Archive for category Refugees
The Refugee Journalism Project supports refugee and exiled journalists to re-start their careers in the UK.
It was founded in 2016 and since 2018, the project has been based exclusively at London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts London.
These journalists arrive in the UK with an impressive range of skills – many have been editors, correspondents and producers in their own countries – but they lack agency and face significant barriers when they attempt to continue their journalism in the UK. Participants are offered a range of workshops, mentoring and placements.
The project’s core aims are to:
Help prepare refugee journalists for work in the UK media industry;
Create opportunities for refugee journalists to publish their work and build a wider network;
Engage with new audiences, key policy and opinion-maker in order to debunk negative and institutional and public perceptions of refugees.
The Refugee Journalism Project currently works with a number of organisations to deliver its activities, including the Refugee Council, the University of Derby, The Guardian Foundation and the Google News Initiative.http://migrantjournalism.org/about-us-2/
As part of this year’s Refugee Week, The Guardian Foundation invited participants in the project to write articles that reflect on the experiences, challenges and aspirations of displacement. Here are links to some of the articles.
In Conversation: Ziad Ghandour: BBC broadcasting journalist Ziad Ghandour was one of millions of people to escape their war-torn homeland in 2015. Ziad was forced to leave his English Literature master’s degree behind in Syria to search for a less volatile place to call home. Four months later, out of the back of a lorry, the UK gained an incredibly driven and intelligent young man.
In Conversation: Temesghen Debesai: Temesghen Debesai began his career in Eritrea, where he worked as a news anchor and co-founded the country’s first English television service in 1998. In 2006, he fled Eritrea and was granted refugee status in the UK. He joined the first cohort of the Refugee Journalism Project in 2016, and went on to work as a freelance journalist for the Thompson Reuters Foundation and BBC World Service. Temesghen is now a recipient of the Beyond Borders Bursary and is currently completing an MA in Television at the London College of Communication. This month he launched ERI Hope Media which focuses on Eritrean topics.
Researchers Building Hope for the Future, by Hasnaa Omar: Academics, MPs and those working in the NGO sector discuss the key findings of an in-depth study that seeks to help overcome the perceived tension between host communities and refugees.
Follow the project on Twitter, @refugeejourno
Reblogging for Refugee Week an analysis of the Australian response to the refugee crisis, from blogger The Levine Lowdown.
It has been revealed today that the federal government will
be placing a higher priority on migrants from South America amid a humanitarian
crisis in Venezuela. The situation in Venezuela is deteriorating rapidly with
an estimated 3 million civilians feeling civil unrest under socialist president
Nicolas Maduro. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees labelled the
crisis, “the largest exodus in the recent history of Latin America.”
Currently, there is a no target or concrete number of
refugees which Australia will take in from South America; however, it is
progress. There have been small achievements in recent years in the protection
of refugees such as Mr Turnbull’s plan to increase the humanitarian intake from
13,750 to 18,750 in September 2016 and Mr Abbott one-off intake of 12,000
Syrian and Iraqi refugees in 2015. Yes, progress is occurring, but not at the
speed or rate required to provide real change in…
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The UNHCR categorises the various crisis points around the world as either situations or emergencies. Anyone imagining that a ‘situation’ is by definition manageable is naive. It’s just not (yet) (quite) an emergency. There’s the possibility of at least alleviating the problems, given a hefty dose of luck, and goodwill all round.
Here in Europe, we have a situation. The main issue is not numbers, which are low compared to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, many of which have significant numbers of internally displaced people as well as influxes of refugees from neighbouring countries. The problem is twofold – how to help those who are already here, and how to help those who are now or who will soon attempt the perilous Mediterranean crossing. For the first group, we need adequate reception and assistance services, especially for those with specific needs (lone children, survivors of violence, for example), we need access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and support for family reunion and relocation. For the second group, ‘rescue-at-sea operations undertaken by all actors must remain a priority’.
This movement towards Europe continues to take a devastating toll on human life. Since the beginning of 2017, over 2,700 people are believed to have died or gone missing while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, with reports of many others perishing en route. These risks do not end once in Europe. Those moving onwards irregularly have reported numerous types of abuse, including being pushed back across borders.https://www.unhcr.org/uk/europe-emergency.html
Venezuela too has a refugee situation. More than 3 million Venezuelans are now living abroad, the vast majority in neighbouring countries in South America. They are fleeing violence, insecurity, lack of food, medicines and essential services. They represent the largest exodus in the recent history of Latin America. Most refugees are families with children, pregnant women, the elderly, those with disabilities.
