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

 

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

 

Abused and imprisoned: the women of Yarl’s Wood

 

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

 

Set Her Free

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

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

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

 

Re-traumatisation

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

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

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

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

 

Effectiveness

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

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

 

Expense

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

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

 

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

 

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Joint letter to the Home Secretary on immigration and asylum

We’ve joined a long list of British charities in writing a joint letter to the Home Secretary, raising a number of pressing immigration and asylum issues – and pushing for a fairer, more dignified, more humane approach to migration and asylum.

Indefinite detention. Separation of families. The hostile environment. If our immigration and asylum system is to regain public trust, the UK needs to radically change its approach. We know it won’t be easy, but we believe that the UK can, and must, begin the task of creating a fairer, more dignified, more humane approach to immigration and asylum.

You can read the full letter below.


 

30th July 2019

Dear Home Secretary,

Congratulations on your appointment to one of the great offices of state. You will lead the Home Office through a period of great challenge, but at a moment of great opportunity for reform. We are writing to you as organisations that work with, are led by, or represent people who have moved to the UK and have made it their home. We want to raise a number of pressing issues, which require action if the immigration and asylum system is to regain the trust of the public.

Allowing people who seek safety in the UK to re-build their lives

As a global power and as the fifth richest country in the world with a proud history of providing safety to those in need, Britain has an obligation to lead by example and guarantee shelter and safe passage to those who seek asylum or refuge from conflict, persecution and crisis. We can and must build a system where safe, legal routes to asylum are accessible to all who need them. We must build a system where asylum decisions are made quickly and fairly, so that people can rebuild their lives in the UK. Currently, people seeking asylum in the UK are effectively banned from working, meaning that they are at a high risk of destitution and denied the opportunity to provide for their families and contribute to the economy. Funding cuts to ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes must be reversed and new long-term funding guaranteed. We need comprehensive support systems which help those who seek asylum to navigate life here and become active members of their local communities by allowing them to work and study.

Keep families together

All families belong together. Under current rules however, British nationals must demonstrate they earn an income well above the minimum wage in order to live with their partner in the UK. British nationals with parents abroad find it almost impossible to bring them here as they grow older. As a result, tens of thousands of British families live in separation, with children unable to see their parents except through Skype. The UK should make it easier for its citizens to build a life here with the people they love. Refugees in the UK who have lost everything should have the right to be reunited with their close family in the UK so that they can make a fresh start together and integrate in their new community. Reintroducing legal aid is vital for them to navigate the complicated process of being reunited with their families.

Secure the rights of European citizens and their family members and protect vulnerable groups

We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement to guarantee the rights of European citizens in the UK, but we urge the government to enshrine those rights in UK law. The Home Office must step up its efforts to provide adequate and concrete information about the EU Settlement Scheme to EU citizens and their family members who are often non-EU nationals. This should include targeted outreach activities to vulnerable EU citizens such as elderly people, children in care, disabled people, rough sleepers and victims of domestic violence. These groups are at risk of not being aware of the scheme at all, of being misinformed, of not having access to accurate information and support services to navigate the scheme and of eventually facing the hostile environment if they miss the application deadline.

Stable work and study routes

Our current immigration system ties workers to employers, distorting the market and creating opportunities for exploitation and short-term visas. Ever-changing requirements make workers’ lives unstable. We need more sensible, more flexible rules that encourage long-term integration and stability for families. Children and young people who grew up in the UK or were born in this country should have equal access to education and work as their British peers regardless of their parents’ immigration status. The Home Office should guarantee easy and affordable access to citizenship for this young generation.

Treat human beings with humanity and end indefinite detention

Our immigration enforcement system treats people brutally: families are woken in the middle of the night by immigration raids and parents are taken away in front of their children. Too many people are detained unlawfully and with no idea when they may be set free. Access to healthcare within detention is often inadequate. The Home Office under your predecessors started to take important steps in reforming immigration detention and pursuing alternatives to detention. There is cross- party support in Parliament for a 28-day time limit on detention. We ask you to pursue these reforms with urgency.

