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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The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

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. Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny.

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. Migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. In this article, we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The outbreak of the coronavirus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency?

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 and tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction, it’s estimated that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors.

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.

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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The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

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. Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny.

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. Migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. In this article, we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The outbreak of the coronavirus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency?

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 and tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction, it’s estimated that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors.

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.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

It is with tears in my eyes, shocked, that I discovered the crimes against humanity perpetuated by the Chinese government in Xinjiang. The Uyghurs, one of the largest ethnic groups present in the northwestern region, have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party since the end of the Cold war. In one of the rare videos capturing the current horrific situation, you can see hundreds of lined Uyghurs men with their shaved heads down, black blindfolds on their eyes, handcuffed while wearing detention clothes. They then walk up to a train that will bring them to the internment camps.

 

It is an unknown number of Uyghurs (for obvious reasons), who are being imprisoned in “re-education camps” but, according to a Reuters report, it ranges from a million up to 3 million. Patrick Poon, a former researcher for Amnesty International, explains that the existence of these overpopulated camps in which Uyghurs face numerous acts of psychological and physical violence makes it difficult to manage the impact of Covid-19 in the region. As we know, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends maintaining physical distance due to the easy transmission of Covid-19 through close physical contact and in low hygiene environments. However, these internment camps are far from places where Uyghurs would be treated in accordance with the WHO guidelines.

 

Uyghurs are persecuted by the Chinese regime because of  the language they speak, which is comparable to a mix of Uzbek and Turkish, as well as for their Muslim religion – both of which are important markers of their identity. It is their very existence that the regime aims to erase in these “re-education” camps. Within the high-security enclosure of the camps, internees are forced to study Mandarin Chinese and the regime ideology, hence depriving them of their own culture. But the camps are not only the scene of generalised  brainwashing and indoctrination. According to survivors, internees also undergo torture and are almost completely alienated from their basic needs by being refused sufficient nutrition or basic health care. 

 

In a recent interview conducted by the Irish Times,  the Chinese ambassador He Xiangdong states that he “personally” does “not accept the word ‘camps’, because it will remind people of the camps at the time of Nazi Germany.” However, the removal of Uyghurs from society and the construction of internment camps that increased in size by around 400% between 2016 and 2018, demonstrates definite similarity with the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes. Professor Jörg Friedrichs, from St. Cross College, Oxford notes the similarities with the Stalinist model in “systematically erasing the history, culture and identity” of Uyghurs.

 

In response, the Uyghurs have been conducting rebellious political actions since their forceful inclusion to the Chinese territory under Mao. From their fight for independence by the East Turkestan People’s Party  to protests during 1995 in Yining or murderous riots such as in 2009 in Urumqi, Xinjiang has been the scene of growing resistance. This has led China to characterize Uyghurs as a “terrorist threat”, prioritised in the regime that launched the “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism” in 2014. Moving away from trying to manage the region through economic development, the systematic repression of the Uyghurs is unprecedented. Such measures include the generalized use of advanced surveillance technology with face recognition that tracks individuals and the people they are in contact with in order to predict their future activities. The regime also collects DNA samples, fingerprints and voice recordings of Uyghurs, according to Professor Chung. Calling out the regime for its violent repression and disregard of basic human rights, as formerly done by Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, puts whistle-blowers at risk of “disappearing” or facing life sentences in internment camps. 

 

It is for its mountainous geographics, working as a natural barrier to invasion, and for its resources – namely Xinjiang’s qualification as the “national energy strategy base” – that the region is of strategic importance. Additionally, Uyghurs have been “used” as additional labour force through their transfer from internment camps to what can be considered forced labour factories. According to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, around 80,000 Uyghurs were moved to such factories between 2017 and 2019. Should the production of goods for tech companies such as Apple and Samsung, car constructors like BMW or other well-known brands such as Nike be revealed, we, as consumers, are testifying that economic interests prevail over the protection of basic human rights. 

 

China’s economic liberalisation was not followed by political democratisation. Instead, the regime is committing a form of genocide as shown by the reduction in the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, diminishing from  82% in 1949 to only 46% in 2010. As shown by Professor Fallon, multiple articles of the  Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are violated by the Chinese government. They have colonized the region, implemented  measures to forcefully separate families and have taken other physically and psychologically traumatic measures aiming at making Uyghurs a minority in their own homeland.

 

How can we claim to have learned the lessons from the past when we choose  to look away from this reality in order to carry on economic activities? While Turkey is regularly blamed for not recognising the Armenian genocide, we ourselves are not taking action to prevent the Chinese regime from conducting one. Although in December 2019 the European Parliament condemned the Chinese “anti-terrorist” actions, this is not enough. Awarding the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti, who undertook a life sentence in one of the many Uyghur camps, did not lead yet to any concrete actions against the Chinese dictatorship. 

 

While US lawmakers try to respond to the forced labour factories by imposing a trade ban on Xinjiang, European democracies must take the responsibility of protecting the Uyghurs in and out of China. Even beyond the Chinese borders, the Uyghur diaspora is not protected, as shown by several dozens of students in Egypt who were deported back to China, as well as Uyghurs living in France and Australia who received  anonymous calls asking them to pick up a package in the Chinese embassy. Leaders must prevent the massacre of ethnic groups from happening again. They must prioritise human lives and human rights protection over economic interests with China.  