In Burundi, street protests led to outbreaks of violence after the President announced that he would seem a third term in office. Hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries. The violence has eased but the political situation remains unresolved, and Burundi faces economic decline, extreme food insecurity, and outbreaks of disease.
The Central African Republic has experienced unrest for many years, with increasing clashes between armed groups since May 2017. 700,000 people are displaced within the Republic, and many others have fled to Cameroon, Chad, DRC or the Republic of Congo.
But the above are merely ‘situations’. Then there are the emergencies.
Nigeria (and its neighbours, Chad, Cameroon and Niger) are facing terrible suffering due to the Boko Haram insurgency. Nearly 2.4 million are displaced in the Lake Chad basin. They are facing human rights violations, sexual and gender-based violence, forced recruitment, suicide bombings, conflict-induced food insecurity and severe malnutrition.
South Sudan has experienced brutal conflict since December 2013. Almost 4 million people have been driven from home, and more than 2.2 million have fled to neighbouring countries. The situation has quickly escalated into a full-blown humanitarian emergency, and displacement in the region is expected to rise until a political solution is found. Most refugees are women and children, and the rainy season brings new problems – floods, food shortages and disease.
In Iraq, more than 3 million have been internally displaced since 2014. More than 1.5 million have taken refuge in the Kurdistan region, where one in four is now a refugee or an internally displaced person.
“We had no choice other than to leave because it was not safe for our children. We left everything – our clothes, our furniture, even our food.”Nafa Jihad, 40, father
The Democratic Republic of Congo seemed to have the chance of peace and stability when its long civil war ended in 2003. But sporadic fighting continued, and since 2016 there has been a new wave of violence. Human rights violations, mutilation, killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention in inhumane conditions have led to 4.5 million being internally displaced, and over 826,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. DRC is also hosting over half a million refugees from the same neighbours.
In Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, the violence is worsening, and exacerbating poverty and insecurity. Millions are fleeing their homes to escape the conflict. Yemen is facing a humanitarian catastrophe. Without help, many more lives will be lost to violence, treatable illnesses or lack of food, water and shelter.
The Rohingya people, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have been fleeing violence in increasing numbers since 2017.
At the peak of the crisis, thousands were crossing into Bangladesh daily. Most walked for days through jungles and mountains, or braved dangerous sea voyages across the Bay of Bengal. They arrived exhausted, hungry and sick – in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance.https://www.unhcr.org/uk/rohingya-emergency.html
Most of the refugees are woman and children – more than 40% under 12 – and many others are elderly.
And then there’s Syria. More than 5.6 million have fled since 2011, and millions more are internally displaced. 3.3 million Syrian refugees are in Turkey. In Lebanon, 70% of the refugees live below the poverty line – the figure is 93% in Jordan. Most refugees live in urban areas, not in the big refugee camps.
“Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time, a continuing cause of suffering for millions which should be garnering a groundswell of support around the world.”Filippo Grandi, UNHCR High Commissioner
This catalogue of misery and despair around the world should put the challenges we in Western Europe face into perspective. For too many it simply encourages the building of literal or metaphorical walls to keep ‘them’ out. But most refugees aren’t clamouring at our borders, they’re fleeing where they can, into neighbouring countries that may be as poor and as unstable as their own, trying to survive however they can. People will continue to flee their homes if their homes are war zones, if they can’t feed their children, if they are persecuted because of their religion, their politics, their sexuality, if they face violence from state or insurgency. We would do the same.
These problems require collective solutions. We can’t, and mustn’t, retreat behind our borders and build bigger walls. We can’t continue to leave it to some of the poorest countries in the world to deal with the fall-out from Western interventions. It just won’t work.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created in 1950, during the aftermath of the Second World War, to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes. We had three years to complete our work and then disband.https://www.unhcr.org/uk/history-of-unhcr.html
They’re still here. 69 years later, there’s more to do than ever.
Almost a quarter of British children do not know the meaning of the word “refugee”, according to a new survey, amid mounting evidence of a growth in negative sentiments and scepticism towards those seeking asylum in the UK.
