EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

HUMANITARIAN

EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

Amyrose Forder

16th June 2020

 

While COVID-19 figures dip throughout the EU, borders are once more becoming increasingly open. However, this does not apply to the Croatian-Bosnian border, where reports of abuse by police officers against those seeking asylum within the EU have once more come to light. EU officials have also been accused of an “outrageous cover-up” after withholding evidence of a failure by Croatia’s government to supervise this police brutality. This throws a spotlight on both the Croatian government’s human rights record and the apparent willingness of the EU’s executive branch to cover for its failure.

 

Croatia, an EU member state since 2013, is home to the EU’s longest external border. Its closest neighbour is Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country continuously refused entry to the EU. The so-called Balkan Route is a popular course for both migrants and those seeking protection in the EU, arriving through Croatia via Bosnia. In one week in May alone, 2,700 people entered Croatia with 600 of these being non-EU residents. Footage of police brutality along this border, which has since been nicknamed “the game” by asylum seekers, was first reported in 2018. Each night, as asylum seekers attempt to cross the border, squadrons of patrolling police await them. Several incidents have resulted in shootings, while aid workers, border guards and UN officials have reported “systematic abuse and violence” perpetrated by Croatian police along the border, with migrants and asylum seekers beaten, robbed, and stripped of their clothes and belongings.

 

“Officials in Brussels had been fearful of a backlash when deciding against disclosing Croatia’s lack of commitment to a monitoring mechanism”

Further to this horror, the Guardian has reported that internal European Commission emails reveal officials in Brussels had been fearful of a backlash when deciding against disclosing Croatia’s lack of commitment to a monitoring mechanism. The establishment of a commitment to ensure the humane treatment of migrants at the border had been a condition of a €6.8m cash injection announced in December 2018 by the EU to strengthen Croatia’s borders with non-EU countries. Croatian ministers claimed last year that the funds had been handed over to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Croatian Law Centre to establish the supervisory mechanism. Both organisations deny receiving the money.

 

Images obtained by Border Violence Monitoring Network last month show orange crosses spray-painted on the heads of asylum seekers who have repeatedly attempted to cross the border from Bosnia into Croatia by police. Such ‘branding’ of asylum seekers is degrading behaviour, and particularly uncomfortable in light of cross symbolism targeting predominately Muslim asylum seekers. A father and son who were branded with this cross described border police telling them it was a “cure for coronavirus”. Figures from the Danish Refugee Council, who reopened their operations in Bosnia in 2018, also show the extent of recent violence inflicted on refugees and migrants pushed back to Bosnia from Croatia. In April 2020 alone, 1,641 people were reportedly pushed back. Of these, 445 people reported being denied access to asylum procedures in Croatia upon request, 871 people reported having their identity documents confiscated by border police, 891 people reported violence/physical assault, and 1,253 people reported having their belongings confiscated or set on fire.

 

“Ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk”

The European Commission ruled in October 2019 that Croatia is ready to join the Schengen travel area. Senior Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch, Lydia Gall, has said that “ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk.” 

 

Yet, Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenković has praised his country’s approach to border control in recent months, claiming that the absence of barbed wires along the border is due to the “friendliness” of neighbour Bosnia-Herzegovina. He told reporters in Zagreb: “what we shall do in preventing illegal migration is to respect our laws, international standards and conventions and all humanitarian aspects. If there are any allegations which might be problematic, everything we have heard is verified, checked and investigated.” There has yet to be a public investigation into the reported abuses along their border.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Free To Use Sounds

 

 

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

HUMANITARIAN

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

Ellen McVeigh

4th June 2020

 

While the coronavirus pandemic creates chaos and trauma in communities across the globe, rather than being a ‘great equaliser’, the virus, in many cases, is causing the greatest harm to those already vulnerable. Many of those at risk throughout the world are those living in cramped conditions, those living in homes which are unsafe, those living without access to decent sanitation, and those living with chronic health conditions caused by poverty. The Rohingya Muslims are one group identified by organisations such as Oxfam and WHO as being at risk of coronavirus spreading rapidly through their community. In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh while fleeing violence in their native Myanmar. In attacks which have been described as ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the United Nations, nationalist militias torched villages and displaced thousands. The leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her years of pro-democracy resistance, has been criticised for failing to condemn this violence against an ethnic group within the state. There are now around one million Rohingya living in refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh.