End the Hostile Environment

Our communities, our public spaces, our public services and our workplaces should be places open to us all, where no one fears discrimination or persecution. The hostile environment builds a border through our hospitals, homes, schools, police stations and communities. Doctors, landlords, police officers and teachers have been tasked with verifying immigration status and often people who look or sound ‘foreign’ are asked to show their papers in order to see a doctor or go to school. We are also concerned about the collection and processing of increasing amounts of personal data of migrants and the lack of safeguarding in place to regulate its use in the broader immigration process. We must end the hostile environment so that discrimination is effectively challenged and communities can unite, build bridges and prosper. Additionally, the recommendations of Wendy Williams’ Lessons Learned Review must be published immediately. We ask you to commit to ending the Hostile Environment.

Build a better Home Office

The Home Office should make timely, correct and fair decisions about people’s status, supporting people to get on with their lives and become active members of their community. It should not price people out of status or citizenship and should be transparent and accountable. Cuts to funding and a lack of investment in training and support mean that caseworkers are overstretched and the department struggles to retain staff. Only a department that works efficiently, values its staff, embraces transparency and uses evidence to make policy can deliver an immigration system that earns public trust. We ask you to invest in that reform as a matter of urgency. Recent governments have seen scandal after scandal rooted in the failure of the immigration and asylum system to work effectively and fairly. Building a better one will not be easy, but it is more essential than ever. We look forward to working with you and your department to make it happen.

Yours sincerely,

Leila Zadeh, Executive Director, UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group
Tahmid Chowdhury, Joint-CEO, Here for Good
Kerry Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Helen Bamber Foundation
Emma Harrison, CEO, IMIX
Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)
Rosario Guimba-Stewart, Chief Executive Officer, Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network
Josie Naughton, Chief Executive Officer, Help Refugees
Eiri Ohtani, Project Director, The Detention Forum
Arten Llazari, CEO, The Refugee and Migrant Centre (Black Country and Birmingham)
Toni Soni, Centre Director, CRMC, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre
Wayne Myslik, Chief Executive, Consonant
Emily Crowley, Chief Executive, Student Action for Refugees
Dr Laura Miller, Interim Director, Solidarity with Refugees
Nazek Ramadan, Director of Migrant Voice, Migrant Voice
Alice Lucas, Advocacy and Policy Manager, Refugee Rights Europe
Maya Mailer, Campaigns Director, Asylum Matters
Kate Smart, Director, Asylum Welcome
Sarah Teather, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service UK
Jo Cobley, Director, Young Roots
Jill Rutter, Director of Strategy and Relationships, British Future.
Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)
Nicolas Hatton, CEO, the3million
Hazel Williams, National Director, NACCOM Network
Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, Chair, Churches’ Refugee Network
Kat Smithson, Director of Policy and Campaigns, National Aids Trust
Siân Summers-Rees, Chief Officer, City of Sanctuary
Lucy Jones, Director of Programmes, Doctors of the World UK
Clare Moseley, Founder & CEO, Care4Calais
Dr Ruvi Ziegler, Chair, New Europeans
Anna Jones, Co-Founder, RefuAid
Dr Mohamed Nasreldin, Director, North of England Refugee Service
Ali Harris, CEO, Equally Ours
Kush Chottera, Executive Director of Europia
Gus Hosein. Executive Director, Privacy International
Eleanor Harrison, CEO, Safe Passage
James Wilson, Acting Director, Detention Action
Sally Daghlian OBE, CEO, Praxis
Salah Mohamed, Chief Executive, Welsh Refugee Council

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Brexit & LGBTQ+ Rights: The Threat to Transgender Asylum Seekers

In light of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, it is important to celebrate how far society has come in its advocacy and implementation of LGBTQI+ rights. In the UK alone, from the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to the Equality Act 2010, the 21st century has seen a vast increase in legislation passed specifically to protect the rights of LGBTQI+ people. Whilst this demonstrates clear progression, we simply cannot become complacent.

In the turbulent political climate we currently face in the UK, the nation’s divide on Brexit has led to increased anticipation regarding the future of employment, business, trade and immigration. Often overlooked amidst the chaos is the imminent threat and ongoing uncertainty to be faced by the LGBTQI+ community and the knock-on effect this may have on transgender individuals seeking refuge in the UK.

EU Legislation

As it currently stands, Britain is protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which asserts under Article 21 that discrimination based on any ground, including sexual orientation and gender identity, is prohibited. Harrowingly, this charter is set to be discarded upon Britain’s departure from the EU and will see specifically transgender individuals left without express legal protection. In a time whereby hostility towards transgender individuals is rife and extremely topical, what does the future hold for transgender asylum seekers in the UK?

