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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Lack of care is widespread

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

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

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

 

Asylum seekers with disabilities at a high-risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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CHOOSE LOVE POP-UP SHOPS ARE BACK FOR 2019!

The ‘Choose Love’ stores are back with more love, fun and surprises than ever before! 

Come and visit the world’s first shop where you can buy buy real gifts for refugees. The shop is packed with much needed items like kid’s coats, winter boots, tents and sleeping bags. Buy what you want, but leave with nothing as each purchase you make is sent to someone who truly needs it. 

Whether you’re shopping for your Secret Santa, best friend or in-laws, give a gift that really matters. With every purchase you’ll get a beautiful gift card to go under the tree and the items you buy will be supplied to refugees around the world.And if that wasn’t enough… the store will be busy with performances, DJs, talks and some extra-special guests. 

Since first opening their doors in 2017 the Choose Love shops have distributed more than 1.6 million items! With so many people in camps and shelters across Europe, the Middle East and America/Mexico border in desperate need we want this year store’s to be bigger and better than ever. 

So come down, shop your heart out, buy everything, leave with nothing and feel the love.

If you can’t make it in person, please check out our online store at www.choose.love


Choose Love London

Choose Love New York

Choose Love LA

  • 611 N. La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90069
  • 29/11/2019 – 24/12/2019
  • Mon-Sat: 11:00 – 19:00
  • Sun: 11:00 – 18:00
  • Choose Love LA Facebook event
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Drones and Dogs: The EU’s Pursuit of Refugees Undermines Basic Human Rights

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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The Calais Jungle… three years on

Three years ago today, bulldozers started entering the Jungle camp in Calais. Famous for being one of the largest refugee camps in Europe, with 10,000 people at its peak, this huge eviction dispersed the residents of the camp, refugees from all corners of the earth, across France. Today the piece of land where the Jungle camp once stood is a nature reserve. It’s a sanctuary for migrating birds. Such irony.

‘Calais?’ people ask. ‘I thought Calais was finished.’

Calais is a complex, diverse and challenging place, containing layers of kindness and racism in sometimes equal measure. It’s always been a focal point for migration and it always will be, because of its proximity to the UK. Today there are nearly 1,500 displaced people living between Calais and Dunkirk, including nearly 250 unaccompanied children and an increasing number of families.

Since the large Jungle eviction on October 24th 2016, there have been 1,301 recorded evictions in Calais, plus 173 evictions in the neighbouring camps in Grande-Synthe. Police arrive at people’s makeshifts camps, often just a few tents gathered together, to form large and ominous perimeters. They hold tear gas canisters and batons, intent on removing people from where they’re sleeping. Shaking and slashing tents, seizing blankets in summer or winter, this continual harassment is ever-present in Calais.

We’re three years on. Why no positive progress?

Grassroots organisations from both sides of the border continue to fill the gaps left by governments and international NGOs. As the political rhetoric of Europe swings to the right and the uncertainty of Brexit looms over those who are displaced and dislocated, people strive to bring a sense of community as they continue to survive in such grim and deteriorating living conditions – for through community you can get glimpses of humanity. Over the last three years, the sporadic flurries of media attention focus on Channel crossings by boat and tragic deaths at the border. Those who have been dehumanised into a statistic are only given the right to their identities when they die.

The hostile environment is not a static policy. It is not set in stone. It evolves, shifts and hardens in its approach. With two more deaths of young men in the Channel, they government puts another border force boat in the water to increase security. Children being exploited in the hands of smugglers; they close some of the final legal routes of passage.

And then the horrors of this week. 39 bodies, including a child, found in a lorry in the UK. A tragedy too hard to write about. But write about it we must. Blame the smugglers, blame the wars, blame the arms trade, blame the financial markets, blame the poverty. But do not blame the people. Do not scapegoat the victims. Do not respond with more draconian hostile policies. Our solutions must be humanitarian at their core; not in the ’emergency response’ solution that nowadays is associated with this word – but with its core meaning; a focus on promoting human dignity and welfare. 

‘If there are still people there, what can we do?’

Step up. We all have to step up.