 

In mid-May, WHO confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 in these refugee camps. Most residents of the camps live in cramped, multi-generational huts, with four to five people living together in one small room. The sanitation, sewage facilities, and water supply are inadequate, and since 2017 there have been outbreaks of contagious diseases such as cholera and diphtheria. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, aid organisations such as Oxfam and CAFOD have been getting soap and face masks to residents, and 6000 handwashing stations have been installed. Despite these efforts, adequate personal hygiene is still out of reach for many Rohingya living in the camps.

 

“At the end of April, a group of around 500 Rohingya refugees asked for international intervention after they were stranded on cramped boats for several weeks”

 

As well as the technical difficulties in providing services to a million people living in vast camps, there are also issues of cultural dissonance which leads to many Rohingya ignoring the advice. The marginalisation which they have experienced in Myanmar often means that they have little experience of or trust in public health, with many choosing to rely instead on traditional medicines and guidance from spiritual leaders. Reaching such isolated communities is aided by a culturally sensitive delivery of information, helped by working alongside local religious leaders. While there are still only a few cases, there are fears that the conditions in the camps could lead to the virus spreading quickly throughout the population.

 

Outside of these Bangladeshi camps, other Rohingya refugees are facing obstacles created by the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of April, a group of around 500 Rohingya refugees asked for international intervention after they were stranded on cramped boats for several weeks. Fleeing the dire conditions in the Bangladesh refugee camps, they became stranded at sea after being turned away from Malaysia and then prevented from returning to Bangladesh. Both governments cited the coronavirus as an excuse to close their borders, as worries grew that lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus could be mobilised against those seeking refuge across borders. Within Malaysia, a country which does not recognise refugees, the containment of the coronavirus was used as an excuse to round up and detain hundreds of undocumented migrants. The UN has condemned campaigns such as this, which claim to be an attempt at reducing the spread of the virus, but which could, in fact, aid its spread as it pushes vulnerable communities into hiding, and make it unlikely that they will seek treatment. The ‘stay home’ messaging employed by many countries across the world means very little to those forced to flee.

 

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

Historically a popular destination amongst tourists, in recent years the Greek island of Lesbos has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Their already treacherous journey was compounded by the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal in 2016. This deal resulted in Turkey blocking refugees from reaching and crossing EU borders and, in return, the EU would grant visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and provide a financial aid package of six billion euros. Critics of this deal have argued that this violates human rights and international law. As Amnesty International outlines, there are fundamental flaws regarding how the conditions of this deal have been implemented. However, it has not deterred those seeking refuge. Many arrive in Lesbos by 4-hour boat ride from the Turkish coast and some die attempting the crossing. Most are unaware of the conditions and cycle of containment that they face, as they await their asylum cases to be heard. 

 

Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny. Originally built to house 3,000 people, it’s population increased to approximately 5,000 in July 2019. It now houses around 20,000 refugees, with more arriving daily. The living conditions have worsened due to overcrowding and policies both the Greek government and the European Union have adopted. In July 2019, the Greek Government revoked access to public healthcare for refugees and undocumented migrants. This includes those, among them children, who suffer from serious conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes. 

 

In January 2020, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) called for the immediate evacuation of refugees suffering from serious, complex or chronic illnesses to the Greek mainland, an opinion echoed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The president of MSF, Dr. Christos Christou, described the living conditions in Moria as ‘comparable to what we see in war zones’ in an open letter released to European Leaders on the 27th November 2019. He details the impact these conditions have on those trapped in Moria, with many, including children, turning to self-harm and suicide. Violence in the camp has become widespread, particularly sexual assaults and stabbings. Similar conditions can be found in refugee camps across the Aegean Islands of Greece. The calls for emergency intervention from UNHCR and MSF have, to date, been ignored by the Greek government. Meanwhile, the number of refugees across these islands has risen to over 42,000.

