news

On Samos, we see what happens when refugee children are left out in the cold

When I was a little kid, I lost my mum in the supermarket. I still remember the terror of those minutes vividly. But on the Greek islands, children as young as eight live totally alone in freezing tents, for months at a time.⁣

Yesterday I was told about a ten-year-old unaccompanied child living on Samos. When he was asked what he needed, rather than a sleeping bag, a jacket or food, he asked for a football. He really did need a sleeping bag, a jacket and food, but he didn’t know that. Children aren’t meant to know what they need in order to survive winter. On Samos these kids are forced to understand things, see things, and experience things that no one should – let alone a child.⁣

On Samos, around 400 of these children live alone in the camp and overflow area which surrounds the official compound. They’re left to fend for themselves. They’re constantly cold and dirty and have to queue for hours for food. They don’t go to school, and when night falls they’re exposed to horrifying dangers. Depression, self harm and suicidal tendencies are commonplace among these kids.⁣

Across Europe, there are thousands of unaccompanied refugee children who have family in the UK. But rather than allowing these children to escape tortuous conditions and reunite with family members, the UK government is trying close family reunion for lone refugee children after Brexit.⁣

It is easy to see politics as something big, abstract and irrelevant, but here on Samos we can see the devastating impact of hostile refugee policies on a daily basis. ⁣

Some of the children here are so traumatised they scream out in their sleep. We cannot turn our backs on these most vulnerable children. We should all be screaming out.”⁣

 



Hannah is a Field Manager for Help Refugees on the Greek island of Samos.

TAKE ACTION: if you’re based in the UK, please take a few minutes to contact your MP.

 

Read more

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

FUNDRAISING AND COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

Help Refugees is seeking a Fundraising and Communications Manager to join our London team (application deadline: 9am, Monday 20th January)

 

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 

Help Refugees started as nothing more than a hashtag. 

Devastated by images of thousands of families arriving on European shores to be met with barbed wire, borders and batons, a group of friends used #helprefugees to organise a van full of donations in August 2015. Within a week, we had raised $72,000 and were soon receiving 7,000 items every day. 

Fast forward four years and we have reached over one million displaced people, worked with over 35,000 volunteers and currently support over 120 projects across Europe, the Middle East and US-Mexican border.  

Each of these projects is powered by ordinary people who are stepping up where governments are failing to provide even the most basic services. From those keeping rescue boats afloat, to the volunteers distributing tents and hot food, to the brave souls working under the desert sun to place water along the Mexican border.

We also support those working to build a brighter future — the teachers working with students to build prosthetic limbs, the therapists helping heal the invisible scars of war and the lawyers working to unite families. 

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

 

ABOUT THE ROLE 

The Fundraising and Communications Manager is a new role focused on deepening the commitment of existing supporters and bringing new members into the Choose Love movement. It is perfect for someone who loves creative communications, data and gets excited by raising funds to support our incredible humanitarian partners. 

What you’ll be responsible for:

  • Inputting to and delivering Help Refugee’s communication strategy 
  • 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 donor data 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
  • 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 medium to large community of online givers (+50,000) 

The Big Pluses 

Ideally you 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 using ActionKit of a similar platform
  • Experience working in the field of humanitarian aid, refugee or migration
  • 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 Director of Communications and Campaigns. 

The role is based out of the Help Refugees office in Somerset House, London. Part-time remote working will be considered if you can be in London weekly. 

The role may involve some infrequent travel.

The role will be offered as a permanent role with a six-month probation period. We anticipate the starting date to be no later than end of March 2020. 

Salary is inline with other non-governmental organisations.

 

HOW TO APPLY 

Please apply with a cover letter (of no more than two pages) outlining your suitability for the role and a copy for your CV to jobs@helprefugees.org

We will be reviewing and interviewing before the closing date.

Application deadline: 9am, Monday 20th January. 

Read more

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.

 

Read more

CHOOSE LOVE POP-UP SHOPS ARE BACK FOR 2019!

Please note: our pop-up shops in London, New York and LA are now closed. But you can still buy real products for refugees online at www.choose.love!

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
Read more

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. 

Read more

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.

Read more

Volunteers needed at the Calais woodyard!

The Calais woodyard are looking for 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.

The team are looking for volunteers to assist with the 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.

Woodyard Volunteers

  • 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

Read more

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.

 

Read more

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

Read more

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.

Read more