Pamela Anderson Foundation support of the Calais Mobile Youth Centre

Pamela Anderson Foundation support of the Calais Mobile Youth Centre

Pamela Anderson at the Calais warehouse

We are delighted to announce that following her visit to Calais earlier this year when she met the team, volunteered in the kitchen, donated vital bedding and food and met some of the unaccompanied minors at the evening distribution, Pamela Anderson has made a generous donation to the the Calais Mobile Youth Centre. This project is a partnership between Help Refugees and Refugee Youth Service. Funds were raised in conjunction with Maria Bravo’s amazing Global Gift Foundation.

The funds will cover running costs for the Mobile Youth Centre, providing essential support, information, aid and much-needed moments of respite to hundreds of children in Northern France every day. They will also cover the costs of the provision of internet each evening. This allows the kids to communicate with their families and friends back home which is such an important form of psycho-social support.
 
We would like to thank the Pamela Anderson Foundation and everyone at the Foundation for their support as well as Maria Bravo and the Global Gift Foundation.
 
To donate funds to the Mobile Youth Centre and help us keep this essential service running please click here.
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Help Refugees’ High Court challenge to Reopen Dubs Scheme

Starting on 20 June 2017, the High Court will hear Help Refugees’ challenge to the legality of the Government’s implementation and closure of the Dubs Scheme.

Section 67 Immigration Act 2016 (‘the Dubs Amendment’) requires the Government to make arrangements ‘as soon as possible’ after the passing of the Immigration Act 2016 to relocate and support unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.

Help Refugees’ Campaign Demand

Help Refugees is calling on the Government to reopen the Dubs Scheme, do its job properly and offer refuge to the vulnerable children it has committed to supporting.

The issues in the Help Refugees legal challenge

There are three sets of issues in this litigation.

1. First, Help Refugees is challenging the Government’s decision to close the Dubs Scheme. In particular, the Help Refugees legal team argues that the Government’s consultation with local authorities by which it reached the low number of 350 children to be relocated (later raised to 480) was seriously defective. Help Refugees will present a substantial amount of evidence to the High Court, including evidence of hundreds of places for children that it says were unlawfully omitted by the Government from the calculation of the nationwide capacity.

2. Second, Help Refugees is challenging the Government’s failure to implement its expressly urgent statutory duty quickly.

  • Although section 67 came into force on 31 May 2016, the Government waited until 8 February 2017 to announce the ‘specified number’ of children it intended to relocate (initially 350);
  • Only approximately 200 children have so far been relocated to the UK under the Dubs Amendment, all from the Calais Camp; and
  • The Government has yet to indicate when the next round of relocations, from Greece and Italy will begin;
  • Yet the Government is maintaining a policy (first adopted in July 2016) that children will only qualify for relocation under Dubs if the children were present in Europe before 20 March 2016.
  • In particular, the Help Refugees legal team is arguing that having delayed so long in implementing the Dubs Amendment, it is unlawful for the Government to maintain its policy of a 20 March 2016 cut-off point for refugee children’s eligibility for relocation under Dubs.

3. Help Refugees is also challenging the lack of fundamental procedural safeguards for unaccompanied refugee children who receive adverse decisions about their eligibility for relocation. The Government has refused to give written reasons or any written decisions to children who are refused relocation, nor any formal mechanism by which children can challenge refusals which they believe to be wrong.  The unaccompanied children formerly at the Jungle Camp in Calais were told orally, often in groups, and without explanation, that they had been refused relocation to the UK.

 

Background: the child refugee crisis in Europe

There are currently 95,000 unaccompanied refugee children living in Europe, many of whom experienced egregious abuse, including trafficking, en route or in their countries of origin.

Human Rights Watch has reported that, in Greece, “children face unsanitary and degrading conditions and abusive treatment, including detention with adults and ill-treatment by police”

The Harvard FXB Centre for Health and Human Rights has reported, “cases of sexual assault of children have … been documented in many camps around Greece; in addition, many international actors and NGOs point to a rise in allegations of sexual assault against children.”

The UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has explained that the Dubs Amendment “opened up an important and safe legal route to refuge in the UK for unaccompanied refugee children.”