Just over half of teachers (52 per cent) spoken to by the British Red Cross (BRC) said they had witnessed “anti-refugee” sentiments in their pupils and almost a quarter of children (24 per cent) did not know what a refugee was.https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/refugee-asylum-uk-children-immigration-red-cross-survey-a8958936.html
The legal definition of the term “refugee” is set out at Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention, which defines a refugee as a person who:
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 definition can be broken into constituent parts:
Possession of a fear that is well founded rather than fanciful
Of treatment that is so bad it amounts to being persecuted
For one of five reasons, referred to as ‘Convention reasons’: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion
Being outside one’s country
Being unable or unwilling to obtain protection in that country
All of the conditions need to be met for the person to be considered a refugee. For example, a person might have a well founded fear and be unable to get protection but if that person does not fear being persecuted for a Convention reason then the person is not a refugee in legal terms. Another person may meet all the other criteria for refugee status but be living in a refugee camp in their own country, in which case he or she is not a refugee and instead would often be referred to as an Internally Displaced Person.https://www.freemovement.org.uk/what-is-the-legal-meaning-of-refugee/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-is-the-legal-meaning-of-refugee&utm_source=Free+Movement&utm_campaign=66cbdac396-Asylum+updates&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_792133aa40-66cbdac396-105090761&mc_cid=66cbdac396&mc_eid=2edcf25685
Of course, these definitions are the international ones used to determine legal status. They clearly exclude someone leaving their country voluntarily in order to better themselves economically, but they also may exclude people fleeing famine or poverty, or civil war unless some aspect of those situations targets the individual because of their ‘ race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’
It’s therefore more complex than we might have imagined, and explains perhaps why so many applications for asylum fail. (There are of course myriad other reasons, notably a culture of disbelief.)
With all of these caveats, as Colin Yeo (immigration & asylum barrister, and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website) puts it, the Refugee Convention is ‘almost certainly the single law that has saved the most lives in history’. There’s lots more information about the Convention on the UNHCR website, which clarifies the wider role that they play in supporting people who have been ‘forcibly displaced’ (for example, they work with those who are internally displaced – i.e. they have fled their homes but are still in their own country).
For over half a century, UNHCR has helped millions of people to restart their lives. They include refugees, returnees, stateless people, the internally displaced and asylum-seekers. Our protection, shelter, health and education has been crucial, healing broken pasts and building brighter futures.
An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.https://www.unhcr.org/uk/who-we-help.html; https://www.unhcr.org/uk/figures-at-a-glance.html
Refugee Action, one of the foremost UK charities working with refugee and asylum seekers, has produced this useful list of FAQs:
Q. What is a refugee?
A. According to the UN Refugee Convention, the definition of a refugee is someone who…
‘Owing to a 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 to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’ (Article 1, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees)
Q. What is an asylum seeker?
The definition of an asylum seeker is someone who has arrived in a country and asked for asylum. Until they receive a decision as to whether or not they are a refugee, they are known as an asylum seeker. In the UK, this means they do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British citizen would. For example, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work.
The right to seek asylum is a legal right we all share. It isn’t illegal to seek asylum, because seeking asylum is a legal process. It also isn’t illegal to be refused asylum – it just means you haven’t been able to meet the very strict criteria to prove your need for protection as a refugee.
Q. Are there many refugees and asylum seekers in the UK?
A. No. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2017 there were 121,837 refugees, 40,365 pending asylum cases and 97 stateless persons in the UK. That’s around one quarter of a percent (0.25%) of the UK’s total population.
Q. Is the number of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK increasing?
A. Asylum applications to the UK are relatively low – 26,350 in 2017. They increased slightly in 2015, when there were 32,733 applications for asylum, but this was still significantly lower than the peak of 84,000 applications back in 2002.
Q. Which countries help the most refugees?
A. 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. The least developed countries host one third of the total number of refugees globally. At the end of 2017, the country hosting the most refugees was Turkey –home to 3.5 million refugees. Other significant host countries for refugees were Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million) and Lebanon (998,850).
Q. How many Syrian refugees are there and how many is the UK helping?
A. According to the UNHCR, by the end of 2017 there were 6.3 million Syrian refugees worldwide. Around 4.4 million of these refugees are currently being hosted by just two countries – Turkey and Lebanon. As well as providing aid to the refugee camps on Syria’s borders, the UK has pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020 through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. By the end of 2017, 10,538 Syrian refugees had come to the UK through this scheme.