 

 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

7 Things to do While we’re Stuck in Isolation

With a week and a half of quarantine already under our belts, it would be fair to say that most of you reading this have had your lives flipped over in a very short period of time. We have put together a list of things for you to occupy yourself with during this ever so strange time in our lives.

A Student’s Perspective: Sweden is Playing With Fire

I write from Sweden, a country which has chosen not to take strict measures as other European countries to fight COVID-19. I am an Irish masters student at Lund University and find the lack of movement worrying. If the virus is not contained here, we will encounter a health emergency as we have seen in Italy.

FGM: An Ever-Lasting Fight?

FGM is the perfect example of the inequality many women and girls still have to suffer in today’s world. It stands for Female Genital Mutilation. The procedure entails the cutting and damaging of the female genitals and is also known as female circumcision. Although there haven’t been many cases of FGM in Ireland, it is still an issue here.

A Student’s Call to Action on Climate Change

Climate change and environment issues, in general, are the most talked about topics these days, and for good reason. With all this news of despair and disaster regarding climate change it is easy to think that no matter what we do, nothing is enough. But this isn’t necessarily the case.

Xenophobic Ideas Spread Along with the Novel Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus now has 75,000 reported cases and has claimed over 2,000 lives in China. In the midst of this recent outbreak, we might find ourselves more germaphobic than usual. While paying extra attention to hygiene is normal and even healthy, there is an insidious side to this newfound germaphobia.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

It is a dangerous time to be living in Europe. As of 29 March 2020, of the ten countries with the most covid-19 related deaths in the world, seven are European, and medical experts and epidemiologists believe the continent could be as far as two weeks away from the peak. The EU has produced a €37 billion emergency fund for sectors impacted by the coronavirus. The outbreak of this virus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. Measures like social distancing, or indeed, cocooning, are necessary and have obvious and immediate implications to ‘flatten the curve’. It is understandable that citizen’s rights such as free movement and public assembly have been temporarily curtailed.

 

But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency? In China, citizens have been instructed to install an app which tracks one’s movement and proximity to others using facial recognition, while in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frozen courts, including postponing his own trial concerning three counts of corruption. Across the world, from Somalia to Lesbos to the Mexican border, those living in refugee camps await with bated breath for the potential arrival of the coronavirus. 

 

This month, concerns have been raised regarding the emergency measures introduced by some European democracies. Six European countries – Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova and Romania – have notified the Council of Europe that during this outbreak they will forgo commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 15 which allows derogation during “public emergency threatening the life of the nation.” Yet it seems unlikely that non-compliance with the ECHR will, in any case, save more lives than continuing compliance. Derogation by these countries could be seen as attempts to limit freedom of the media or freedom of information. 

 

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, of the right-wing populist Fidesz party, is straddling the line between democracy and authoritarianism after the introduction of an Emergency Powers bill was passed into law this week. It allows Orbán, individually, to rule by decree. He can single-handedly override any existing legislation. As well, the new bill states that the spreading of ‘false’ or ‘true but distorted’ information could lead to a five-year prison sentence, and that all public information concerning government actions must come through him. This clause directly targets freedom of thought and expression, namely anyone – journalist, citizen – critical of Orbán’s actions. Parliament is suspended and there will be no elections while this law is in place. Orbán has been Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010, and in that time has curtailed NGO activity and media independence in Hungary. It is likely his party is taking the ‘opportunity’ afforded by the coronavirus pandemic to implement tighter civic control in line with their populist stance. Because the law has no time period attached to it, MEPs are worried that these measures could continue past the outbreak and curb freedoms for years to come.

 

 

In France, Emmanuel Macron’s new doctrine passed on 22 March has specifically targeted workers’ rights, or “acquis sociaux”, including the right to vacation pay, delaying salary bonuses for low-paid workers, and the power for employers to force overtime work on staff. In Britain, Boris Johnson’s lockdown measures allow for the arrest and detaining of those believed to be infectious, including children, by state authorities. Those detained can be placed in custody facilities for up to 14 days. Doctors can sign death certificates without seeing the patient’s body. Measures like these are a large jump from the Prime Minister’s previous “herd immunity” tactic. For those living hand to mouth across the continent, lockdown measures directly cut through a right to livelihood, food and shelter. In recent days, as Italy enters week 3 of lockdown, a notable increase in social unrest has been reported, stemming from those living in the poorer southern regions where hunger is increasingly rampant. 

Alongside emergency powers aiming to prevent the spread of coronavirus, governments must implement social security measures to help the most vulnerable populations. Citizens can only comply with social distancing and lockdown measures should they have food, shelter, and peace of mind that they will have a livelihood to support themselves and their loved ones once this epidemic is over. We are living in an age of anxiety – and, should you follow President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, a time of war. Covid-19 is the invisible enemy. But, governments should not take this pandemic as an opportunity to over-extend power structures, or exploit humanity. 

 

 

Photo from freepik

 

 

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

 

 

 

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

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. Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny.

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. Migration might just be one of the most misunderstood areas of life, governance, and public policy. In this article, we lay out some of the most common myths about the topic, and bust them for you.

Uyghurs Interned in Chinese Camps at Higher Risk of Covid-19

The Uyghurs in the northwestern region of China have undergone continuous and increasingly violent repression from the ruling Communist Party. Millions of them are currently imprisoned in “re-education camps” and aren’t given any protection from the novel coronavirus.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The outbreak of the coronavirus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency?

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 and tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction, it’s estimated that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors.

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.

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

 

 

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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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