 

The litigation so far

  • When the Help Refugees litigation was initiated on 18 October 2016 not a single child had been relocated to the UK under the Dubs Amendment.
  • At that time, those few children relocated to the UK from Europe were in fact being relocated under a separate, pre-existing EU law duty (the Dublin III Regulation) to reunite unaccompanied children with their family members. The Government argued that it could comply with the Dubs Amendment by carrying out its pre-existing duties under EU law to reunite unaccompanied children with their family members. Help Refugees pointed out that the Government’s interpretation was wrong.
  • On 16 December 2016, the High Court granted Help Refugees a declaration confirming the NGO’s interpretation of the Dubs Amendment: the Dubs Amendment is a new duty owed to those unaccompanied children who are not already entitled to relocation under EU law.
  • On 8 February 2017, the Government announced that 350 children in total would be allowed to relocate to the UK under the Dubs scheme. Peers from the House of Commons lamented this woefully small number, describing the decision as “shameful”. Help Refugees challenged the consultation on which the 350 number was based. Among many points raised by the Help Refugees legal team was the surprising absence of any offers from the entire English South-West. The Home Office was eventually forced to concede, in this litigation, that it had ‘missed’  130 places offered by local authorities in the English South-West. The number of children to be relocated under the Dubs Scheme was therefore increased by 37% on 26 April 2017, to 480.

 

The objective of Help Refugees’ challenge to the Home Office’s consultation and specification of a number

Help Refugees are asking the Court to quash the Secretary of State’s decision to limit the scheme to 480 and to order the Secretary of State to consult local authorities again.

Help Refugees are confident that if the consultation process is carried out properly, the number of children who can come to the UK will increase. Multiple councils have come forward to offer spaces for child refugees left destitute or living in camps across Europe. Further details are given below.

 

Arguments and evidence before the Court concerning the Dubs consultation

The Help Refugees legal team is arguing that Home Office’s consultation fell far short of minimum requirements of fairness. They say that this was a particularly serious failure in the context of decisions with potentially life-changing consequences for very vulnerable children.

The arguments that Help Refugees will present at Court include the following:

  • The Home Office failed to provide the local authorities it was purportedly consulting with critical information. Some local authorities did not even know they were being consulted, let alone consulted about the specified number of children to be relocated under the Dubs Amendment. Nor did local authorities know that there was a 14 October 2016 cut-off date for local authority responses and that ‘late’ responses would not be counted towards the Dubs ‘specified number’. The Help Refugees legal team argues that this was a ‘consultation by stealth’.
  • The Home Office failed to conduct a UK wide consultation to assess local authority capacity. For example:
  • The Home Office initiated but abandoned a consultation in Northern Ireland;
  • In Scotland, the Home Office purported to consult through an intermediary but was so unclear in the information it gave that the intermediary told all Scottish local authorities not to respond until after the consultation period had ended;
  • In Wales, local authorities were given the misleading impression that there was an ongoing process to elicit offers of places under Dubs well into November 2016 even though the Government had stopped adding to the Dubs number on 14 October 2016.
  • The Home Office’s assessment of nationwide capacity was consequently based on a consultation in which
  • No places were recorded by the Home Office as being available for Dubs children in all of Northern Ireland;
  • Only six places were recorded by the Home Office as being available for Dubs children in all of Scotland (all six places from just one local authority in Scotland). In fact, 91% of the places offered by Scottish local authorities, sent soon after the consultation period ended, were not counted towards the specified number under 67.
  • Only six places were recorded by the Home Office as being available for Dubs children in all of Wales (again, all six from just one local authority in Wales). In fact at least 86% of the places offered by Welsh local authorities, sent soon after the consultation period ended, were not counted towards the specified
  • In England, at least 45% of places offered were discounted by the Home Office, because those offers did not meet the Home Office’s (unpublished) criteria for the format in which responses should be provided to its purported consultation or because the offers came after the Home Office’s (unpublished) cut-off date for responses.
  • This led to obvious and serious defects in the Home Office’s assessment of nationwide capacity:
  • Scotland and Wales, which have a joint population of approximately 8.5 million people, were recorded by the Home Office as having offered to resettle just 12 refugee children between them (which equates to around one child per 700,000 inhabitants).
  • England, which has a population of more than 54 million, was treated as having pledged to resettle just 385 children (which equates to around one child per 140,000 inhabitants).