Q. Which countries in Europe have the most asylum seekers?
A. In 2017, Germany received the highest number of asylum applications (199,200), Italy the second most (128,800) and France third (98,800). The UK received 5% of the asylum applications lodged in the EU in 2017.
Q. Can asylum seekers work or claim benefits?
A. Asylum seekers are not allowed to claim benefits or work in the UK. If they are destitute and have no other means of supporting themselves, they can apply to receive asylum support. This is set at around £5.39 per day.
Q. What happens to someone when they get refugee status?
A. When a person is given refugee status, they have just 28 days to find accommodation and apply for mainstream benefits before they are evicted from asylum accommodation. Many refugees become homeless at this stage.https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/about/facts-about-refugees/
Every year I try to post about some aspect of the situation faced by those who flee their homes due to violence, famine and persecution, each day during Refugee Week. I emphasise ‘try’ – this year I have been struggling with a bit of writers’ block: I have at least two pieces partially composed in my head but can I get them actually onto the page? Can I heck as like. Still. Whilst the commitment to honour Refugee Week in this way is entirely self-imposed, that doesn’t make it any easier to just say, soz, not in the mood right now, quite the opposite. So I will try.
And to begin, I want to remember some of the people who sum up this year’s theme, ‘You, me and those who came before’, which invites us to explore the lives of refugees – and those who have welcomed them – throughout the generations.
Refugee Week, since 2016, has been inextricably linked in our minds with the murder of Jo Cox, an outspoken advocate for refugees, for kindness and compassion. We remember her assertion that immigration has enhanced our communities, and that we have more in common than that which divides us.
She was murdered because of her values, because of what she said and what she represented. When I heard of her murder, I thought that this must change things, that the toxic rhetoric of the EU Referendum campaign must, surely, be at least reined back. I thought that those who use the language of hate carelessly would be horrified that this language had been turned into brutal action. I was sadly mistaken. All the more reason, however, to remind ourselves of what she said, and what she represented and to assert the values that we share, the things we have in common with each other.
Judith Kerr lived a long and happy life. But she so easily might not have done, had her parents not found a way to escape Nazi Germany (and subsequently France), just in time. Her autobiography is dedicated to “the one and a half million Jewish children who didn’t have my luck, and all the pictures they might have painted”. Her parents saved their children from the horrors that would have faced them had they remained – but both parents were, in her words, ‘destroyed’ by their exile. The children were young enough to adapt, to accept the changes in their lives and to embrace the new possibilities, even before they could understand what their fate might have otherwise been. The parents took on all of the fear, all of the horror, all of the vertigo of exile, and the weight of it all was too much for them. Like so many who have had a narrow escape, they could never shrug off the fear that the hatred they had fled from would catch up with them somehow, at some point, that the escape had been illusory.
Pia Klemp is a 35-year-old ship’s captain from Bonn, Germany, whose ship, the Iuventa, is believed to have saved 14,000 people in total, working closely with the Italian search and rescue services. Klemp herself skippered the boat on two missions, saving up to 3,800 people in distress in just one day. But the political climate has shifted in Italy, as it has elsewhere. Her ship has been seized, she’s been accused of cooperating with human traffickers, and she currently faces 20 years in prison in Italy. In her words, the Italian government’s approach stigmatises refugees, and criminalises solidarity with them.
She is unrepentant.
“There is no way I am going to prison for saving people in distress,” Klemp said. “It is the most ridiculous thing on so may different levels. And I will never accept anything else but acquittal.”https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/15/captain-of-migrant-rescue-ship-says-italy-criminalising-solidarity
You can find out more about what’s happening across the country during Refugee Week here. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Sheffield, don’t miss the Migration Matters Festival, with events and exhibitions happening every day at various venues, between now and Saturday 22 June.
A fascinating and troubling reflection on history and on today, from Phil Davis’ excellent A Darkened Room blog.
We’ve been on holiday in America. Again raising the question ‘How does a country full of such interesting people elect a parody Twitter account as President’?