Rising Threats

In a recent report by ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) analysing 49 countries within Europe, clear regression in policies on equality and sexual discrimination was recorded for the first time in a decade. With a spike in hate crime towards LGBTQI+ individuals documented by Stonewall in a 2017 report and the stigmatisation of gender identity in the media in recent months, transgender individuals are becoming exposed to a gruelling rise in abuse.

An investigation by the University of Bristol asserts that EU law is ‘the justification for including transgender identities within our current equality framework’ and thus alludes to the potential erasure of non-discrimination rights for trans individuals upon the UK’s departure from the EU.

When combined with the fact that post-Brexit immigration policy is proposed to subject migrants to further scrutiny, this disregard of non-discrimination rights for trans individuals beckons the question: will the Home Office prioritise the safety of a transgender individual fleeing persecution in their home country when Britain fails to ensure the protection of its own transgender citizens?

In 2017, a British transgender woman was granted residency in New Zealand on humanitarian grounds after suffering years of transphobic abuse whilst living in the UK. Since settling in New Zealand in 2009, she has lived with reduced anxiety and depression due to experiencing no further abuse since her move. Incidents as tragic as this could rocket when there is no longer any legal obligation to be non-discriminatory towards trans individuals.

As a result, rather than the UK securing its status as a place of refuge for transgender asylum seekers, in a cruel twist of irony it may see itself become an environment from which transgender citizens will want to flee.

Applying for Asylum

Observing the UK’s current approach to transgender asylum seekers leaves little room for speculation on the damning reality to come. In recent times, cases of distressing and invasive screening during the UK asylum process for LGBTQI+ individuals have surfaced. Under current asylum law, individuals can apply for refugee status in the UK if able to prove that they fear persecution in their home country due to factors such as race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.

The requirement to prove such fear of persecution is where one issue within the asylum process lies and has been grossly exploited. The onus is on the applicant to establish the likelihood of their home country inflicting serious harm based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The applicant must also provide evidential proof of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity – an aspect which often leaves the individual in a catch-22 scenario if they have been forced to suppress their true identity in their country of origin.

Discriminatory Detention

Despite the fact that applicants are not required to have been publicly open with their sexuality/gender identity to be granted asylum, the difficulty lies in convincing the Home Office of their legitimacy. This has devastatingly led to LGBTQI+ individuals having their privacy infringed upon in an attempt to prove they are sincere.

In a 2016 report by UKLGIG titled ‘No Safe Refuge’, LGBTQI+ applicants for asylum who were held in detention centres across the UK were interviewed and revealed the extensive abuse and discrimination endured. Many detainees told of how the interviewing officers asked intrusive questions ‘targeted to gain explicit content’ despite this having been ‘strongly discouraged’ by the Home Office in 2015. In one troubling case, a Nigerian gay rights activist who was accused of ‘faking’ her sexuality to gain asylum in the UK resorted to sending the judge an intimate video in a desperate attempt to prove her sexual orientation.

That LGBTQI+ individuals seeking asylum are so often detained and obstructed from gaining refugee status due to a lack of evidence is the epitome of injustice with transgender individuals often hit the hardest by this requirement. Finding themselves unable to express their gender due to fear of targeting by fellow detainees yet pressed by interviewing officers for not ‘looking’ transgender, many transgender asylum seekers are left feeling trapped and helpless.

Post-Brexit Policy

Once leaving the EU, it ought to be a priority that any remnant of the inhumane hostile environment policy is eradicated. In a stark attempt to decrease immigration numbers, the policy was introduced by the Home Office in 2012 with the sole aim of making it as difficult as possible to maintain asylum status in the UK by creating an unwelcoming environment for migrants. Despite Home Secretary Sajid Javid distancing himself from this policy in 2018, the brutal treatment and experiences of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers suggests the aftermath is still felt by the most marginalised members of society today and may thrive once again after Brexit.

Throughout the ongoing Brexit negotiations, it remains a pressing responsibility of the government to produce reformed human rights legislation which ensures both the protection and progression of trans rights and those seeking asylum.


This article has been written by Holly Barrow who is a political correspondent and content writer for the Immigration Advice Service – an organisation of immigration lawyers that offers free advice and support for asylum-seekers and victims of abuse.

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What is a refugee? The definition of ‘refugee’ explained

What is the definition of a “refugee”?

