Tom Steadman

Police violence confirmed in Northern France

Following reports of police violence in Northern France, including by Human Rights Watch and Help Refugees, a ministry ordered investigation found “plausible” evidence. Such a wide investigation and consequent recognition of police violence in the area is unprecedented.

The report has found that there was an “abusive use of tear gas” in Calais. It noted that numerous testimonies related incidences in which gas was used in obvious contradiction to regulations regarding the use of force.

Furthermore, it found that the police deployed a “disproportionate, even unjustified, use of force” in a number of [on-the-spot] situations – against both refugees and volunteers. It notes that the consistency among witness testimonies, regarding physical abuses, represented a questioning of police conduct that would be “difficult to ignore”.

The investigation was requested by the Interior Ministry, following a report by Human Rights Watch in July – which was itself prompted by initial findings by Help Refugees and L’Auberge des Migrants.

The findings were broadly consistent with our reports, that of the French ombudsman’s office, and that of Human Rights Watch.

The latter highlighted the fact that “the results of the French investigation are consistent with Human Rights Watch’s principal findings – that police routinely used chemical sprays on migrants, including children, while they were sleeping and in other circumstances in which they posed no threat, and regularly sprayed or confiscated sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, apparently to press them to leave the area.”

While the investigation denied Human Rights Watch’s charge that the police used pepper spray to carry out such abuses, it concluded that the hand-held aerosols employed in these acts contained tear gas. Rather than reduce the gravity of police abuses, this does the reverse – for the effects of tear gas are more severe, and its long-term effects possibly more harmful, than those of pepper spray.

Other findings in the report were congruent with the experience of our volunteers in Calais. The investigation noted, for example, that police often failed to comply with their legal requirement to wear identification badges. Consequently, those who commit abuse cannot be traced or made accountable.

The investigators offered a number of recommendations, which included a formal reminder to officers that they are obliged to wear their badges for accountability purposes. Furthermore, the report noted the need to provide debrief and counseling to the officers deployed in the region, as well as a recognition of the humanitarian emergency.

Such recommendations are, as noted by Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, “a step in the right direction”. But recommendation must be followed by implementation – and even then, the fundamentals of the ongoing humanitarian emergency in Calais require additional redress.

Help Refugees has long challenged the comportment of police in the area, and since 2015, has won a number of legal challenges against the local authorities and police forces. In the summer, for example, a court ruled in our favour and declared that the harassment and effective prohibition of food distributions was unlawful and inhumane.

But winter is now approaching, and the need for our food distributions is only increasing. 800 refugees are sleeping rough in the area: there are over 100 unaccompanied minors as young as 9 years old. Help Refugees continues to provide them with bedding, clothing and warm, nutritious food – which we can’t do without your help. To help us continue to help them, please donate here.

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Show your support for Unaccompanied Refugee Children

It has been one year since the Calais ‘Jungle’ was demolished and thousands of refugees were displaced. At that time, thanks to pressure from people like you, the Government successfully transferred 750 child refugees from France to Britain. 200 of those children were resettled under the Dubs Amendment.

One year on, close to 200 unaccompanied children are back there in worse conditions with little access to safe and legal routes.

There will be a debate on child refugees on Thursday 2nd November, and we need to keep the pressure up to ensure that more unaccompanied minors are brought to safety in the UK.

We have written a template letter with our partners Safe Passage below to contact local MPs and councillors, which you can edit and adapt as you see fit. Find your MP and how to contact them here.

 

Dear <name of your MP/Local Councillor/ Head of Children’s Services in Local Authority>,

I am writing to ask you to attend the Backbench debate on November 2nd on whether we should do more for child refugees. As leader of [council name] I am asking you to continue Britain’s proud tradition of welcoming child refugees and ensure all the ‘Dubs’ places are now filled and children are transferred as quickly as possible.

You will be aware that the Dubs Amendment was passed in May 2016 as S67 Immigration Act 2016 in order to bring to safety unaccompanied child refugees from France, Italy and Greece. Parliament called for the Government to consult with Local Authorities when determining how many children would be granted protection in the UK under the scheme.