Human Rights Observers are on the ground every morning in Calais and Dunkirk to ensure human rights violations by the French police during the daily evictions are being monitored.

Organisations have formed to welcome and integrate asylum seekers as they arrive in the UK. These organisations ensure that central to their work is the need to let people be heard. Groups like Welcome Presents, which aims to bridge the divide between refugees, asylum seekers and the wider UK public, using food, film and friendship. And May Project Gardens, which uses gardening, food and hip hop to overcome disempowerment, build community and pass on skills.

Our wonderful partners, Refugees at Home, are supporting ordinary citizens (just like you) to open their doors and welcome in refugees by hosting them.

Our partners at Safe Passage are fighting to ensure that family reunification routes of passage remain open, despite government shifts in policy.

Since the Jungle eviction, Help Refugees has welcomed more than 15,000 volunteers to our operations on the ground in Northern France – chopping wood, sorting clothes, cooking rice. 

Whether it’s changing conversations at the kitchen table, volunteering, fundraising or writing to your MP – whoever you are, wherever you are – we all can, and must, play a part.


Maddy Allen is Help Refugees Field Manager for Northern France.

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Volunteers needed at the Calais woodyard!

The Calais woodyard are looking for a core team of six people to keep the woodyard running, and volunteers to help chop, prepare and distribute wood to refugees and displaced people in the region.

Wood is used to cook, dry clothes, heat water to wash and to keep people warm during the winter when temperatures can drop to below -5°C in northern France. Between November 2018 and April 2019, the woodyard distributed 266 tonnes of firewood to communities of displaced people around Calais. This autumn and winter, they need help to continue providing this vital service.

Woodyard Co-ordinator

The team are looking for coordinators to assist in the daily running of the woodyard. Organisation of the woodyard will start in October and will be fully functioning by November. Coordinators will assist with the setting up and running of the yard, including planning rotas, training new volunteers, leading distributions, preparing wood for distribution and working alongside other associations.

As a small team, flexibility and willingness to learn is key. All training will be provided and tailored to roles undertaken by the coordinator. 

  • Minimum age: 18 years
  • Minimum time: 1 month
  • Accommodation: €240 (+ €75 returnable deposit) for 1 month. Other arrangements can be discussed if staying for over 1 month
  • Other costs: Living expenses (1 meal a day provided at the warehouse by Refugee Community Kitchen), transport costs to warehouse (some transport costs will be covered through the use of work vehicles)

If you’d like find out more or apply for this role, contact calaiswoodyard18@gmail.com.

Woodyard Volunteers

The team are also looking for volunteers to work in the woodyard. Organisation of the woodyard will start in October and will be fully functioning by November. Volunteers will assist with the setting up and running of the yard including; distributions, preparing wood for distribution, working alongside other associations.

As a small team, flexibility and willingness to learn is key. All training will be provided and tailored to roles undertaken by the volunteer.

  • Minimum age: 18 years
  • Minimum time: 1 month
  • Accommodation: €240 (+ €75 returnable deposit) for 1 month. Other arrangements can be made if staying for over 1 month
  • Other costs: Living expenses (1 meal a day provided at the warehouse by Refugee Community Kitchen), transport costs to warehouse (some transport costs will be covered through the use of work vehicles)

If you’d like find out more or apply for this role, contact calaiswoodyard18@gmail.com.

Donate to the woodyard

If you aren’t able to volunteer but would still like to support the work of the woodyard, they currently need:

    • Gloves
    • Dust masks
    • Chop saw blades
    • Chop saw brushes
    • Grain sacks for bagging wood (these can be collected from breweries)
    • Net sacks for bagging wood (these can be found online)
    • Wood splitting axes
    • Financial donations to buy equipment and wood locally

If you think you might be able to help with any of these items, please get in touch at: calaiswoodyard18@gmail.com

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Climate Refugees: A Global Crisis

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

 

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

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

 

The Protection Gap

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The impact of our climate on human mobility

 

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

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

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

 

Migrants or Refugees?