 

 

I spoke to Fellipe Lopez, a 33-year-old Brazilian filmmaker and photographer living in Ireland for the past 8 years. He aims to highlight social issues, refugee crises and climate change issues through his work and in December 2019 he travelled to Moria refugee camp. In discussing the conditions he witnessed, he expressed how hard it is to prepare for the level of violence within the camp. ‘It is a place that has no hope… the energy in the camp is really tense’ Fellipe said, echoing the concerns of MSF, before adding that ‘people feel unsafe in the camp, most parents are afraid to let their kids go around the camp because they could be raped… they could receive aggression from other people… a lot of murders happen in the camp, a lot of stabbings. When I was there it happened twice… It feels like a post-war zone’. I asked Fellipe: what could be done to alleviate the suffering of these refugees? ‘[The] EU should stand up and say we are going to relocate these people straight away…the refugee crisis is not stopping. The numbers, unfortunately, is going to keep increasing…those people are dying over there [in Moria]’.

 

Lesbos, in particular, has seen mounting tensions in the past month. The start of February saw protests by refugees residing in Moria, aiming to highlight the dire living conditions in the camp. They were met by riot police, multiple people were arrested and those protesting, including children, were teargassed. Mid-February saw Greek residents on Lesbos also clashing with riot police, whilst protesting against the proposal to build more camps on the island, rather than relocating refugees to the mainland.

 

On 28 February, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he was opening the western border to Greece to allow refugees to proceed into the EU. This, he claimed, was in response to a lack of support from the EU and a delay in providing financial aid under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal. Many travelled on transport provided by the Turkish government and were met by Greek border patrols firing teargas and denying entry for these refugees. In response, the Greek government has increased the number of ships patrolling waters around Lesbos in an effort to deter further boat crossings. Despite this show of force, on 1 March, as many as 400 refugees arrived on the shores of Lesbos. Meanwhile, thousands more are attempting to brave the crossing as the news of the first fatality surfaces due to a capsized boat, a Syrian boy aged just four years old.

 

Since early March, multiple fires have broken out in the camp. One of which, on March 16th, resulted in a child perishing in the fire. Meanwhile, MSF have intensified calls for the evacuation of refugees from these ‘squalid’ camps amid the coronavirus outbreak, as the first case on Lesbos is confirmed. The Greek government has stated that the coronavirus risk on the island is less than that on the mainland. The fragile atmosphere on the island has prompted NGOs to limit their services and volunteers to evacuate. The urgent needs of these refugees have been lost amongst the panic caused by the coronavirus outbreak, resulting in the residents of Moria taking matters into their own hands and sewing their own facemasks.

 

In examining the humanitarian situation in Lesbos, it is clear that refugees are being used as a pawn in a geopolitical game. Those seeking refuge stand to lose the most, with uncertainty surrounding the life that awaits them, whether that be in the EU or Turkey.

 

 

Photo credit: Moria camp, Lesbos, 12/2019 – 01/2020, Fellipe Lopes

 

 

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STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 6 Pt. 1 + 2

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STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

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7 Common Myths About Migration

7 Common Myths About Migration

Studying migration makes you face a lot of assumptions that you have about the scary and controversial topic that it is. The politicised nature of migration and the way discourse is manipulated means that migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. Below we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

 

1. Most migration is from developing countries to developed countries.

You would be forgiven for thinking this if you just looked at the media. Discussions about migration are often about refugees coming to Europe, irregular border crossings, and deportations to migrant-sending countries. All of this portrays migration as a Global South-to-Global North phenomenon. But the reality is very different. As you can see from the infographic below this flow only represents around 35% of overall migration. The biggest migration flow is from South-to-South. The next biggest flow is from North-to-North, and furthermore there are about 14 million North-to-South migrants. North-to-North, South-to-South, and North-to-South flows get very little media coverage or public attention. While migration is perceived as a problem when it’s from a ‘developing’ country to a ‘developed’ country, despite migrants undertaking key roles in labour markets in developed countries, it is not perceived as a problem when the flow is reversed. It could also be argued that those from ‘developed’ countries take key opportunities away from those in the countries to which they migrate.