The logistics of the trip left us in Washington on the day we were to fly home. In the middle of a Government shutdown. Washington is pretty much a company town. When the Government shuts down, then the City (or at least the eclectic collection of Government and civic institutions and museums that make up the charmingly titled ‘National Mall’) shuts down too. The one exception was the Holocaust museum, sited in a suitably sober building just off the Washington Monument. With only a couple of hours before we had to go to the airport, we couldn’t take in more than a fraction of the museum, and so, following advice, we took a guided tour of the ‘America and the Holocaust’ exhibition, which explores…
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Refugee Week 2018 may be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to forget about them. They’re still on the move, trying to find a place of safety, trying to find a way of building a new life. And they have been doing so for generations. This is kind of a postscript to my week’s worth of Refugee Week blog posts.
Many of those posts take a broader view, looking at the history of refugees in a particular part of the world, or a particular period of history. But sometimes the most powerful way to understand is to focus on one person. An ordinary person who, because of the time and place of their birth, became part of extraordinary events. Thank you to Marek Szablewski, who presented this account of his mother’s life at the 2018 24 Hour Inspire, and kindly agreed to let me post it here.
Barbara was born in Warsaw on 2 April 1932, daughter of Zofia and Jan Czerniajew (himself a refugee to Poland from the Ukraine after the civil war which came after the revolution).
Just before the Second World War, Barbara’s parents rented an apartment on the outskirts of Warsaw in Wrzosów, and next to it they began building a house which was left uncompleted due to the outbreak of war. Barbara, together with her mother and brother, were evacuated to Warsaw.
At the end of the battle in 1939, they returned to Wrzosów where Barbara started primary school in Łomianki. During the German occupation, when Barbara played in the forest, she was witness to executions of fellow Poles by the Gestapo.
In 1944 she was deported to Germany with her mother and brother. She was forced to work in a factory peeling onions in Reichenbach in Southern Silesia. She lived through the bombing of Dresden in 1945.
In the spring of that year she survived the long march to the west. At the beginning of May she was liberated by the Russian Army near Karlsbad, from where she escaped to the American Zone 200 miles through the hills on foot. She reached a Displaced Persons camp in Hof in Bavaria, under the care of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). She recommenced her education, and joined the girl scouts, making a lifelong pledge to God, her Country and helping others. The family was moved from camp to camp, she attended high school in the Wildflecken UNRRA camp until 1948-9 when she came to England.
Her father located the family through the Red Cross, and they settled in Leominster, working on a farm and then in the Polish camp and hospital at Iscoyd Park near Whitchurch.
After high school she completed Teacher Training at Edghill College in Omskirk.
Her first job was in High Wycombe at a girls school, followed by Sheffield where she met and married Witold Szablewski in 1956.
She worked in Woodthorpe School until the birth of her son Marek in 1963, and in Carfield Junior School. After gaining a diploma at Sheffield University in ‘Education of children with learning difficulties’ in 1974, she worked in Chantrey and Oakes Park schools. For 12 years she was the head teacher of the Polish Saturday School in Sheffield and was awarded the Silver Cross of Merit for Educational Work in the Polish Community in 1998 by the Polish Ministry of Education.
Barbara worked with Polish Cubs and Brownies locally, and on leadership teams for camps in Penrhos, north Wales and Fenton in Lincolnshire.
After retiring, she interpreted for the NHS and Sheffield council, helping many new Poles to settle and make friends. She found time for all of this, despite looking after her mother for many years, and then for the last three years, her husband Witold who was seriously ill following a stroke.
She fell ill only 4 weeks after the death of her husband in February of 2008 and died in April 2008.
Barbara Szablewski’s journey involved many dangers, many traumatic experiences. It ended in safety and stability. She raised a family, she contributed to her community, she worked to help other people, from her own community and beyond it. Refugees want to contribute – Barbara was given the chance to do so and took it. If we don’t give today’s refugees the same chances, we all lose out.
(first published for Refugee Week 2016)
What is it they want, all these people?
What do we want? What do we hope for, for ourselves and for our children? We may hope for prosperity, for a nicer house in a nicer part of town, a better job, for our kids to be successful as well as happy. But if what we have was taken from us, what then?
We’d want to be safe. If our home, our street, our place of work, the school our children go to, the hospital they were born in and where we go if we’re sick, are bombsites and warzones, we’ll take our chances to go somewhere that perhaps just might be safe.
