingdom, of the European Union? The suffering that this bureaucratic nightmare inflicts is our responsibility and we will have to answer for it in the future. In the end, there is one question that we need to be asking: How much is a border worth?

This article was written by long-term Help Refugees volunteer in Calais, Oscar Leanord.

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Help Refugees join forces with artists to create huge ‘CHOOSE LOVE’ mural to celebrate Refugee Week

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week, Iranian refugee and artist Majid Adin, and world-renowned artist Lakwena, have created two huge murals in Hanbury Street, Shoreditch and London’s bustling Southbank. 


Featuring bold typography by acclaimed fashion designer Katharine Hamnett, both murals have been made to celebrate the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees.

Majid Adin

A successful artist back in Iran, Majid was forced to flee his home after facing persecution for his writings and cartoons criticising religious conservatism. Since his arrival locked in a refrigerator in the back of a cargo truck in 2016, Adin has become a successful artist in the UK, creating music videos for the likes of Sir Elton John and raising thousands of pounds for charity Help Refugees.

Now a successful artist and animator, Iranian refugee Majid Adin, said:  

This project was all about bringing people together. Throughout my journey to the UK, people have shown be great kindness and love. I wanted to bring a community together to celebrate our common humanity. It doesn’t matter what age, faith, sexuality or nationality you are, when we work together and show compassion and kindness toward each other we can do brilliant things.”

CEO and Co-Founder of Help Refugees, Josie Naughton, said this:

“At a time when good news can sometimes feel in short supply, we are excited to bring the Tower Hamlets community together to deliver a positive, message this Refugee Week. Local refugees and asylum seekers, kids from local schools, and volunteers have all worked together to share a story of hope, kindness and unity. Working with Majid and Second Home for Refugee Week, we wanted to celebrate the positive contribution refugees have had on our society and inspire more people to get involved and start choosing love.”

You can visit Majid’s artwork at 68 Hanbury Street, Shoreditch.


Lakwena’s iconic, kaleidoscopic work is informed by the use of decoration as a means of communication. As a form of expression within a political world, Lakwena explores how the use of adornment in worship and myth-making translates into contemporary popular culture.

Central to her practice are words, used as both images and anchors of meaning, borrowing from the techniques and conventions of traditional sign-writing and contemporary graphic design.

Internationally acclaimed artist Lakwena said:

“I’m excited to be bringing Help Refugees’ Choose Love message to the Southbank this Refugee Week.

This city is built on diversity, community and the contributions of people from all around the world. This Refugee Week, this mural celebrates a city that’s opened its doors to all people.

I’m really happy to be part of this project that is about choosing to be motivated by love rather than greed, comfort, or pride. No matter where I go, what comes my way, what I gain or what I lose, I believe that 3 things will remain – faith, hope and love.”

You can visit Lakwena’s artwork at Southbank Centre Square – Hayward Side.

The murals were conceived and produced in collaboration with unfinished animals.

Choose love is a simple, but powerful message. At a time when the world faces many challenges; when a rhetoric of hate and division has found itself centre stage; we believe sharing this simple message has never been more vital. These murals will be a statement of hope, proudly positioned in two of the most iconic London locations.


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Child refugees should be able to join their families after Brexit – but we need to act now.

In a matter of days, MPs will vote on an Amendment that could keep open a vital family reunion route for refugees, including unaccompanied children, after Britain leaves the EU.

Write to your MP asking them to attend, and vote in favour, of Lord Alf Dubs’ new Amendment.

Currently, refugees who reach Europe can request to be reunited with members of their family who are living in another European country. This means that if a lone child arrives to Greece, and they have a close family member living in the UK, they can be safely brought here – without having to take a perilous journey across the continent, sleeping rough and at grave risk of exploitation.

This route has given safe passage to hundreds of unaccompanied children – and in doing so, it has kept them from the hands of exploitative smugglers, and has allowed them to rebuild their lives in the care of their loved ones. Rather than growing up in a refugee camp, they can live in safety with a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle.

But Britain’s exit from the European Union could result in our exit from this scheme – and so, on behalf of unaccompanied children and refugee families, we need your help.

Lord Alf Dubs welcomes unaccompanied refugee children to the UK. Source: Rob Stothard/Getty Images Europe

An Amendment proposed by our dear friend, Lord Alf Dubs, will be debated in the House of Commons in a matter of days. The Amendment will enshrine this route (currently part of the EU’s Dublin III Regulation) in law – and give refugee families, fleeing war and persecution, the chance to rebuild their lives together.

Will you write to your MP, and ask them to vote for Lord Dubs’ Amendment when it comes to the Commons? We’ve written a template you can use. It takes 10 seconds (please add your own comments to make it personal), and could change the fortunes of thousands of families. Please write to your MP today. 

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870 mile solidarity march in support of refugees & migrants

Our partners L’Auberge des Migrants​ are marching 870 miles to show their support of refugees and migrants, calling on governments to provide more safe and legal routes for those fleeing war and persecution, and demanding an end to the ‘crime of solidarity’.

If you believe we should be welcoming refugees.

And want to use your voice to protest against the closed borders of “Fortress Europe”, where protecting borders becomes more important than protecting people.

And want to demand an end to the criminalisation of solidarity in France.

Join the solidarity march!

What is the route and schedule?

The march leaves Ventimiglia on April 30, 2018 and ends in London on July 8. It has 60 stages, including Nice, Marseille, Lyon, Dijon, Paris and Lille.

Each step will follow, except special cases, these approximate times: departure 9:30, arrival 16:30. The average stage is 20 to 25 km. This supposes, by removing an hour of pause, on average 5 to 6 hours of walking at 4 km / h.

It will be finishing in London on July 8th – where we are planning a community event to welcome those finishing the march. Watch this space for further details about the event.

If you want to join the march, or donate to the cause, please click here.

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