 

Some Quotes from the Help Refugees Evidence

  • On 6 March 2017, the Home Affairs Select Committee observed that the ‘specified number’ (then 350) was “far lower than many people had anticipated” and meant that the transfer of children under Dubs would end “much earlier than many people had expected”.
  • The evidence presented to the Committee “cast some doubt on how thorough the consultation undertaken by the Home Office to establish the capacity of local authorities to take more migrant children had been” undertaken.
  • The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, explains, “nothing…indicated that there was a lack of any capacity or willingness in Northern Ireland to accept further UASC under the Dubs scheme.” On the contrary “Northern Ireland is not at full capacity and… it is a realistic possibility that Northern Ireland would have accepted some UASC under s. 67.”
  • The Home Office actively discouraged Scottish local authorities from replying to it 8 September 2016 letter. The Leader of Renfrewshire Council explained: “Officers were advised by the Home Office that a response to this letter [i.e. the 8 September letter] was not required, as a Scotland-specific letter was due to be issued in its place. This did not materialise…”
  • The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Professor Sally Holland, explained that Welsh local authorities felt impeded in their ability to offer places during the “consultation” period (the period before 14 October 2016) due to a lack of clarity about what was being asked of them, the legal basis for transfer and the timing of any arrivals.
  • The Welsh Cabinet Secretary said that, “one significant disappointment was the lack of adequate and timely consultations from the UK Government around the various children’s schemes”
  • West Midlands’ Strategic Migration Partnership (a Home Office funded body) commented that, “Overall the West Midlands region was prepared to offer more Dubs places than we were asked to take and its ability to respond to repeated requests was never properly tested.” It added that, “communication from the Home Office was not always good and raised questions about the credibility and efficiency of Home Office organisation.”
  • The Leader of London Borough of Ealing Council describes the consultation as “chaotic”, “cursory”, “puzzling” and “wholly inadequate”.
  • The Leader of London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council similarly describes the consultation as an “incorrect and incompetent…process”.
  • Officials at Brighton and Hove City Council “do not believe there was a genuine consultation with [their Council] over the Dubs scheme”.
  • The Leader of London Borough of Lambeth Council, provides a detailed explanation of why if the “very brief consultation”’ had been “less hasty and more thorough” then “a more accurate and potentially higher number of places could have been indicated and subsequently been made available” to Dubs children.
  • London Borough of Ealing Council’s Councillor Julian Bell said “if this was a consultation then, in my view and that of my officers, it was cursory to the point that I did not even recognise what it was”
  • The Director of Children’s Services at London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Steve Miley, described the process as “an invisible consultation”.

Available for Comment

Lord Dubs, activist and actress Juliet Stevenson, Josie Naughton and Jess Mills of Help Refugees and Rosa Curling from Leigh Day Solicitors are all available for further information and/or comment.

 

Please contact:

Tom Steadman, media@helprefugees.org; 07460 053 586

David Standard, dstandard@leighday.co.uk; 020 7650 1200

 

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Blog: Refugee Crisis Films at Sheffield Doc Fest 2017

I think it was Sydney Pollack who said that a good film is 2 sides of a good argument. Guido Hendrikx has taken that quite literally in his new film ‘Stranger in Paradise’: a provocative essay that lives up to the comparison Variety’s Damon Wise made with the work of Lars Von Trier. Right down to the use of cynically titled chapter headings.

After a mesmerising prologue montage that uses archive footage to sum up the history of human evolution, war and mass movement on planet earth, we are thrown into a classroom on the island of Sicily. Valentijn Dhaenens is teacher to a room of refugees, freshly arrived in Europe. ‘Act 1: Where He Tells It Like It Is’ is a ruthless diatribe of harsh ‘truths’ about the crisis. “Europe doesn’t want you”, “Europe can’t afford you”, “immigration is a threat to European cultural values”, “immigrants should stay at home and fix their countries problems” etc. Its brutal. The kind of right wing rhetoric that would send most liberal refugee sympathisers I know storming out of the cinema in disgust. At one point he even blames the refugee ‘catastrophe’ on bleeding heart liberals of the West. By the end of the sequence I was ready to leave. Then the next title card came up. ‘Act 2: Where He Tells It Like It Its… Again’. Surely he won’t? Thankfully he doesn’t. It’s the same situation but with a different class of asylum seekers. Dhaenens proceeds to lecture the polar opposite of his previous discourse. “Colonialism needs to be compensated for”, “The world economy would boost by 70% if there were no borders and total free movement was possible”, “immigration and cultural integration is the way to a brighter future for everyone”. It’s here where the inner workings of the film begin to reveal themselves. In having Dhaenens demonstrate both extremes of the argument, director Hendrikx achieves a balanced objectivity that is quite rare. Act 3 is titled ‘When He Plays By The Rules’. I wont spoil it for you but it is just as provocative and thought provoking as the first 2 thirds.