We’d want to be safe from violence and the constant threat of violence because we believe in the wrong god or in no god, because we love the wrong people, because we support the wrong political movement, because we are the wrong race. We’d want to be safe from rape and the constant threat of rape, from abuse, from mutilation in the name of tradition. We’d want to be safe from the constant threat of starvation and disease, the desperate quest for enough food to just stay alive, the desperate quest for help when we or our children are sick.
But we’d want more than that.
We’d want to have a place where we can shut our door and hang up our hat, and sleep without fear, and be with the people we love. We’d want the chance to work, to use our skills to earn enough to provide for ourselves and the people we love, to prepare healthy meals, to buy new shoes for the children as they grow, to be warm enough in winter. We’d want the chance to learn new languages and new skills, and we’d want our children to go to school and learn all that they need to make their way in the world, and to make friends and play.
We’d want to become part of a community. Paying our way, making a contribution, chatting to our neighbours, free of the threat that there will be a knock on the door early one morning and we’ll be sent away, back where we came from, or just away, to anywhere that’s not here.
And with all of that we’d want not to be told in the headlines of the newspapers that we’re a threat, that we’re terrorists, that we’re spongers, that we’re liars, that we’re cowards. We’d want not to see in the eyes of the people we meet that they wonder whether that’s true.
We’d want to be welcome.
Playing today: England (already covered: Colombia, Poland, Japan, Senegal, Panama)
Home. The country where I was born and have lived most of my life. I love so many things about this place – its hills and woodland and coastline, its musicians and writers and artists. I love the NHS which has seen me and my family through so much. I love its diversity – the culture formed through the influx of so many different peoples (invaders, migrants, refugees) and so much richer for it. I’ll be rooting, of course, for its football team.
But there’s the rub. My relationship with the England national team is tainted by so many disappointments, that can feel like betrayals. And that mirrors how I feel about my homeland too. When other nations treat refugees like dirt, I can feel righteous anger and solidarity and a sense of shared responsibility, but not quite the same degree of disappointment, not quite that same sense of betrayal, not quite shame.
I so want to not feel that shame. But with Windrush and Brexit and the ‘hostile environment’, with the rhetoric of ‘citizens of nowhere’, I can’t avoid it.
But as always, there are so many people who not only care, but are working incredibly hard to challenge the misinformation, defend those who are being treated so shamefully, campaign for changes to the law.
One of those organisations is Refugee Action. They support refugees, to put it simply. They stand up for asylum seekers. They’ve campaigned about how failed asylum seekers are left in destitution, about how people within the system are denied the opportunity to volunteer, about the rule that if people wanted to make a fresh asylum claim, they would have to do so in person in Liverpool, no matter where they lived and with no help for those who couldn’t afford the journey. And so much more. And they work with individuals too, providing advice and support, and guidance through the labyrinth of the asylum system.
One of their current campaigns is to change the system.
We believe a future is possible where those forced to flee the homes they loved receive compassion, a fair decision, essential support and help to rebuild their lives.
Our new report exposes the asylum process as one of long delays, poor decisions and a total lack of information. It is a system that disempowers, dehumanises and damages people.
If you believe that everyone who comes to Britain in search of safety should be treated with fairness and compassion, that they should be given sufficient support to make sure they don’t face homelessness and hunger, email your MP to #StandUpForAsylum and call for change now.
The report sets out how things could change for the better. How the asylum process could be fairer, and more compassionate.
An asylum system that might look something like this….
The Home Office gathers the right information from asylum applicants during interview, and uses this to make correct decisions the first time around.
The Home Office provides accurate and timely information to people seeking asylum.
The Government ensures a comprehensive and public review of current legal aid provision.
The Government achieves the targets it sets for the time taken to make decisions.
People seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, have the right to work after 6 months of having lodged an asylum claim or further submission, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list. They have access to education – including free ESOL classes – from application.
If people have to wait 12 months for a decision, they are granted Discretionary Leave to Remain.
The Home Office listens to people seeking asylum and acts upon their feedback.
The Home Office carries out regular audits of interview practice, which include consultations with people seeking asylum.
The information given during screening is not used in credibility assessments made further down the line, given that most people are unable to access any advice prior to screening interviews.
People are given adequate notice of their substantive interviews in order to allow them to prepare this with their legal representative.
