<h4><strong>In pursuit of safety: Homs (Syria) to Germany</strong></h4>

In pursuit of safety: Homs (Syria) to Germany

Young Syrian boy demonstrates with a poster that says “We demand the rescue of civilians in Deir ez-Zor from the brutal attacks on them”.Young boy lies on the floor in safe sunshine of Germany along with Syrian Flag, but with a purpose. After passing through dangerous journeys and fleeing war-torn areas of Syria, he is determined to speak for his human rights. Living in the German city of Friedrichshafen, he along with other young people demonstrated on streets in solidarity with their country. They raised voice against injustice, killing and bombings they have seen in Syrian regime. They wanted to tell German people that they left their beloved homeland because of the war.</entry-content p>

He belongs to city of Homs, Syria and was displaced because of the regime and daily killings and shelling in his area. He said he doesn’t want anything but a safe place to live. He also aspires to learn more and complete his academic career, which he was deprived of when he was in Syria. He has participated in this protest because he got approval from local German police. He said his and his brother’s sincere prayers are for Germany which gave them safe heaven to live. He is thankful to German government to help them but he also wants them to show empathy. He saw some demonstrations against refugees that he thinks is wrong.

He is a peaceful person he believes and would do nothing to disrupt the lives of other people in Germany. He wants international community to give attention to this issue and to aid refugees. He wants them to help the people who are victims of war is Syria and are getting killed every now and then. And these talks should not be limited to just talk, actions must be taken immediately to stop the war and solve issues mutually.

Furthermore, he shows his gratitude and determination by saying that he wants to be an active and productive member of German society and sometimes he misses his life in Syria. His dream is to live in a safe place where he can learn and study. That place he believes is Germany because it is the only country that accepted him after all the other countries abandoned him.

The voice of our client is shared by Aqsa Khalid, a volunteer Coordinator at Asylum Links EU. She holds a Masters degree in Clinical Social Work.

If you would like to get involved, you can join our group of volunteers. With your support, we will continue to provide this service.

On the ground in Serbia

On the ground in Serbia

There are currently approx. 6000 refugees and asylum seekers stuck in Serbia. There are 17 official camps, a number of squats in urban locations and some permitted sites ran by volunteer groups and other NGOs. The situation here is not the same as Bulgaria or Hungary where the general population is regularly fiercely hostile to refugees. Many people in Serbia appear more sympathetic to migrants, yet violence does still occur, especially in the border regions (#link to border violence email newsletter). Strong prejudice against Roma communities can also sweep dark skinned refugees into this sphere.

The camp situation is, like Greece, managed by Government commissariat and either the Ministry of Defence or Ministry of Social Welfare, though different departments are involved with other aspects of refugee provision. MoD and MoSW do not run their respective camps in the the same way. MoD camps are close to Belgrade with adult male populations and many boys and teenagers. MoSW camps are closer to Bulgarian and Hungarian borders, they include family camps. They are reported to have much greater provision such as schooling, and be managed with a more considerate approach than the MoD camps. The biggest camp, Obrenovac, is 45 minutes outside of Belgrade with a population that fluctuates between 700-1000 people. It is in an army base, other camps are in various factory, old military facilities and campsite locations.

These replace the desperate situation of informal camps that existed before, notably the infamous Belgrade Barracks, scene of so much suffering last winter. The current camps are mostly shared dorm accommodation, but a few have tents. Two meals a day are provided by catering companies or through volunteer NGOs in partnership with groups such as Oxfam. The MoD camps are pleasant and although it remains nervous, the government is now encouraging activities such as sports and recreation. The EU is assisting the Serbian government with camp funding including food, infrastructure and some other social projects. However it is reported that funding is tight and it is not clear how long the EU plans to continue provision. For now the camps are open and residents can move freely, however volunteers report that this has not always been the case. There have been instances where movement in and out is suddenly restricted without warning. Groups have also witnessed arbitrary arrests and sudden rounding up of sections of camp populations to detention facilities.