 

This is, even more, the case when we talk about refugees. Around 84% of refugees live in the Global South, because most refugees find safety in neighbouring countries. Although we talk about refugees in Europe, the vast majority of refugees have not travelled a long distance from their countries of origin, and many live in extremely poor conditions in camps in neighbouring countries.

 

2. Migration is a problem to be solved.

We hear this narrative of migration a lot. How do we solve the problem of migration? How do we stop migrants from coming to Europe? But migration is not really a problem to be solved. Migration is a fact of life, it has always happened, and it will always happen. Irish people have migrated around the world for centuries, and we still do. For some reason, we don’t perceive this as a problem with the same level of concern. Migration can be managed, just like any other area of public life. Like infrastructure development or public education, it is neither desirable nor possible to stop it from happening, so the real question is: how do we manage it so that it works for everyone, and so that we uphold the values that we profess?

 

3. Europe is experiencing a migration crisis (or experienced a migration crisis in 2015). 

In 2015, about 1 million people arrived in Europe, often irregularly (without travel documents). As many of our readers know, Europe panicked: countries stopped rescuing those drowning, , confidence in the system was lost, the extreme right rose to prominence for the first time since World War II, and countries like Italy and Greece who had little capacity and the largest numbers of refugees and asylum seekers were more or less abandoned. Many people referred to this as a ‘migration crisis’.

The European Union has a population of around 500 million people. It is one of the largest economies in the world, with incredible resources at its disposal. 1 million people arriving in Europe is not a crisis. At the time that Europe was talking about a migration crisis, Lebanon had opened its border to Syrians fleeing civil war, eventually accommodating about 1-1.5 million refugees. This is in a country of around 5 million people (excluding half a million Palestinian refugees who were already in the country), with already struggling infrastructure, and resources that were not even a fraction of those available to the EU. This arrival put a severe strain on vital public services such as healthcare, education, and electricity. Many Lebanese schools started a second shift in their schools to educate the new population. That is a crisis.

What Europe experienced was a policy crisis, and a confidence crisis, both of which were, in my opinion, completely avoidable. The crisis was caused by terrible EU regulation that put all of the burden of accommodating and deciding on the asylum processes of the arrivals on some of the poorest countries in the EU. These countries (understandably) felt abandoned, disillusioned and out of control, and turned to strongmen politicians. It experienced a confidence crisis on multiple counts. Many people lost confidence in both the EU and their member states to cope with stressors such as neighbouring conflicts and to respect human rights in the process. Those who came at the problem from the perspective of the migrants were disgusted at countries that professed to uphold human rights but watched men, women, and children drowning in their seas, and didn’t save them because they were somehow labelled as undesirable. Those who came at the problem from the perspective of the nation and national security were disgusted at the fact that camps filled Europe’s cities, homeless people filled its streets, and the systems that had been built were overwhelmed, with the EU’s ‘burden-sharing’ mechanism exposed as useless when it was really needed.

 

4. Illegal border crossing is a big problem.

When we think about migration, conversations about illegal border crossings often dominate the conversation. While many policymakers do perceive irregular migration to be a problem (both for the destination societies and for the migrants themselves), the vast majority of these cases involve overstaying visas. Illegal border crossings actually play quite a minor role in irregular illegal migration. The story often goes like this: somebody gets a visa, be it for tourism, study, or work. Eventually, the visa expires, but the person doesn’t leave. Voila – this person is now residing illegally.

 

 

5. There is more migration now than ever before.

As migration becomes increasingly politicised, people have the perception that there is more migration now than before. But this is contradicted by the figures. Although in absolute numbers, there are more international migrants than ever before, the percentage of the population that has migrated has hovered at around 3% for decades. So in relative terms, international migration hasn’t really changed.