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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We’re changing the way we help refugees in northern France

With around 2,000 people living in dire conditions, there’s a pressing need for aid and services in northern France. And while people are forced to suffer on the UK’s doorstep, we’ll keep helping.

This autumn, we’ll be changing the way we provide this help. Instead of both funding and delivering services, some of Help Refugees’ current work (mainly provision of essential items and services, and legal observation) will be carried out by close partner organisations – enabled by funding from us.

This will allow the day-to-day running of these services to be undertaken by the dedicated and experienced volunteer teams closest to the ground, while allowing us to focus on what we do best – raising vital funds, advocating for policy change, and helping link up this people-powered grassroots response.

Our incredible partners Collective Aid will coordinate clothing and bedding distributions, and the Human Rights Observation team and woodyard will be run by our old friends and partners L’Auberge des Migrants. We’ll also be increasing our support for numerous other projects including providing legal assistance, informal education, warm meals and support for women and families.

Help Refugees and our partners will continue to rely on your love, time, kindness and donations. If you can, please donate funds, donate goods or volunteer your time in Calais. We’re so thankful for all your support, and with it, we’ll keep working towards a day when our services are no longer needed in northern France.


Images: Sabrina Dattrino

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Four years after Alan Kurdi’s death, what have we learned?

Our politicians hope that if enough people die, refugees will give up. They’ll go somewhere else. They’ll stay in squalid camps. They’ll return to the rubble of their homes. We know that’s not true.

The deaths we’ve seen in the Mediterranean Sea, in the English Channel, by busy roads and in desperate refugee camps across Europe – they’re the product of a policy.

It’s not one you’re likely to find in election manifestos, or on your government’s website. But it’s there. It’s a policy that accepts that human misery and death are necessary to deter people from seeking safety from conflict in Europe.

It’s worth saying that again. These deaths, these lives tragically cut short – they are largely preventable. But in their efforts to look ‘tough on immigration’, in preventing dignified and effective routes to safety, our politicians have condemned these people.

Conditions for young refugees in Calais

Current conditions for young refugees in Calais (RYS)

On this day four years ago, we all saw the heartbreaking images of Alan Kurdi, lying face-down on a Turkish beach. But despite the initial outpouring of compassion, little has changed. A British Government proposal to bring 3,000 lone refugee children to the safety of the UK was so watered down that only a few hundred children have been taken in over three years.

It’s now been revealed that the Home Office is also planning to end family reunion for children after Brexit, cutting this lifeline for children at risk of exploitation and abuse.

Children already risk their lives in the back of lorries or on overcrowded dinghies because of glacial legal processes. Without proper routes to safety, these dangerous journeys will only increase. But it feels simpler for our leaders to lament the deaths, rather than protect the living.

While our governments may think human lives are acceptable collateral in their efforts to look ‘tough on immigration’, we don’t. On this tragic anniversary, we stand in solidarity with all refugees and displaced people, and with everyone who steps up to help.

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Life in Greece: I Wish I Was A Bird

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Aya and Cucutenna laugh]

 

Ali: Yeah? Is it better now?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cucutenna: It’s complicated?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cucutenna: What kinda movies do you want to make?

 

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

 

Cucutenna: What are your dreams for the future?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Aya + Cucutenna: We love you.

 

 

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We’re hiring! Apply to join Help Refugees as our new Fundraising and Marketing Manager

Help Refugees is seeking a Fundraising and Marketing Manager to join its London team.

 

This is a unique opportunity to gain experience working for one of the fastest-growing charities in the UK. You’ll work alongside a small, dynamic, hard-working team, and have the chance to make a real, tangible impact to the lives of thousands of refugees and displaced people all over the world.

ABOUT YOU

You choose love. 

You are motivated by a love of humanity that knows no borders.

You are a doer 

You spot opportunities for impact and make things happen. You are comfortable working on scrappy passion projects and longer-term strategic campaigns. A good day is when you’ve done something to change the world. 

You are a creative communicator. 

You know the world is changed by stories and you want to be at the heart of telling them. You can communicate complex ideas with clarity, powerful stories with passion and understand how to move people. 

You are curious. 