The film is punctuated with welcome but brief musical interludes. ‘Expecting to Fly’ by Neil Young/Buffalo Springfield is cynically cut short just as it begins to soar while ‘The Stranger Song’ by Leonard Cohen is profound and haunting.

Throughout Dhaenens is always courteous and respectful towards his students. He allows them to engage in his discourses and makes sure everyone understands and is understood. That said, he is undoubtedly the dominant voice in the room. Often what he says is harsh and challenging, dashing hopes and dreams with blunt reason. I squirmed with discomfort more than once. But he is never condescending. Quite the opposite I think. He treats everyone as an intelligent individual, able to face the challenging reality of seeking asylum in Europe.

Some might argue that Hendrikx is unfairly using his refugee subjects as pawns in an intellectual game designed to satisfy ‘sophisticated’ Western film festival audiences. But I think this argument is the true condescension. Every one of the refugee subjects gains something valuable, even if it is the rude wakeup call that they wont be granted asylum just because they want to pursue a singing career. In an ingenious epilogue, Hendrikx even acknowledges the trappings of pandering to an intellectual elite as well as all his other conceits and methods. Its really a very open and objective film. And quite brilliant at that.

 

In my second post I mentioned I’d be reviewing Mathew Heineman’s follow up to ‘Cartel Land’, ‘City of Ghosts’. However, due to the Alternate Realities exhibition being so popular and difficult to book, I had to choose between fighting ISIS or exploring refugee crisis related Virtual Reality installations. Personally I had ethical issues with Heineman’s slick action thriller ‘Cartel Land’ when I saw it at Doc Fest 2015. And as ‘Ghosts’ doesn’t directly deal with the refugee crisis I decided to do the VR instead.

 

Death Tolls Experience’ takes you on a journey through 4 virtual worlds designed to give a sense of scale to the sheer number of people who have died in Europe and Syria since 2011 due to war, terror or in perilous transit. From the Brussels shooting (32) to the Mediteranean Sea drownings (3771) to the Syrian Civil War Casualties (312,000), the installation is thoroughly sobering but tastefully executed. Each fatality is represented by a zipped up body bag. The numbers are shocking enough. No need for gruesome imagery. The VR is unsettling too. You can look all around you but you cannot move from your fixed position. It’s kind of like being on a very slow roller coaster. I couldn’t help gasping for breath when I was slowly submerged in the Mediterranean. A very effective and thought provoking installation that really puts things into perspective.

Creator Ali Eslami told me that the VR experience will travel to the Paris Virtual Film Festival from the 30th June to the 2nd July. After that he is hoping to release it online.

 

While Aleppo was being heavily bombed all around his family home, teenage aspiring architect Mohammed painstakingly built a paper replica of his beloved city in an attempt to preserve his favourite landmarks. When his family were forced to flee to Turkey, Mohammed had to abandon his miniature. But with the encouragement of Alex Pearson, he built a second version. Future Aleppo is a VR installation devised by Alex that gives festival goers the opportunity to explore Mohammed’s impressive model. The 2×2 metre city is littered with heat sensitive buttons that trigger sound effects and vocal recordings of Mohammed describing the different buildings and their personal significance.

This installation is easily the most moving work I’ve seen at Doc Fest so far.

When you are powerless to save your home, the simple act of building a model is incredibly empowering. Here, a young man of inspiring resolve and ingenuity has taken control in a beautiful way. He hopes to one-day return to the real Aleppo and help rebuild. I felt a bit bad for the person next in line to use my VR goggles. The sponge under the lenses was wet with tears.

Alex intends to expand the project to refugee camps across Turkey and Europe, encouraging other children to reconstruct their own cities.

As for Mohammed’s model, it will continue to travel with exhibitions. From the 4TH to the 6TH of July it will appear at the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield where young people will be able to build their own versions on Mohammed’s Aleppo.

 

Next I was off to Tudor Square to catch an out door screening of Guardian-produced short ‘The Island‘. This short doc follows trauma therapist Pho Lin as she conducts sessions with asylum seekers who are being held in a high security detention centre on Christmas Island, 930 miles off Western Australia.

Fittingly, Christmas Island is also the stage for the largest crab migration in the world. Every year, 50 million red crabs travel from the jungle to the sea. It makes for a striking visual motif.

Many refugees are detained for months on end and, as Pho explains, that the uncertainty and utter lack of control drives perfectly healthy and stable people to severe mental decline, despair and often, suicide.