MSF and others have stated that mid-term government strategy is to move to a detention centre or ‘hotspot’ system once the refugee numbers have decreased to a manageable level. This would look somewhere between the open prison system operating on the Greek islands and the migration detention facilities operating in many European countries (for instance Yarls Wood in UK). Additionally the Serbian asylum system is notoriously difficult to negotiate, with less than 150 successful applications in the past two years. This gradual transfer towards a smaller detention system is tacit acceptance that many of these migrants will cross illegally through closed borders into Hungary or the more popular route through Croatia.

The majority of migrants in Serbia are from Afghanistan and so do not qualify for European relocation schemes, but are highly likely to still be due international protection as refugees. There are also many from northern Pakistan, Eritrea and a host of other African and Asian countries. The situation here remains serious, with smuggler gangs both providing hope to these stuck populations and exacting a cruel cost including extortion, kidnapping and violence. As is always the case, certain individuals in the police, border authorities and other official bodies are complicit in both the smuggling and the sometimes illegal and violent operations to counteract illegal crossings.

Regionally this is still a tense political situation, as Balkan countries as well as the wider European community struggle to create cohesive policy. Locally refugees in Serbia are treated with varying dignity and compassion, but they are undeniably seen as an unwanted problem by the state. The state wants to reduce visibility of refugees in public spaces, putting restrictions on where they can congregate and banning activities like football in certain parks. It is the height of summer now, but the freezing Serbian winter remains fresh in the refugees’ minds. Winterisation planning for camps is not yet being discussed by the government.

Refugee organisations such as BelgrAID (facebook.com/belgraid/) are working with INGOs to stockpile winter clothing and bedding and are appealing for funding to help with insulation and other infrastructure assistance for camps and highly vulnerable urban populations.

Refugees with Disabilities Not Taken into Consideration in Camps

Refugees with Disabilities Not Taken into Consideration in Camps

Lesvos, Greece – Refugees with disabilities do not have equal access to services in transition camps in Greece. Although the European Union provided substantial funding to the Greek government, local NGOs and to the United Nations, camps are still inadequate to host refugees with disabilities.

Edris, a 52-year-old refugee from Afghanistan, lost his two legs in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan. He is now living at the Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesvos Island in Greece. Edris complains that he has difficulties moving around the camp independently with his wheelchair due to the rocks, gravels and mud on the ground. “I feel trapped in this camp” Edris said.  He also explains that he has troubles going to the toilets because in Kara Tepe, there are mostly squat toilets, and it is also hard for him to reach the showers as there is a step at the entrance of the shower area.

“I feel trapped in this camp”

– Edris (refugee from Afghanistan)

 

Squat toilets in Kara Tepe refugee camp. Photo credit: Anais Wardak
Showers with steps in Kara Tepe camp. Photo credit: Anais Wardak
Overall bathrooms in Kara Tepe camp. Photo credit: Anais Wardak

Although a lot of camps have toilets and showers, they often don’t have ramps and are inadequate for wheelchairs. Rocky terrain and long distance prevent many people with disabilities to reach them.

Ghazal, a young woman from Afghanistan told me her 72-year-old dad was given a wheelchair in Moria camp, but he cannot use it because of the rocks and gravels on the floor.

 

Boxes in which people live in at Kara Tepe camp and gravels on the ground. Photo credit: Anais Wardak

It is astonishing that people with disabilities are being overlooked and not taken into consideration in camps, especially since they are considered “at-risk.” Many people who fled war, torture and terrorism now have disabilities, but aid agencies fail to respond effectively due to a lack of understanding of people’s needs.

In addition, there are not enough doctors on the camps, and mental health services are much needed for people victims of trauma, anxiety and depression as a result of the violence they experienced in their home countries.

“I need help”

– Arvin (female refugee from Syria)

 

Arvin, a 24-year-old refugee from Syria has daily severe panic attacks. She spends most of her days being in and out of consciousness, has difficulties breathing when she feels overwhelmed and starts trembling. “I need help” she told me. According to her, she needs to talk to a psychologist, but there are none at the Kara Tepe camp where she currently lives. Her mother explained that when she talks to doctors on the camp, they either give painkillers or sleeping pills, but nothing that would actually help.