A refugee is someone who, due to a well-founded fear of persecution, war or violence, has been forced to flee their home country.

The legal definition of the term refugee was set out in the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.

It was a few years after the Second World War. Nazi Germany had killed nine million people in the Holocaust, including six million Jews, and displaced millions more.

The world’s leaders wanted to ensure that protection for those displaced by war and persecution in internation law.

The convention set out the definition of the term ‘refugee’ as follows:

Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it.
– The 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees

There are a few ideas going on here, so let’s break it down, bit by bit.

  1. “…well-founded fear”:
    This means that a refugee has solid grounds to their fear. They are facing real danger.
  2. “…of being persecuted…”:
    A refugee fears being oppression, hostility and violence so bad that it forces them to leave their country.
  3. “…reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…”
    These are known as the ‘Convention reasons’. They break down the reasons why – under the Refugee Convention – a refugee is forced to flee.They were, of course, written in 1951, and today these reasons may seem too stringent. There is no mention of people who are forced to flee a country based on their sexuality. But times are changing – albeit slowly. The UK, for example, finally accepted that sexuality may be a reason to grant asylum in 2010.
  4. “…is outside the country of his nationality…”:
    Technically, someone who fits every stipulation but is still in their home country is called an ‘internally displaced person’, rather than a refugee.
  5. “…is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to [their country].”
    As a result of all of the above, this person is unable or unwilling to return home.

To be recognised as a refugee under the Refugee Convention, an asylum seeker would have to show that the above conditions apply to them.

1951 UN Refugee Convention signing

World leaders sign the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Picture: UNHCR

Today, we often see people ask why refugees don’t settle in the first safe country they reach (N.B. most of them do). However, the Refugee Convention does not stipulate that refugees have to do this. Refugees are well within their rights to pass through safe countries before applying for asylum.

You can read about the history of the Refugee Convention and its full text on the UNHCR website.

What about ‘refugee status’?

Refugee status is a form of protection granted to those who successfully pass through Refugee Status Determination (RSD). RSD is the legal process by which governments ascertain whether an asylum seeker can be considered a refugee.

Refugee Status Determination, or RSD, is the legal or administrative process by which governments or UNHCR determine whether a person seeking international protection is considered a refugee under international, regional or national law. RSD is often a vital process in helping refugees realize their rights under international law.

It’s worth considering the difference between someone who is a de facto refugee, in that they’ve been forced to flee their home country for fear of persecution or violence, and someone who has refugee status, which is a legal status endowed upon them by a government.


Help Refugees supports refugees, asylum seekers and migrants across their whole journey. We’ve supported almost 1 million people in four years, thanks to the incredible hard work of 30,000 volunteers and wonderfully generous donors. Please consider setting up a small monthly donation of £3 to help us continue supporting displaced people across the globe.

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We’re hiring! Apply to join Help Refugees as our new Campaigns Manager

Help Refugees is seeking a Campaigns Manager to join our 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 but 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 maker. 

You spot opportunities for impact and make things happen. You are comfortable working on scrappy passion projects and longer-term strategic interventions. A good day is when you’ve made something.

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 the role of visuals.

You are strategic.

You keep your eyes on the prize and can deliver strategies and products with impact. You’re motivated by the lasting impact of your work.

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 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 Campaigns Manager is a new role focused on building the profile, resources and support for Help Refugees to expand their impact.

Essential Requirements 

  • Track record in devising and delivering high-impact campaigns across platforms that made significant impact towards their goal
  • Strong portfolio of communication products or interventions that grabbed headlines or clicks
  • Track record in developing and maintaining strong relationships with a range of key influencers and actors in your field (media, advocacy, communications, campaigns)
  • Confident and sophisticated communicator with strong writing skills

The Big Pluses 

  • Experience in a start-up, growth business or a dynamic not-for-profit environment
  • Experience working in the field of humanitarian aid, refugee or migration

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 September 2019.

Salary is inline with other non-governmental organisations.

Application deadline: 9am, Monday 12th August. 

Additional 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 using the ‘Apply to this job’ button below. Application deadline: 9am, Monday 11th August.

HELP REFUGEES CAMPAIGNS MANAGER: APPLY HERE


We are committed to providing equality and fairness for all and not discriminating on grounds of gender, marital status, race, ethnic origin, nationality, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, mental health, religion or age. We encourage and celebrate the different qualities that our colleagues, and others we work with, bring to our work. We believe that seeing things from a wide range of different perspectives helps us to resolve problems, adapt our approaches and develop as an organisation. We want to bring greater diversity to our team and we’re keen to receive applications from people who believe they would do this.