In Pho’s sessions she allows her patients to decompress and tell their story in their own way, without the pressures or demands of their asylum claim interviews. She tries to give them as much choice as possible in how they express themselves.

Interestingly, she offers her patients a box full of sand to play with and shape as they see fit. They also have an array of miniature figures to choose and arrange. In one intimate session, a Somalian woman makes a pond in the middle of the sandbox and places a model boat in the middle. “Everyone can make the journey but very few will overcome the sadness of being on the water”. She pours a jug of liquid into the little boat.

This is a quietly heart breaking insight into the day to day life of a deeply compassionate individual who is effectively working within the very system that causes the trauma she is counselling. I imagine it’s because she knows that if it weren’t for people like her, the situation would be a far worse.

The film is beautifully shot. Some of the refugee’s faces are tastefully concealed without losing any emotion or expressivity. I personally felt the music was a little too bleakly persuasive. The stories are affecting enough.

You can watch ‘The Island’ here…

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2017/apr/13/crossing-boundaries-crabs-asylum-seekers-and-therapy-on-christmas-island-video

 

On top of missing out on ‘City of Ghosts’ I also skipped (previously promised) ‘Radio Kobani’ as it also did not directly deal with the refugee crisis.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Thomas Laurance

 

www.redbluepictures.com

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Blog: Refugee Crisis Films at Sheffield Doc Fest 2017

I kicked off my day of doc-feasting early this morning with Mr Gay Syria at the new Light multiplex which, I must say, has the most comfortable cinema seats I have ever reclined in.

Syrian refugee Mahmoud has been granted asylum in Germany but regularly travels to Istanbul to organise beauty pageant, ‘Mr Gay Syria’. He wants a Syrian refugee to compete in ‘Mr Gay World’ to bring international attention to the life threatening situations faced by the LGBT+ community in Syria.

Hussein hopes to win the pageant so that he and his family can leave Istanbul and travel to Europe where his young daughter can have a safe and free life, unthreatened by civil war and unrestricted by the societal pressures that have caused him so much pain as a homosexual.

It’s hard enough to be a refugee, let alone a gay refugee. With ISIS in Syria and growing homophobia in Turkey, one character comments “even some European countries don’t accept LGBT people”. “We should seek asylum on another planet” his friend half-jokes.

This is certainly a side of the Syrian refugee crisis that I haven’t seen before and in focusing on the Syrian LGBT+ community director Ayşe Toprak crafts a sometimes formulaic but always very touching and poignant film.

69 Minutes of 86 Days’ is exactly what it claims to be. Director Egil Håskjold Larsen accompanied a Syrian family on their 86-day journey from a Greek island all the way across Europe to Sweden armed with a steady-cam rig and aided only by an interpreter (who doubled as sound recorder) and a focus puller. This purely observational documentary depicts the journey entirely from the point of view of 3-year old Lean. No interviews. No voiceover. No archive new footage. No onscreen text. Just a series of long, gliding child’s-eye-view shots capturing the hustle bustle of long distance travel. Needless to say we see a lot of legs.

So much media coverage of the refugee crisis focusses on very challenging and complicated issues and traumatic situations. And depending on the spin, refugees are often reduced to a singular mass of either unwanted migrants or helpless victims. This film highlights its subjects as individuals of agency, resilience and most importantly, dignity. By quietly observing the family interact with each another while they face the trials and tribulations of the road, the film humanises them in a way that feels all too rare in the current cinematic climate. Whether it be Lean sharing a lollypop with her baby sister and then lovingly smothering her with cuddles, or her uncle nodding off on a long train journey only to be rudely awakened by Lean’s playful pestering – these are all universally recognizable yet intimate moments, not to mention incredibly endearing. This is simply an ordinary family on a very long journey.

But to call Lean ordinary feels wrong. She is bursting with spirit and wonder making her a joy to watch. And her naïve point of view offers a fresh and, in my opinion, vital perspective on the crisis. Locations, logistics and politics aren’t touched upon at all. She’s on an adventure to ‘Swedish Germany’ (Lean’s own words) to see grandma and grandpa. And that’s all we need to know.

There are very few moments of high drama or antagonism. Not the kind we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the news anyway. We don’t hear about the conflict this family is fleeing. We don’t witness boats being overturned in the Mediterranean, police brutality or squalid living conditions in refugee camps. Aside from some slightly aggressive police officers charged with keeping a queue in line and a panicked struggle to board a packed train, there’s very little to upset Lean. That’s not to say the adults aren’t struggling with pain, uncertainty and fear. In one shot, Lean’s uncle’s inner plight is beautifully exposed by a single tear running down his cheek. But overall Lean remains unaffected and fascinated by the world around her.