During the demolition of the so called Calais “Jungle” in October 2016 the UK gave sanctuary to 200 children under this provision. However since then, no children have been transferred under the legislation, despite the Government admitting in February that 480 placements had been identified in total.

These 200 children prove that our Home Office and our Government are able and willing to follow a proud tradition of being a safe haven for child refugees since the Kindertransport in the Second World War, allowing them to find safety in the UK without risking their lives.

Charities such as Help Refugees and Safe Passage who work with the children left behind say many have family in the UK they should be reunited with, or could be eligible for protection under the Dubs amendment.

Knowing that at least four children have lost their lives last year at our border in Calais before the Amendment was implemented, some waiting to be with their families in the UK, is heartbreaking and we cannot let this happen again.

I am writing to ask that you ensure the further 280 children are transferred safely to the UK now as swiftly as possible and to urge the Government to provide swift access to family reunion so that children do not have to risk their lives to reach protection and family.

I ask that you write to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd reminding her the Home Office must act on their existing legal obligation and promises made to children under the Dubs Amendment (S67 Immigration Act 2016).

  • All 480 placements must be filled – The immediate identification, assessment and transfer must take place before the end of the year, to protect children from freezing temperatures and the many other risks they face;
  • The EU-Turkey deal eligibility deadline of 20th March 2016 must be scrapped – Currently only children who arrived in Europe before this date are considered eligible for ‘Dubs’, meaning many vulnerable children who arrived more recently are not being considered for the scheme;
  • Speed up family reunion for unaccompanied children in Europe with family in Britain (the ‘Dublin III’ regulation) – children are currently waiting many months to access this safe and legal route, leaving many to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers simply to reach family.

I recognise the leadership role Britain has played in coordinating aid to countries with large refugee populations and in resettling refugees directly from the region, however I strongly believe we should also do our bit to support some of the most vulnerable child refugees who have already arrived in Europe.

On the eve of WWII, Britain gave sanctuary to some 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe fleeing Nazi persecution through the Kindertransport. One of these children was Lord Alf Dubs; his amendment – Section 67 – continues this proud tradition of offering protection to some of the most vulnerable child refugees in Europe. I ask you to stand up now for that tradition.

Kind regards,

Your name

Signature

Date

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This is about inclusion, this is about rebuilding people’s lives

In the 1920s, Kilkis, a small region of Northern Greece was a land of refuge for thousands of people. Back then, seven refugee families built a shelter that became a home for generations.

Nearly 100 years later, Help Refugees is partnering with the local association OMNES (ALL in latin), which uses the same shelter as base to house hundreds of families in the region.

But Help Refugees support goes beyond just housing people. This is about inclusion, this is about rebuilding people’s lives in times of social crisis.

Interpreters, lawyers, social scientists, nurses and more are there to foster people’s process of social inclusion. All of this is available in the new Help Refugees funded inclusion centre, which is open to everyone.  Certified teachers are within 3 classrooms and one computer lab providing language and other vocational education on a daily basis. Other professionals and volunteers are creating recreational activities for all. The multi-language books available in the library and the children space pleases the young ones while the free wifi area will soon guarantee additional online education opportunities.

Besides funding OMNES to create a crucial space to foster inclusion, since August 2017, we became the sole supporter of the OMNES legal department.  Without access to legal information, refugees are often lost in an information void and are often unable to proceed effectively with their asylum claim.

Together we are giving legal support to all 521 residents:

– 452 people awaiting resolution on their family reunification, relocation to another EU country and asylum in Greece.

– 42 persons who were recently granted refugee status

– 27 persons are locals.

We do this because we believe that every family should always be granted the right to be together, because each of us has a right to protection.

The project is transforming the lives of hundreds of people while supporting the local economy. It has created 19 full-time local employment positions in an area severely affected by unemployment and youth desertification.

This human and rights based approach is how we provide long-lasting, sustainable solutions in times of crisis.