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European Refugee Crisis: The truth

We often see figures on the far right referring to the “European refugee crisis”, or the “European migrant crisis”, in an attempt to stoke the fires of intolerance for political gain. 

They point to the influx of over a million refugees and migrants across Europe in 2015, suggesting that the West is facing an “invasion” or a “swarm”, and using that to justify sweeping immigration bans and hostile environments.

But the reality is very different. In 2019, only 9.6% of the world’s refugees live in Europe – and almost half of those live in Germany. That doesn’t sound like a “European refugee crisis” – it sounds like something that the wealthiest nations in the world can manage.

But for all the hysterical media coverage and fear-mongering slogans, the West is still a long way from supporting its fair share of refugees and displaced people.

Refugee statistics by Amnesty

Graphic courtesy of Amnesty International; figures sourced from the UNHCR.

When we started Help Refugees, we were often asked why so many refugees come to Europe – but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of refugees live in the nations neighbouring their home country.

Turkey, for example – which shares a border with Syria – is home to over 3.4 million refugees. Likewise, Jordan hosts 2.9 million – in a country of only 9 million people. That’s almost a third of the population.

The UK, on the other hand, is currently home to just 126,720 refugees. That’s only 0.48% of the world’s total – and only 1.8% of the population. Compare that to Jordan’s 32%, and suddenly the phrase “European refugee crisis” seems a bit silly.

Meanwhile, the European Union pays off Turkey and Libya to get them to stop the flow of refugees – leaving millions of people in extremely insecure environments, even putting people at risk of detention and human trafficking.

The EU-Turkey Deal has left millions of Syrians in limbo in Turkey, where it’s nearly impossible to find work as a refugee – but where they conveniently cause no headaches for Europe’s leaders. Likewise, in funding the coastguard and preventing people from leaving Libya, the EU is indirectly putting people at risk of modern slavery and trafficking.

Eviction in Dunkirk Grand Synthe

Refugees in Calais and Dunkirk live in dire conditions. With neither the UK nor the French government wanting to take responsibility, civil society organisations step in to fill the gap. Photo: HRO

That’s not to say that there’s not serious issues facing displaced people once they arrive in Europe, too. The best estimates suggest that around 10,000 unaccompanied minors have gone missing on the continent.

In Greece, there are almost 80,000 refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom live in the worst camps on the continent. The asylum system is overloaded and hundreds of unaccompanied minors have to sleep on the streets.

In Northern France, hundreds of people are forced to live on the streets and in the forests, blocked by hostile bureaucracies and anti-immigrant sentiment across the country, desperately trying to find safety in the UK.

We can do better than this – we have to.


If you want to help, you can set up a monthly donation to Help Refugees. Even just a few quid a month can make a difference. We’re still mostly funded by individuals like you, so your generosity would be hugely appreciated.

If you can’t afford to donate, fear not – there are still lots of ways you can get involved. Check out this article on 9 ways you can help refugees without spending any money.

Finally, you can sign up to our newsletter below to receive the latest refugee news and learn about how you can help.

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9 ways to help refugees without donating money

‘What can I do to help refugees?’ It’s a question we’re often asked. Because helping isn’t just about donating money. There are a huge number of ways you can help refugees – all without putting your hand in your pocket. Here are just a few. And if you’ve got a great suggestion to add to this list, please do get in touch.

 

If you’ve got five minutes or less…

 

  • Take action to help refugees from your laptop

Sometimes busy schedules or a lack of free time mean we need quick and easy ways to help. Luckily, there are a wide range of quick online actions you can take to support refugees.

 

If you’ve got a few hours to spare…

 

  • Volunteer in the UK to help refugees

There are many ways to help locally. You could volunteer with Help Refugees doing festival salvage – ensuring useful items left behind at UK festivals go to people who really need them. You could get in touch if you have specific skills (like filmmaking, animation, web design – to name a few) to see if we could put them to use. You could sign up to our mailing list – you’ll get regular updates about ways to get involved. Find out more about how to get involved in volunteering in the UK.