Along the journey we see many people helping and supporting each other with small acts of kindness and compassion. Not just the family and their fellow travellers. Not just volunteers and NGO workers but police officers and border agents too. It’s refreshing.

The cinematography is stunning and the music compliments the imagery beautifully, often turning something as every-day as running to catch a train into a thrilling set-piece.

In ‘69 Minutes of 86 Days’ we see many other people making the same journey as Lean and her family. The sheer number is bewildering (especially at 2 foot off the ground). But this film focusses on the tiny things that make people human and for that reason it is a triumph. It’s sometimes easy to be disappointed that so many North Westerners still need to be reminded that refugees are people no different from us, but its heartening to see that it takes such a short time in the company of a film like this for people to remember that fact. There’s plenty of room for more positive refugee documentaries like this one. This evening I had the pleasure of meeting director Egil Håskjold Larsen and congratulating him on a wonderful film. It’s been my favourite so far.

Thanks for reading.

Thomas Laurance

www.redbluepictures.com

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Blog: Refugee Crisis Films at Sheffield Doc Festival 2017

I arrived in Sheffield later than anticipated due to boarding the wrong train in Doncaster… By the time I got to the home of Doc Fest the sun was shining and the festival was in full swing.

After picking up my press pass and free swag bag (great design this year) and consulting the programme, two things quickly became apparent. Firstly, there were no refugee-related films (that I knew of) scheduled to screen today. And secondly, my film viewing and reviewing would incrementally increase over the next 3 days. Tomorrow I have 2 feature films to watch (‘Mr Gay Syria’ and ‘69 Minutes of 89 Days’) and on Monday I have a whopping 3 features (‘Stranger in Paradise’, ‘City of Ghosts’ and ‘Radio Kobani’) and 2 Virtual Reality experiences (‘Future Aleppo’ and ‘Death Tolls Experience’). Its as if the schedule was intentionally designed to offer me an increasingly challenging crash course. Like some kind of refugee-related-documentary film blogging version of ‘Donkey Kong’.

After sketching out my festival game plan, I headed to the box office to make my bookings. To my surprise all it took was a few clicks and a scan of my lanyard pass. No ticket print outs. No fiddling with emails on my phone. Just a piece of plastic around my neck. We truly are living in the future.

For my first screening I followed the strong recommendation of my gracious Sheffield host and old friend who is an academic researcher in Palestine. Ghost Hunting, directed by Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni, is a fascinating and innovative exploration of trauma. When he was 18, Andoni was incarcerated in Moskobiya, an infamous Israeli interrogation centre. 30 years on he has made a documentary in which he brings together a group of other former inmates to build a replica of the prison, based on their sense memories (because for the most part they were blindfolded while they were incarcerated). When the set is built he casts a professional actor (also a former inmate) as himself and the other ex prisoners as Israeli guards, and gets them all to re-enact their experiences from Moskobiya, often taking part himself. The aim is to relive and reshape these traumatic memories so as to understand them better and come to terms with them. This makes for an incredibly potent, provocative and emotionally cathartic experience for the players on-screen and for the audience.

Often it isn’t clear whether you are watching a fictional re-enactment or a ‘real’ scene between the director and his company. I was particularly moved by a scene in which one of the players opens up for the first time about his brother who committed suicide in the prison while he was there. The next day he comes to Andoni visibly lifted. He tells the director about how after his confession, he spent the rest of the day playing with his young daughter, liberated from his terrible memory and survivor’s guilt. The film doesn’t offer much in the way of conventional plot and structure. Instead it conveys a very human emotional journey. It brought to mind Joshua Oppenheimer’s astonishing but gruelling ‘The Act of Killing’. But rather than watching perpetrators of violence realise the appalling nature of their actions through re-enactment, here we see subjects of oppression use role play to reconcile their suffering – trauma therapy through the medium of cinema.

After the film I drifted around in contemplation under the late afternoon sun and happened upon an outdoor screening of a series of short films. As I settled into a deckchair I quickly realised I was watching a film that had slipped through my nets. The short doc appeared to involve an Australian trauma therapist (apparently a theme for the day) working with asylum seekers on a tropical island. Scanning the credits, I learned that the Guardian produced short was titled ‘The Island’ and that it would screen again in the city square on Monday afternoon. So that’s now 3 feature films, 2 VR experiences and 1 short film for me to review on Day 3. Talk about a steep learning curve.