Please participate in supporting local projects, independent volunteers and refugees having a direct impact of people’s lives. Make a regular donation today of £10 to help us support Omnes, and more incredible projects like it, here.

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Arabic, Sorani, and Kurmanji speaking volunteers are needed urgently!

We have an urgent need for Arabic, Sorani, and Kurmanji speaking volunteers to join the InterVolve team working alongside communities at Larissa-Koutsochero Camp.

We are looking for individuals who can assist with interpretation and translation, as well as support in adult learning, community involvement and integration, and to facilitate women’s and children’s activities and distributions.

To apply, and start making a difference in the lives of those living in Koutsochero camp in Greece, fill in this form.

Our partners Intervolve work alongside the population of Larissa-Koutsochero camp. This camp, located 20km west of the beautiful student city of Larissa, has a current population of about 700 people, with a maximum capacity of 1500. Intervolve are seeking to maintain and develop projects on and off camp which respond to community identified priorities and which promote wellbeing, skills development, self-determination, and integration.

Community Involvement Volunteers. InterVolve seeks to fill gaps and offer resources and support to all at Koutsochero Camp. As working alongside the community is  paramount , we are seeking long term volunteers, preferably with Arabic, Sorani or French language skills, to support and plan consultation activities with our communities, to develop systems for sustained participation and feedback, and to implement events and services that meet community needs.

Adult Learning & Activities. Adult learning needs remain unmet at Koutscohero Camp. We are seeking qualified Teachers or ESL instructors to lead, develop, and support a new program of directed and self-directed adult learning and life skills workshops  

Children & Youth Activities. Children constitute half of the population at Koutsochero Camp, and our library hour, craft and recreation activities, meet a crucial need. We seek individuals to direct and support our daily program of educational, creative, physical, and fun activities for children. Those experienced in childhood development, trauma education, and social work, are particularly encouraged to apply.

Integration. Supporting people to build local life skills, cultural awareness and connections, and to achieve economic independence . We are looking for individuals, especially those local to Larisa or Greece, to build on our existing programmes and to develop and implement an integration support project for residents.

Women’s Space. Our Pink House Women’s Space and Salon is a space of community, where women and young women can come together in a safe supportive space to take a rest from camp, make new friendships, and take part in activities e.g. sewing, making jewelry, doing hair and nails, and, dancing. We are seeking a long term volunteer to be a part of this community, assisting with  women’s requests, and ensuring the space remains welcoming and peaceful.

Free Shop & Warehouse. Our newly opened Free Shop is a hub for distribution of fruit and vegetables, dry food, and hygiene and clothing items. We are seeking volunteers to assist in all aspects of the operation of the shop, including sorting at the Warehouse, preparing needs lists, staffing the space, and ensuring it is organised, welcoming, and useful.

We Are Looking For:

Flexible, reliable, resilient, culturally sensitive, experienced and warm team-players, who will work in a respectful, inclusive, safe and community led way and in co-operation with the other NGOs and authorities on site. We need people who are motivated enough to learn together with the team, and to stick through the challenging process of building new projects with diverse communities. You should also be prepared to be working within the dynamics of a medium sized team and be living in a city which is removed from the social volunteer centres of Athens and Thessaloniki. Everyone supports each of the projects as part of the team.

Individuals with professional knowledge and skill in childhood development, trauma informed care, child and adult education, and language ability in Greek/Arabic/Sorani/French, who can commit to volunteer are strongly encouraged to apply.

Your Commitment: We are looking for people who are able to commit to a minimum of a month in the first instance. We have a code of conduct and a volunteer agreement to adhere to, and also require that volunteers participate in debrief and support sessions so that we can keep people safe, and to ensure we achieve the best we can with the resources we have.

Our Commitment:  Support and induction training will be given and for long term volunteers we may be able to offer accommodation. You will be an active part of a supportive team.

Application and Information: You can see a good snapshot of our existing team and work on Intervolve’s website  and at their Facebook Page. To apply please fill in the following form.