 

 

6. Refugees and asylum seekers are the majority of migrants.

Like the issues outlined above, media discourse about migration (especially in recent years) is dominated by a discussion of refugees and asylum seekers. But refugees only represent around 10% of the global population of international migrants, with around 26 million refugees around the world.

 

7. Closing borders will stop migration.

This is a pretty popular myth among politicians (especially the populist ones). Migration is perceived as a very simple problem with a very simple solution: close the borders. Of course, no politician is advocating for actual closed borders – the only country that has this is North Korea, and even then a few slip through, and they allow tourists in on guided tours. This rhetoric is usually aimed at stopping clandestine border crossings – which as discussed earlier, really are not a big problem or even a significant source of illegal residents. There are several problems with this, one of which is that it just doesn’t work.

Migration between two places that border each other is pretty natural: US-Mexico migration has been happening for centuries. Often Mexicans moved seasonally to the US to fill temporary gaps in the labour market, for example during harvest or planting seasons or during a particularly busy manufacturing period – and Mexicans were often recruited by US firms. When they closed the border, they presented Mexicans with à dilemma: they could not support themselves entirely in Mexico, and had been relying on cross-border working, seasonal migration, or selling their crops across the border. Now, if they wanted to continue to provide the same standard of living for their families, they had no choice but to move permanently to the US. So when countries close borders, often permanent immigration goes up. This was the same for Moroccans in Europe (especially Spain) in the 1990s, when European countries introduced visa requirements for Moroccans: they stopped going back. Moroccans also used to come as seasonal workers to Europe, filling key gaps in the agriculture sector. With visa restrictions, once you’re in, you don’t leave because there’s a chance you won’t be able to come back, especially if you’ve overstayed your visa. This leads to more permanent migration, and more illegal migration because people who can’t afford visas or who have been refused no longer have a legal means of arriving.

So overall, closing borders doesn’t stop illegal migration, and it increases permanent migration. But it also makes migration much more dangerous. The fact that over one thousand migrants died in the Mediterranean last year attests to this. Closing borders does not do away with people’s desire to improve the lives of them and their family by migrating. It just makes the journey much more dangerous for them.

 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

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STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 6 Pt. 1 + 2

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STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

Welcome to episode 5 of our new podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Listen in to learn more about the history of the DRC – an intricate web of events that seem to have remained in the shadows.

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

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Conversations from Calais: The Poster Project Bringing Humanity Back Into the Refugee Crisis

Conversations from Calais: The Poster Project Bringing Humanity Back Into the Refugee Crisis

In October 2016, bulldozers came into the refugee camp known as the Calais Jungle. They tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes for the past few years before attempting the dangerous journey across the English Channel to the UK. The roughly 6,000 migrants who had been living in various forms of shelter throughout the camp were shipped off to temporary reception shelters throughout France. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction of the Jungle camp, the charity Help Refugees estimates that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests of Northern France near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors. In Calais, where the largest refugee camp in Europe once stood, approximately 500 people are sleeping in forests and under bridges, often with no shelter other than a sleeping bag. Charities such as Help Refugees have volunteers on the ground providing basic needs such as blankets, firewood and hot food; and work with lawyers to flag particularly vulnerable cases.

The French authorities have implemented a ‘hostile environment’ policy to deter refugees from setting up more permanent shelters, fearing a return to refugee camps on the same scale as the Jungle. In reality, this policy manifests as a constant displacement for the migrants situated there, with violent evictions early in the morning being a daily reality for people who have already faced weeks of treacherous journeying. Hundreds of people a month continue to risk their lives crossing the English Channel to Britain, only to face yet another hostile environment. With Brexit looming, and a Conservative government with its most significant majority in years, it is unlikely that these refugees will find the haven that they have risked their lives to find. Currently, the law states that unaccompanied child refugees have a right to be reunited with family in the UK, but with Brexit comes uncertainty as to how people seeking asylum will be treated in Britain without the pressure of the EU. In January of this year, the House of Commons voted against an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill that would preserve family reunification following Brexit. With a massive push in the UK for closed borders, and a ramping up of deportations by the Home Office, it is an uncertain time for people seeking asylum in Britain. Dehumanised by French authorities, dehumanised by politicians and the media; refugees are often seen as mere  statistics, only given the courtesy of a discrete identity if they die in tragic circumstances.