Thanks for reading.

Thomas Laurance

www.redbluepictures.com

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Blog: Refugee Crisis Films at Sheffield Doc Fest 2017

I am a filmmaker and long-term volunteer for Help Refugees and tomorrow I am off to the prestigious Doc Fest in Sheffield.

Primarily I am attending the festival to drum up some interest (and hopefully finance) for my new feature length documentary about volunteering in the Calais ‘Jungle’ which is currently in production and going by the working title ’14 Months in Calais’.

But I also thought the festival would be a good opportunity for me to see what other docs have been (and are currently being) made about the refugee crisis and give readers a taste of what’s in the pipeline. So if you are interested in films about refugees, watch this space over the next 4 days.

After looking through this year’s program a few films have caught my eye…

Three-year-old Lean makes her way from Syria to Sweden with her family in poetic observational doc ‘69 minutes of 86 Days’. I expect to be bewildered and moved by this film’s child’s-eye-view of the crisis.

Two gay Syrian refugees try to rebuild their shattered lives and escape persecution via a shared dream to win an international beauty contest in ‘Mr Gay Syria’. I couldn’t be more excited for this one.

In a classroom in Sicily, recently arrived refugees receive harsh lessons from an ‘unbalanced’ teacher in ‘Stranger in Paradise’. This fusion of documentary and fiction investigates the power relations between Europe and refugees. Damon Wise of Variety says ‘if Lars Von Trier were to make a film about the current immigration crisis in Europe it might very well turn out like this’. This statement both excites and scares me. I’m bracing myself for a challenging ordeal with no easy solutions or happy endings.

Last but not least, I’m particularly looking forward to ‘Future Aleppo’: a physical and virtual exhibition where visitors are invited to explore an interactive paper model of Aleppo which was lovingly built by 13-year-old Mohammed Kteish.

I would just like to add that the opinions I express over the coming days are my own and not those of Help Refugees.

Thanks for reading.

Thomas Laurance

www.redbluepictures.com

For more news, head here.

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STAND UP FOR REFUGEES

Stand Up For Refugees have some of the very best comedians in the UK getting together to raise money for a fantastic and important cause. All the proceeds made from each event are going to support refugees across Europe and the Middle East.

Stand Up For Refugees have already run several stunning shows in 2017, now there’s only 3 left on this incredible tour.

What are the lineups?

June 12th we’re at the Bristol Tobacco factory with Gary Delaney, Josie Long, Angela Barnes, Kerry Godlimann, Jen Brister, Jonny and the Baptsist, Suzi Ruffell and Mark Olver hosting. Get your ticket’s here.

June 20th we’re at Hertford Theatre with Adam Hils, Bobby Mair, Eleanor Tiernan, Sindhu Vee, Alistair Barrie, George Lewis with Tiernan Douieb hosting. Get your tickets here.

June 21st we’re at the Brighton Dome with Dara O’Briain, Shappi Khorsandi, Mark Steel, Tom Allen, Kerry Godlimann, Bec Hill, Zoe Lyons, Francesca Martinez, me and Jen hosting. Get your tickets here.

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Ramadan 2017: Help us feed refugees in Northern Greece

Donate here to help us distribute much-needed food for Ramadan.

Throughout Ramadan this year, help us to deliver 129,810 individual food portions to refugees stranded in Northern Greece.

Getting enough healthy, nutritious food can be a challenge at the best of times for refugees in Greece. During Ramadan, these challenges become even greater. That’s why we’re providing food, and why we need your support, so refugees in Greece can practice Ramadan with dignity.

Thousands of Muslims have been displaced as a result of war and conflict. They are uncomfortable, alone and due to a lack of resources, cannot fulfil their duties under Islam as they would like. Finding enough food to feast and celebrate Eid is a constant cause of anxiety for Muslim refugees.

In collaboration with local grassroots initiative ‘The Food Project’, Help Refugees deliver food parcels to almost all refugees currently residing in Northern Greece. Whether individuals are stranded, undernourished or exempt from government-funded assistance,  the Food Project strives to deliver fresh fruit, vegetables and dry food goods twice a week to all refugee communities within its reach. Empowering individuals by enabling self-sufficiency and allowing communities to cook for themselves and their families.

Find out more about Help Refugees’ projects here.