  • Find out how to welcome refugees to your community

Community Sponsorship enables local volunteer groups to resettle a refugee family in their neighbourhood. It’s a big commitment, but an incredible way to welcome refugees into your community. Whether it’s made up of your neighbours, friends or colleagues, if your group has got the time, commitment and can raise the necessary funds – you could transform the lives of a refugee family.  Find out more about community sponsorship.

If you’ve got a day…

 

  • Donate items to help refugees

Have you got some warm clothes or tinned food to donate? Maybe you have a whole van full? We need your help! Across the UK are donation drop-off points for these kinds of items. Check our website to see what’s currently needed, then get collecting!

  • Join campaigns and advocate for refugees

Once refugees get to the UK, often their journey is only just beginning. People face huge challenges in rebuilding their lives – and there are a wide range of campaigns trying to change policy and improve this.

You could join the campaign to lift the ban on working for people seeking refugee status – a policy that’s currently causing suffering and destitution.

You could campaign to end indefinite detention in the UK – an brutal system that means asylum seekers and the surivors of torture and trafficking can be held in detention without a time limit in the UK.

Help Refugees volunteers salvaging at Glastonbury

Help Refugees volunteers salvaging at Glastonbury

If you’ve got a week or more…

 

  • Volunteer internationally to help refugees

Help Refugees works in collaboration with indiGO Volunteers to connect you with more than 50 grassroots projects responding to the refugee crisis in Greece, Bosnia and Serbia. If you’re interested in volunteering, indiGO will match up your skills and availability with projects in need of help. Volunteers at these incredible groups are running community centres, providing medical care, delivering education projects, providing legal advice and so much more. Find out how to get involved in international volunteering.

  • Welcome refugees to your community

Community Sponsorship enables local volunteer groups to resettle a refugee family in their neighbourhood. It’s a big commitment, but an incredible way to welcome refugees into your community. Whether it’s made up of your neighbours, friends or colleagues, if your group has got the time, commitment and can raise the necessary funds – you could transform the lives of a refugee family.  Find out more about community sponsorship

  • Get your university to offer scholarships or bursaries to refugees

Education is a key element of fostering inclusion, boosting employment and enabling people to rebuild their lives. But entering or continuing higher education is a huge challenge for refugees. Worldwide, just 1% of refugee youth make it to university.

In the UK, you can join the campaign for equal access to higher education for refugees and asylum seekers. Many universities already offer home fees, tuition fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships. Make sure you uni does too. There’s a toolkit to get started from Student Action for Refugees.

  • Share your home with a refugee

Many single refugees who are not viewed as priorities for housing by local authorities – but finding the money for rent and a deposit is out of reach for many people. Because of this, refugees may homelessness and destitution. We can help prevent this. Schemes like Refugees at Home and Room for Refugees connect people with spare rooms in the UK, with refugees and asylum seekers in need of accommodation.

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803 evictions of refugees in Northern France since August: a new report

A new report by Help Refugees, L’Auberge des Migrants, Human Rights Observers and Refugee Info Bus reveals that there were at least 803 forced evictions of displaced people in Calais and Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, between 1 August 2018 and 1 June 2019, creating abject living conditions and forcing people to seek even more dangerous routes to reach the UK.

These evictions take place on a daily basis in Calais, in which displaced people are forced out of their living sites, subjected to police violence and, if they’re not present, the destruction of their belongings. They affect all displaced people in Calais, including unaccompanied children as young as 10 years old. The relentless and repetitive nature of the evictions appear to deliberately exhaust the communities.

Forced Evictions in Calais & Grand-Synthe report

Download the report

Forced evictions only serve to add to the accumulated trauma of refugees and migrants, creating further hostility rather than offer a dignified solution. This has led to a deterioration of both the physical and mental health of those affected.

This report proves the current policy focused on preventing any ‘fixation points’ of migrant communities to be a failure. Indeed, despite 803 evictions between August 2018 and June 2019, there are still over 1,000 displaced people present in the area, of which 255 are unaccompanied minors and 277 are people in family units.

You can read the full report here.

Our collective of associations coming together to witness, analyse, document, report and denounce such human rights breaches shows that the abuses of our governments is not in the name of their citizens.

Hundreds of police officers conducting degrading, inhumane, expensive and wholly ineffective actions is not a solution to the migrant crisis at our border. The vast sums of British citizen’s money assured by the UK government for ‘securitisation’ of the border could be more effectively used to provide dignified accommodation, access to legal asylum channels, uniting children with their families and providing safe travel and homes for lost, missing and unaccompanied children currently forced to sleep out on the streets by a potent mix of our government’s choice of inaction and intentional hostility to refugees – people in need of our help.