If you have any questions you can contact us at operations@intervolvegr.com

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Child Refugees of Calais: A Day of Action

Start date: 24 October at 12:00 PM

Where: George V Statue (opposite the Houses of Parliament), Abingdon Street, Westminster, London, United Kingdom SW1P 3JY

Contact: contact@helprefugees.org.uk

On October 24th it will be one year since the Calais ‘Jungle’ was demolished and thousands of refugees were displaced. At that time, thanks to pressure from people like you, the Government successfully transferred 750 child refugees from France to Britain. We need to keep the pressure up, and repeat this success.

There are still hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees living in Calais. They live in the woods with minimal provisions and sanitation, they have to face the constant threat of police violence and traffickers.

This is an important day to remember our success last year but also to put pressure on Government, this is a unique opportunity to get the #ChildrenOfCalais back on the political agenda. Come and be a part of it!
Calais child refugees
Email us at contact@helprefugees.org.uk for more details.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Photograph: Refugee Info Bus
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The time for goodbye has come: Drop in the Ocean leaves Chios

In September 2015, our partners Drop in the Ocean sent their first team to Chios to assist refugees as they arrived on the shores of the island. Their volunteers patrolled the shores day and night and provided a safe and warm welcome for the people fleeing wars and conflicts.

At that time there were no refugee camps on the island. It was up to local Greeks to provide tents, food and clothes in the park of Chios. The arrivals could stay there until they were registered, and then move on to the mainland to continue to other European countries.

After a couple of months larger organisations came to the island and together with Greek authorities the first camps were established. Tabakika, Souda, Vial, Dipethe. Drop in the Ocean assisted wherever there was a need for their services. In Souda, Drop in the Ocean have been present since the very beginning, establishing the food distribution system together with NRC.

     

Now Souda camp is closing down. The walls of the Castle of Chios will again tell the stories from ancient times, but they will also carry memories of the largest migration in Europe since WWII.

Now all the arrivals are being directed to Vial camp, which is already over capacity. Drop have offered their services to VIAL, but the authorities have ensured them that they will cover for those needs through their own resources.

       

“We would like to thank everyone we have cooperated with on Chios these past two years. Thank you, all the wonderful volunteers who have travelled to the island to give from their hearts and time. Thank you, all the organisations we have been working side by side with towards the same goal. Thank you, wonderful people of Chios! Many of you have been fighting to make the situation for the displaced people better. Many of you opened your hearts and your homes to assist.

Most of all, thank you to all the fantastic people who have been living in Souda and who we were privileged to get to know during an extreme period of their lives. We wish you all the best of luck.” 

So, for now our partners say farewell to Chios. Take good care of the precious people who come your way. If we can ever assist again, we will be ready in no time.

As winter approaches, the weather continues to grow colder. Last year people lost their lives to hypothermia living in the conditions we see on Greek Islands. This will end in disaster if we don’t prepare for the oncoming cold climate. Please help us by donating today.

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Destitute asylum seeker, Eyob Tefera, found dead in Swansea marina

Eyob Tefera, an Ethiopian asylum seeker who was living in Swansea, died last week.

Eyob was known to a local charity supporting refugees and asylum seekers, having been referred to
them some 16 months ago following the rejection of his asylum application. In the UK, a decision on
an asylum case – whether positive or negative – results in state support being cut off.

While those appealing the decision can reapply for support, vulnerable people are often plunged in to a
period of destitution. Delays in the Home Office’s response to applications for asylum support often
results in homelessness and dependence on charitable organisations, particularly as asylum seekers lack
the right to work.

Last year, the British Red Cross came to the aid of almost 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers (and
their dependents) who lacked access to food, housing or healthcare. Such was the case for Eyob.

Despite his precarious situation, friends spoke of his involvement in various community organizations.
From being the assistant coach for the Unity in Diversity football team to volunteering at a local
foodbank, Eyob was described as being ‘very much part of the team’.

However, the death of his friend – another destitute asylum seeker from Ethiopia – triggered a
downward spiral. Eyob lost his accommodation and had no access to benefits. Rachel Matthews, who
runs a charity supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Swansea and was a friend of Eyob’s, said that
his “life started to crumble”.