One project in the UK is attempting to bring a degree of humanity back to the refugee crisis. Conversations with Calais documents conversations had between volunteers and migrants in Calais refugee camps, printed out in distinct black and white and displayed by members of the public. Sometimes casual, sometimes incredibly poignant; the conversations give a glimpse into the human experiences behind the homogenous portrayal of refugees and migrants in the media. Mathilda from Conversations from Calais told STAND News how when starting this project she wanted to “break away from how migrants were portrayed in mainstream media by remembering, documenting and commemorating banal but intimate and relatable conversations”. Having volunteered with various organisations in Calais on and off for over a year, on returning home, Mathilda felt she had to document somehow the experiences she had in the refugee camps. This, coupled with anger at the portrayal of migrants in the media, led her to create Conversations from Calais. 

It is hard to estimate how many cities the posters are in now, as they are now easily downloaded from the Conversations from Calais website with instructions to make your own glue to stick them up around your city. The conversations have been translated into ten languages, and are in at least sixty cities across five continents. Often the way refugees are portrayed in the mainstream media reduces individual stories into lazy stereotypes; “as villains we need to protect our countries from, heroic figures we need to constantly celebrate, or hopeless victims that we need to save”. Conversations from Calais focuses on the individual stories, the everyday events behind the stories that find their way into international news. 

With simple black text against a white background, the simplicity of the posters mirrors the simplicity of the conversations they portray. They take away the complicated politics and bureaucracy, intellectual arguments and conflicting attitudes away from the conversations; distilling them down to merely an interaction between two humans. The humanity and openness of the conversations remind us that no matter how different our lives may be, there is more that unites us than divides us (a statement as important as it is corny). Conversations from Calais aims to highlight these ordinary conversations that do not often get the attention of the media, “we are all different and have a different story whether we are a refugee or not does not change that”. 

The humanity that Conversations from Calais gives its subjects is a welcome change from the portrayals given in the media, often by politicians and sometimes well-meaning commentators. While it will take incredible pressure and direct action from the public to push back against policies enacted which threaten migrant rights and safety, remembering our shared humanity is always a good place to start. Art and activism have the ability to move people, inspiring social change by appealing to the best of our humanity than the worst. The future is uncertain for those seeking asylum in Europe, with an increase in far-right presence in governments and on the streets in many countries; it is essential not to forget our fellow humans who just happen to have been born outside our borders. While it may seem like an impossibly large and complicated issue, Mathilda has faith that there is still a huge amount of compassion around us – “now it’s about finding ways to use that feeling to inspire social change and demand systematic change from our governments”. 

Find out more about the project on their website.

Photos by Ellen McVeigh

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 6 Pt. 1 + 2

Welcome to episode 5 of our new podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Listen in to learn more about the history of the DRC – an intricate web of events that seem to have remained in the shadows.

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Detached reporting of asylum crossings in the English Channel resemble “a sports commentator watching a boat race or a tour operator on a whale watching tour.” Dehumanising refugees is is a long-standing problem within UK journalism that is seeping into politics and impacting the lives of those seeking international protection.

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

Welcome to episode 5 of our new podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Listen in to learn more about the history of the DRC – an intricate web of events that seem to have remained in the shadows.

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more inhumane Greek refugee policies. The revelation by the New York Times that Greece has secretly expelled more than 1,000 asylum seekers, abandoning many of them on inflatable life rafts in the Aegean Sea, is one example of this disturbing trend. Meanwhile, refugees are being locked inside Oinofyta refugee camp while Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely.

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Runa Khan, Founder & Executive Director of Friendship SPO talked to us ahead of this year’s STAND Student Festival about climate migration and Friendship’s work in empowering at-risk communities who face environmental and human rights issues.