There are safeguards to ensure that poor interpreting does not have a negative impact on a person’s asylum claim, including better training and quality control of interpreters.
All interviews (screening and substantive) are recorded by default, and shared with the applicant and their legal representative.
The Home Office ensures that people receive information about their rights as soon as they apply for asylum, including the point of claim leaflet in a language that they understand.
People are told of the importance of accessing legal advice at the beginning of the process.
Asylum support decisions are made as quickly as possible in order to ensure that people are able to access a solicitor as early as possible.
Nobody is forced to wait more than six months for a decision on their initial
Asylum support rates are at least 70% of mainstream benefits.
The report is a tough read. The voices of the asylum-seekers themselves tell how they’ve faced scepticism, carelessness, callous indifference and bureaucratic incompetence. And above all, how they’ve waited, waited in darkness. But surely it doesn’t have to be like that? Surely we’re better – kinder, fairer, more generous – than this?
Refugee Week is all about seeing those who seek asylum, wherever they come from and wherever they seek refuge, as people. People who are fundamentally just like us.
Those of us who were born British citizens and whose right to that citizenship has never been questioned, whose families go back for generations here, might find it hard to imagine that we might find ourselves one day hastily cramming a few possessions into a rucksack and taking to the roads, handing over all our funds for the sake of a precarious journey across the sea with no guarantee of a safe landing or a safe haven. But it could so easily have been us, not so very long ago – if Britain had fallen to the Nazis, we could have been faced with those choices, like so many of our fellow Europeans. It didn’t happen here, but it could have done, and we have no guarantees for the future.
Refugees over the centuries have contributed so much to our culture. Who knows what the latest arrivals might offer us, if we give them the chance?
So, come on England! Come on UK!
Playing today: Mexico, Germany (already covered: Belgium, South Korea, Tunisia, Sweden)
The bullet wound in Francis Gusman’s spine makes it hard for her to travel. When gangs shot at each other in her hometown of Yoro in Honduras in 2016, she was hit by a stray round and has been unable to walk since. But when gang members then murdered her sister this February, she decided she had to leave, however hard the journey.
She set off on the dangerous migrant trail north, along with her husband, 12-year-old son, and her sister’s orphaned 13-year-old daughter. After crossing the Mexican border, her husband and a friend had to carry her 36 miles along the road to this town of Tenosique in southeast Mexico. Here they have applied to Mexico for refugee status, arguing the gangsters who killed her sister could target her niece for being a potential witnesses or go after other family members….
Gusman’s story illustrates the brutality that is pushing many to leave the Northern Triangle of Central America, which includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and seek refuge in nearby countries, including Mexico and the United States. The number of asylum applications in Mexico has rocketed, from 2,000 in 2014 to more than 14,000 last year, with Honduras as the leading source of applicants, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
However, this surge comes as more Mexicans are themselves fleeing violence to seek refuge in the United States. In the first three months of 2018, the Northern Triangle nations and Mexico made up four of the six top source countries of applicants for U.S. asylum, government data shows.
“People are leaving because they are suffering from high levels of violence from gangs and other organized criminal groups. These gangs want to recruit minors, they carry out extortion, kidnapping, sexually abusing girls,” says Francesca Fontanini, spokesperson for the UNHCR in the Americas. “This flow of families from Central America will not stop because if the root causes are still there these people will keep coming to the U.S. or to other countries.”
The violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador continues to force thousands of people to head north in search of refuge, even as the Trump administration imposes cruel practices intended to deter them from seeking asylum. Last week, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that people submitting claims related to domestic or gang violence will not qualify for asylum—a decision that effectively closes the door to many Central Americans fleeing for their lives. In recent weeks, authorities have stepped up criminal prosecutions of people attempting to cross the border, going so far as to forcibly separate children from their families. …
Initial talks between the US and Mexican governments in May considered the possibility of converting Mexico into a “safe third country”. This would force asylum seekers to apply in Mexico, preventing them from reaching the US to demand refuge.
More than 20,000 migrants or refugees are kidnapped in NTCA countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – every year, according official sources (CNDH). Sixty-eight per cent of the migrants and refugees interviewed by MSF in places along the transit route in Mexico had been exposed to violence. Nearly one-third of the women surveyed were sexually abused. Central American gangs are operating in the south of Mexico and are responsible of some of the attacks against migrants.