You know good ideas can come from anywhere and are constantly looking at the world around you for inspiration. 

You are a team player. 

You work best when part of a small, collaborative team. You are happy to muck in when needed and the words ‘not my job’ have never crossed your lips.

You are entrepreneurial. 

You think beyond the limits of your current role. You take risks, celebrate failure and never stop generating ideas.

ABOUT HELP REFUGEES 

We are pioneering a new movement in charity that provides emergency aid and long term solutions where they are most needed.

Our model is simple. We go where the need is greatest, find the local or grassroots organisations doing the most effective work, and give them what they need to help people – whether that’s funding, material aid or volunteers.

We work to fill the gaps in services available to refugees, across Europe and the Middle East. We aim to respond to emergencies with aid and support, and to secure permanent change through long-term solutions, campaigning and advocacy. Our work is motivated by four key values – dignity, hope, respect and humanity – which we promote through all of our work.

With this model, we’ve managed to support almost 1 million people across over 100 projects in 13 countries. In the last four years, we’ve had more than 30,000 volunteers from over 90 countries.

Our ‘Choose Love’ brand has been worn by Oprah, Julia Roberts and Jude Law, and thousands more across the world. Our ‘buy nothing, pop-up’ stores in London and New York have raised £2.75 million and gained headlines in New York Times, The Guardian and been featured on CNN. Our founders have addressed audiences including Barack Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

ABOUT THE ROLE 

The Fundraising and Marketing Manager is a new role focused on deepening the commitment of existing supporters and bringing new members into the movement. This role is for someone who loves technology and data and everything that falls between and wants to use that passion to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people. 

What you’ll be responsible for

  • Inspiring Help Refugee’s growing community of supporters to give by creating compelling campaigns and content across email, social media channels and offline events 
  • Tracking and analysing data donor to inform your work and the efforts of the organisation
  • Overseeing pro-bono campaigns. We’re lucky enough to get support from Google and Facebook. We want you to use it most effectively
  • Supporting the Leadership team on fundraising from high-level individual givers and foundations 
  • Make sure we’re updating our best-practices to reflect national and global trends in digital fundraising
  • Management of Help Refugee’s website and digital payment gateways 
  • Occasional management of contractors and project teams 

Essential Requirements 

  • Track record of success in digital fundraising or marketing with at least three years experience 
  • Demonstrable experience of understanding donor behaviour and inspiring people to give
  • Confident and sophisticated communicator with strong writing skills
  • Experience managing or working with a large community of online givers (50,000) 

The Big Pluses 

Ideal candidates will bring at least one of these to our work.

  • Experience with online fundraising in the model of new movement organisations (Avaaz, Sum of Us, 38 Degrees) 
  • Experience working in the field of humanitarian aid, refugee or migration
  • Experience using SQL and data and experimentation tools (e.g. Optimizely), ideally in a fundraising environment
  • Experience with mobile technology, online giving platforms and website design 
  • Track record of using social media platforms to fundraise 
  • Demonstrable experience in using data and analytics to segment audiences and target content that has resulted in more support 

THE DEAL 

The role will be managed by the CEO.

The role is currently based out of the Help Refugees office in London Fields, hopefully moving to Soho in London. Remote working will not be considered.

The role may involve some travel.

The role will be offered as permanent role with a six-month probation period. We anticipate the starting date to be no later than end of October 2019.

Salary is inline with other non-governmental organisations.

Application Instructions

Please apply with a cover letter (of no more than two pages) outlining your suitability for the role and a copy for your CV. Email jobs@helprefugees.org with the subject line ‘ Fundraising and Marketing Manager’.

Help Refugees does not discriminate in employment matters on the basis of race, colour, religion, gender, age, sexuality or any other protected class. We support workplace diversity and believer it creates dynamic, relevant organisations, fostering spaces for innovation and creativity. We are working hard to increase the diversity of our team and encourage you to be a part of it.

We are committed to making our roles and culture inclusive. We can make reasonable adjustments throughout the application process and on the job. If you have particular accessibility needs, please get in touch and let us know any requirements you may have.

This post will remain open until filled, applications are being actively reviewed.

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