Eyob was unable to access suitable mental health support – even after he attempted to take his own life.
Ms Matthews said: “We walked out of the doctor’s surgery and stood in the street, and he looked at me and he said: ‘So, no-one will help me?’”

Shortly after, Eyob went missing. The police contacted Ms. Matthews days later to inform her that his
body had been recovered from the marina.

Eyob’s death is a tragedy, and one that shines a light on the lack of state support for
some of the most vulnerable in our society.

His friends have set up a fund to pay for the repatriation of his body, and to help his family pay for the funeral costs; to donate, please click here. Our thoughts are
with those who knew him.

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Goodbye to two incredible volunteers: Sian & Sean

We’re so sad to say goodbye to Sian and Sean, two of our most incredible volunteers.

They joined us in Greece back in the autumn of 2016; Sean put his remarkable range of building and carpentry skills to use in the workshop, while Sian coordinated the delivery of aid to over 20 camps in the region. Their humour, warmth and hard graft kept many of us going through the bitterly cold winter.

Then they joined our team in Serbia. From improving hygiene and sanitation in the grim smokiness of Belgrade’s ‘Barracks’ squat, to unblocking sewage pipes in Serbia’s under-resourced official camps; to coordinating the work of groups in the region and supporting a young refugee artist with an exhibition that ended with the President of Serbia offering the artist and his family citizenship: their work has improved lives.

We’re sad to say goodbye, but we know Sian and Sean will keep spreading love wherever they go. Thank you both!

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Hundreds of refugees arrive on Greek island of Lesvos

8 boats have landed on Lesvos between 9-11 September. About 420 people. One dingy alone carried 84 people, around half of them children.

If you ask the volunteer teams working flat out across the island; spotters, rescue teams, food distribution, legal and health services, they’ll tell you that this crisis is far from over.

Having made this treacherous journey, most new arrivals will be taken straight to the notorious Moria refugee camp. With a capacity of 1800, this camp is at breaking point with around 5500 residents.

An ongoing crisis

As we approach the winter months, hundreds of refugees are living in tents, completely unprepared to deal with the future change in climate. And more people continue to arrive.

On 12 September, another boat carrying 41 people arrived in the south of Lesvos. On the boat there were 10 children, 7 women and 24 men. A second boat with 53 people arrived carrying 17 more children, 13 women and 23 men.

At 03:30 on 13 September, 30 people arrived in Mistegna on south of the island. And at 06:00, 15 children, 4 women and 10 men arrived at Korakas in the north.

The media may have moved on, but the crisis continues.

Our partners on the island continue to ensure a friendly face, food and dry clothes meet many of these tired new arrivals. But they are overstretched, and need support to help those in need.

To help us help refugees stuck on the Greek islands, please donate here.

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Update on Calais court decision to end “inhumane” treatment of refugees

Calais NGOs were invited to meet with the prefecture today so that the state’s plans following the Supreme Court decision for the refugees in the area are announced.

  • The local authority has been told to find locations for a yet unknown number of toilets
  • There will be 2 or 3 showers in the medical centre at the city hospital available for the 600-800 refugees living in Calais. Opening hours are not known as yet.
  • There is no news about where taps providing clean drinking water will be as yet
  • Two additional staff from OFPRA (French agency for refugees) will support the state youth outreach team for daily outreach.
  • However, the capacity of the accommodation for unaccompanied minors will not be increased. The current capacity is 75 and there are roughly 100-200 unaccompanied minors sleeping out in the open around Calais.
  • Adults will be encouraged to go to accommodations centres (CAOs) and there will be daily bus available, transporting them to 2 centres located 80km from Calais. They will have a collective capacity of 165 places. Anyone who goes to these centres will have one week’s grace period. They will then have the opportunity to file an accelerated asylum claim. If they do not wish to ask for asylum in France they will be asked to leave France.

Our team in Calais and our partners continue to work every day to ensure people’s basic needs are met. To support our work there by donating funds please click here.

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