MSF medical data shows that a quarter of our medical consultations for migrants and refugees in Mexico are related to injuries from intentional violence. Ninety per cent of our mental health consultations are related to violence. Our patients are suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions, which have severe consequences on their ability to function. Women, children, and members of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) community are more vulnerable to certain types of violence and require specific protection measures that are not effectively in place in Mexico.
In 2015, when the current refugee crisis was at its most intense, Germany took the lead.
Berlin took the lead in efforts to resolve the European refugee crisis on Monday by declaring all Syrian asylum-seekers welcome to remain in Germany – no matter which EU country they had first entered.
Germany, which expects to take a staggering 800,000 migrants this year, became the first EU country to suspend a 1990 protocol which forces refugees to seek asylum in the first European country in which they set foot.
Germans gathered by the hundred at train stations on Sunday to welcome refugees arriving in their cities as if they were long-lost friends or returning war heroes.
An estimated 10,000 refugees were expected to arrive in Germany by train from Hungary and Austria on Sunday, and they were greeted with spontaneous rounds of applause and songs, as well as sweets, pastries and toys, on station platforms across the country. At Munich station, volunteers amassed a large stockpile of food. Helpers at the main train station in Frankfurt formed human chains to pass bags of food, clothing and toiletries to the exhausted arrivals, whom they welcomed with banners and balloons.
Three years on:
Today, four Syrian families have made their home in Wegscheid – including the Aljumaas. Mahmoud Aljumaa arrived in Germany in 2015; his two daughters and wife, Ghofran, a year later. The girls, 6 and 8, already speak perfect German, tinged with the local Bavarian accent.
The Aljumaas say they have been welcomed with open arms here, but the political debate over immigration and asylum has changed the tone, stoking fear and uncertainty. They have asylum statusfor now, but they fear that could change.
“I want to ask German politicians a question: Are we refugees or should we integrate? If we should integrate, that means that we would be like Germans after some time. It would mean we aren’t refugees,” said Mahmoud. “My daughters can’t read or write in Arabic. My older daughter is in the sixth grade and in Arabic she would be sent back to second grade. How could I send them back to Syria, send her back to the second grade? It would destroy her life.”
Their sense of uncertainty has only grown as they have seen fellow refugees from Afghanistan – a country they say cannot be deemed safe – increasingly facing deportation. …
Most everyone we spoke to in Bavaria seemed to agree on one point: From 2015 to now, this region has handled the refugee crisis and integration efforts well. Now they need a clear signal from German policymakers on whether refugees are really welcome to stay and become a part of German society.
The welcome offered to refugees in 2015 was particularly poignant in light of German history. During the Nazi era as anti-Jewish legislation and other repressive measures were introduced and tightened, there were many desperate to leave. People continued to try to find ways out of Germany and the occupied territories throughout the war years, at great risk to themselves and anyone who tried to help them.
One largely overlooked refugee story from that period, however, is the forced migration of ethnic Germans just at the end of the war from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.
Historian R.M. Douglas has written one of the only English language books on the subject, has described it as “not merely the largest forced migration but probably the largest single movement of population in human history,” with between 12 and 14 million civilians to move in just a few years. Douglas wrote that this mass movement of peoples was accomplished “largely by state-sponsored violence and terror” – including murder, torture and rape. Hundreds of thousands of Germans ended up in internment camps, some of which had just shortly before been Nazi concentration camps.
Accounts from those who made the journeys are horrific. One woman wrote of spending days standing on a freight train traveling from what is now northeastern Poland. “Pregnant women who had given birth had frozen to the floor,” the account, later published in Der Spiegel, read. “The dead were thrown out of the windows.” …
In Germany, the expulsions are still remembered, even while Nazi atrocities are, too. “The Nazis’ crimes had been far worse,” Der Spiegel wrote in a lengthy article in 2011, “but the suffering of ethnic Germans was immense.” Perhaps that’s why the current refugee crisis, of a comparable scale to the German expulsions (almost 12 million people have been displaced in Syria alone), has found a relatively large amount of sympathy in Germany, a country that expects to receive 800,000 refugees this year. Even if many in the country are far too young to remember the German expulsions themselves, they may remember the damage wrought upon older family members. Much like these family members, modern-day refugees are having their fate decided for them by their nationality.