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Refugee Week 2017: Setting Up Your Own Fundraiser

For Refugee Week this year, from 19-26 June, we want to celebrate the contribution refugees have had in our communities, and bring people together to have a good time whilst raising much-needed funds for the 70+ projects doing incredible work on-the-ground to help refugees. To help you help, we’re asking all our supporters across the country to run two types of fundraisers in their local communities – Supper Clubs with friends and a friendly bake-off at work.

These events are simple and easy to set up. And we’ve created a step-by-step guide for both to help you see get started.

Get your Syrian Supper club fundraiser pack.

Get your Working Day Chai & Baclava fundraiser pack.

Help Refugees only exists because of the generosity of people like you. Even though we’ve grown quickly over the past year and a half, most of our funds are still generated by individuals and community groups.

The war in Syria has been the biggest man-made disaster since World War 2. And while the news media may have moved on, there are still hundreds of thousands of refugees in Europe that need our help. We are funding more than 80 projects across Europe and the Middle East – find out more about our work here.

Donate here to help us help them.

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2017 PARTY MANIFESTOS: WHAT DO THEY SAY ABOUT REFUGEES?

Before the UK goes to the polling stations tomorrow to vote, we wanted to highlight what policies each of the parties put forward regarding refugees in their 2017 manifestos.

This is what the 2017 party manifestos have to say about refugees and asylum:

Conservatives:

The Conservative manifesto points toward a greater focus on aiding those suffering abroad, and a subsequent decrease in help offered to refugees at home. Their manifesto states “wherever possible, the government will offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain.”

The manifesto also claims that a Conservative government would seek to review the international legal definitions of asylum and refugee status, although it does not make clear whether this will be an expansion or contraction of the definition.

Labour:

A Labour government claims it would look to review the processes by which the UK takes in and handles refugees. In their manifesto, they state that they will look to “produce a cross-departmental strategy to meet our international obligations on the refugee crisis” within the first 100 days.

Labour pledge to end indefinite detentions, differentiate between migrant labour, international students and family attachment and terminate the existing income threshold for bringing family members to the UK.

To protect and bolster public services in areas of large migration, they pledge to restore the Migrant Fund, and to review refugee housing. While the manifesto advocates for the UK to take ‘our fair share of refugees,’ no indication is given as to what the UK’s ‘fair share’ might be.

Liberal Democrats:

The Liberal Democrats promise to expand the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and provide sanctuary to 50,000 Syrian refugees over the lifetime of the next parliament, as well as reopening the Dubs scheme to take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children across Europe.

The manifesto also states the party’s intention to reform family reunification and the processing of asylum claims, in the hope to make current procedures more efficient. On immigration more broadly, the Lib Dems say “immigration broadens our horizons and encourages us to be more open, more tolerant”.

They promise to remove students from official immigration statistics, establish a Migration Impact Fund for helping local communities to deal with new migration and increase government support for English language classes.

Green Party

The Green Party promise a ‘humane immigration and asylum system’ and to take responsibility for Britain’s role in causing current flows of migration, but they do not specify the number of refugees that the UK should offer refuge to.

More broadly, the LGBTQIA manifesto promises to end detention for refugees waiting for their cases to be processed, protect the right of appeal, and remove barriers to working.

The Gender Equality manifesto recommends that vulnerable women not be detained. It also recommends funding for ‘integrated support’ for refugees, basic needs for asylum applicants being secure, and caps for application wait times.

Scottish National Party:

The Scottish National Party’s promises to reopen the Dubs scheme, describing its closure as “shameful”. The manifesto also states “SNP MPs will urge the UK government to take action on the recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees including implementing a National Refugee Integration Strategy that ensures all agencies coordinate support for refugees and helps refugees take part in, and contribute to, our society.”

The SNP call for the family reunification process to be “simplified, reformed, and properly implemented so that those with family in the UK can be more easily reunited with them” and the need to create a national strategy to coordinate all agencies that work to support refugees.

UK Independence Party:

Refugees and asylum seekers are rarely mentioned in the UKIP manifesto. UKIP promises to “comply fully with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and honour our obligations to bona fide asylum seekers”.

While referring to Britain’s decision to exit the EU, the UKIP manifesto asserts that “Britain must have full control of asylum policies,” but leaves no elaboration regarding how a transfer of power away from the EU and to the British government may effect current policy regarding refugees.

Plaid Cymru:

Plaid Cymru commits to upholding the Dubs amendment and criticises the last Westminster government for not taking its ‘fair share’ of refugees. There are no explicit proposals for Wales to take more refugees,  but they pledge to maintain the 0.7% GDP commitment to international aid.

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