Download and read the full report:

Along with our partners, Help Refugees runs the largest aid operation in Northern France. If you would like to support our work, please consider donating today.

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Jo Cox’s sister writes open letter to British MPs: #SaveIdlib #onemillionkids

On the third anniversary of Jo Cox’s death, her sister Kim Leadbeater is asking senior political figures across the UK to take a break from Brexit to focus on one of the issues that mattered most to her: the humanitarian emergency in Syria.

One million children are currently trapped in Idlib province, facing Russian and regime airstrikes and horrific barrel bombs. Over 350 civilians have been killed in the last six weeks alone. The silence from British politicians is deafening.

The letter is co-signed by Alison McGovern MP and Tom Tugendhat MP. Jo Cox campaigned passionately for the protection of civilians caught in the conflict, and we want to honour her by putting aside our differences over Brexit for one day to focus on our shared humanity. You can read the full letter at the bottom of this page.

Write to your MP with our simple template – it takes 30 seconds. #onemillionkids #SaveIdlib

What you can do:

Write to your MP and demand that they do everything they can to protect those trapped in Idlib. You can use our template – it only takes 30 seconds.

On Sunday 16th June 2019, we’re asking leaders and leadership candidates to take a break from Brexit and tell us what they plan to do to protect the estimated one million children trapped in Idlib.

The UK is an incredibly powerful country with a seat at the UN Security Council. But the inaction on Syria is costing the lives of the most vulnerable. That’s why we want the head of every political party, or aspiring leader, to answer one straightforward question: if you are Prime Minister what will you do to save the million children trapped under bombs in Idlib?

If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #onemillionkids and ask party leaders and candidates what their plan is to resolve the crisis and protect these children.

We’re also asking Sunday newspapers to find prominent space for more coverage of the conflict on this day, and broadcasters to feature the story on the morning news shows.

Despite our preoccupation with Brexit, the UK remains a compassionate country which understands that the indiscriminate targeting of children is wrong.

This day is an opportunity for politicians on all sides to demonstrate their commitment to our shared humanity and the principles that Jo Cox lived for.


If you can spare 30 seconds, please consider using our template to write to your MP and ask them to #SaveIdlib. All you have to do is put your address & details in. Kim Leadbeater #SaveIdlib LetterKim Leadbeater #SaveIdlib Letter

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Join our call to protect one million children in Idlib #SaveIdlib

On the third anniversary of Jo Cox’s death, we’re asking senior political figures across the UK to take a break from Brexit to focus on one of the issues that mattered most to her: the humanitarian emergency in Syria.

One million children are currently trapped in Idlib province, facing Russian and regime airstrikes and horrific barrel bombs. Over 350 civilians have been killed in the last six weeks alone. The silence from British politicians is deafening.

Jo Cox campaigned passionately for the protection of civilians caught in the conflict, and we want to honour her by putting aside our differences over Brexit for one day to focus on our shared humanity.

What you can do:

Write to your MP and demand that they do everything they can to protect those trapped in Idlib. You can use our template – it only takes 30 seconds.

On Sunday 16th June 2019, we’re asking leaders and leadership candidates to take a break from Brexit and tell us what they plan to do to protect the estimated one million children trapped in Idlib.

The UK is an incredibly powerful country with a seat at the UN Security Council. But the inaction on Syria is costing the lives of the most vulnerable. That’s why we want the head of every political party, or aspiring leader, to answer one straightforward question: if you are Prime Minister what will you do to save the million children trapped under bombs in Idlib?

If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #onemillionkids and ask party leaders and candidates what their plan is to resolve the crisis and protect these children.

We’re also asking Sunday newspapers to find prominent space for more coverage of the conflict on this day, and broadcasters to feature the story on the morning news shows.

Despite our preoccupation with Brexit, the UK remains a compassionate country which understands that the indiscriminate targeting of children is wrong.

This day is an opportunity for politicians on all sides to demonstrate their commitment to our shared humanity and the principles that Jo Cox lived for.


If you can spare 30 seconds, please consider using our template to write to your MP and ask them to #SaveIdlib. All you have to do is put your address & details in. 

Read more