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 4

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Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

On the 7th of March 2020, the organisation ‘Abolish Direct Provision’ hosted the first Asylum Seekers Feminist Conference, with the aim of uniting and empowering women in Direct Provision. The event, held in DCU, was attended by asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres all around the country.

 

The day began with a moving opening address from Sonia, a woman living in Direct Provision. Sonia shared her experience of living in an asylum seeker accommodation system which has been repeatedly called out for violating human rights, and emphasised the importance of asylum seekers standing together. She spoke of how those who stand up for their rights in Direct Provision often face retaliation from managers and said this is why residents must speak up in unity and act as “one force.” Sonia addressed the limiting roles and expectations placed on women, that keep them from taking up leadership positions and dissuade them from being assertive. She pointed out that this needs to be challenged and highlighted the role of men in standing behind women and supporting them in this process. She concluded by singing ‘Hustlers’ by Alicia Keys, a song which she said has given her strength and inspiration during her time in Direct Provision. The feeling was clearly infectious, as by the end of the song the whole room was on its feet, clapping along.

 

Catherine Lane, the Women in Local, Community and Rural Development Officer with the National Women’s Council of Ireland was the next speaker of the morning. She described the implications of Direct Provision for equality and human rights, as well as the gendered nature of forced migration and how women are disadvantaged in the asylum-seeking process. In particular, she criticised the failure of the Direct Provision system to meet the needs of victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. Despite highlighting the many challenges faced by asylum-seeking women, Catherine concluded on an uplifting note. She encouraged the audience  not to lose sight of the resilience and courage of women and their power to bring about change. Fittingly, Catherine ended by reciting the poem “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou.

 

Next up was a panel discussion on mental health, featuring Kate Mitchell, the acting CEO of Mental Health Reform, Mary Haynes from the NWCI and the sculptor Nicola Anthony. Kate Mitchell spoke of the intersection between the asylum-seeking process, gender, and mental health. She noted that asylum seekers are ten times more likely to experience PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)and that women generally face unique barriers to accessing mental health services. According to Kate, the Irish Mental Health system has failed to provide culturally competent services to meet the specific needs of asylum-seeking women. Mary Haynes, who is a women’s health policy officer at NWCI, emphasised that women are experts on their own health and said that asylum-seeking women are too often left out of the conversation on mental health, which leads to them facing greater barriers in accessing support and perpetuates health inequality. Nicola Anthony, a UK born artist, described her work that transforms the stories of migrants into sculptures, with the aim of promoting awareness and compassion. She spoke about the power of art and creativity to provide relief from mental suffering and to bring people together. She also spoke about her experience as a second-generation migrant, and the opportunities she has had as a result of her family’s migration to the UK. She ended by saying that future generations will be grateful for the courage of asylum seekers today.

 

After lunch, there were workshops on Youth in Direct Provision in rural Ireland, Career opportunities in Direct Provision, and Art and Loneliness. I attended the Art and Loneliness workshop run by Nicola Anthony. The workshop focused on how, even without a high level of artistic skill, creativity can be a source of solace and comfort. We made mandalas and talked about how art can be incorporated into daily life, even in the face of hardship. After the workshops, there was a group discussion about the challenges and needs of asylum seekers in Ireland today. People highlighted the main issues they faced in the direct provision system, including a lack of accessible information about their legal rights and the asylum-seeking process, mistreatment and manipulation from centre managers and the inaccessibility of the labour market. Ideas were suggested as to how people could face these issues collectively, share information and take action to better the lives of asylum seekers. This sense of commitment and solidarity in the face of adversity lies at the heart of International Women’s Day and underpinned the entire conference.

 

Overall the day highlighted that, while celebrating the hard-won freedoms many women in Ireland now experience, we must also recognise the women who have been left out of the process of liberalisation. There are thousands of women in Ireland today who are coercively confined in Direct Provision centres, where their needs are unmet and their rights are undermined. The lived experience of these women must be central to the progression of gender equality in this country. 

 

 

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