Since 2015, the European Commission has given millions to the Greek government, aid agencies and international organizations to assist refugees in need and to improve living conditions at the camps, but the Greek government and the UNHCR have been strongly criticized for their failure of using the funds. Those funds were supposed to ensure that every single refugee had access to basic needs, including people with disabilities. However, healthy people and those with disabilities still do not have equal access to assistance and services that are provided in the camps. Failure to provide equal access to basic needs such as sanitation, housing, schools and medical facilities to all refugees in camps is discriminatory and violates the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

 

Written by Anais Wardak, a volunteer Project Coordinator at Asylum Links EU. Anais worked and lived in France, Switzerland, USA, UK, China, Afghanistan and Greece. She holds a MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development and a BA in Global Affairs. She wrote her master dissertation on mobility and transnational networks and focused primarily on the case of Afghan male refugees. She volunteered with many organizations to help refugees in France, UK and Greece. 

If you would like to get involved, you can join our group of volunteers. With your support, we will continue to provide this service. 

Living in Constant Fear: Refugee Women in Camps

Living in Constant Fear: Refugee Women in Camps

 

Toilets at Kara Tepe camp where sexual assaults sometimes take place. Photo credit: Anais Wardak

 

Lesvos, Greece – Rosa, a young medical student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was raped, tortured and imprisoned in her country due to her participation in a pacific march against the government. After returning home from the march, the military found her home and broke in around midnight. Soldiers not only killed her 9-month-old boy and her father in law with a machete in front of her eyes, but they also raped her in front of her husband and her son’s dead body. She was then taken to jail for 4 months where she was victim of daily sexual violence before escaping.

After being tortured and raped for months, and having no family left, Rosa decided to seek safety in Europe. She now lives in constant fear in a transit refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. Throughout her long journey to Greece by land and by sea, Rosa got robbed and assaulted, but she was still hoping to find safety and peace in Europe.

Rosa, in fact, is just one of the many women who fled harm and persecution and who hoped to find a better future. However, many of those women face new fears of violence and sexual harassment in the camps, particularly in the “hot spots” of the Greek Islands.

 

“I left hell to find another hell”

– Fereshta (refugee woman from Afghanistan)

 

Many women who did not feel safe in their home country do not feel safe in Greece either. Fereshta, who is a young refugee woman from Afghanistan, told me she was scared to leave her tent at night or go to the bathroom because she has heard so many stories of women being raped within Moria refugee camp. However, one night, a man broke into her tent and assaulted her. She told me, “I left hell to find another hell.”

At the Moria refugee camp particularly, both men and women live together under the same tents, which is very threatening to women and children. The cohabitation of strangers inside small tents creates high levels of risks and tensions. Because of the harsh conditions of the camp and because of what people have gone through, they become violent towards one another. There are countless numbers of verbal and sexual assaults every single day.

Last week, Rosa and Fereshta both moved from Moria to Kara Tepe refugee camp, which is almost considered a “5-star camp” compared to Moria. Women and men are separated unless they are a family; there are gender-segregated toilets, as well as showers with doors; and volunteers and guards from different organizations patrol 24/7 within the camp to make sure everything goes smoothly. Those are all measures taken to prevent sexual violence and to increase the security of female refugees.

 

Boxes in which refugees live in Kara Tepe camp. Fereshta lives in one of those boxes among 9 other women.
Photo credit: Anais Wardak

 

However, despite those security measures, women still do not feel safe and a lot of them are subject to panic attacks in camps due to an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. Fereshta for example is still too scared to leave her room at night – and what I mean by “room” is a container in which about 9 other women sleep in, sometimes even on hard floors. If Fereshta has to go to the toilets at night, she just does it in her room in a bucket because of her fear to go outside at night.

Unfortunately, a lot of women who have been victim of rape and sexual assault in camps are reluctant to come forward and talk about it because they are scared the bureaucratic procedures will take too long and they don’t want to be “stuck in the camp forever”, as Rosa said. Thus, a lot of victims prefer to keep quiet and move on, in order to be transferred as quickly as possible.

 

Written by Anais Wardak, a volunteer Project Coordinator at Asylum Links EU. Anais worked and lived in France, Switzerland, USA, UK, China, Afghanistan and Greece. She holds a MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development and a BA in Global Affairs. She wrote her master dissertation on mobility and transnational networks and focused primarily on the case of Afghan male refugees. She volunteered with many organizations to help refugees in France, UK and Greece. 

 

If you would like to get involved, you can join our group of volunteers. With your support, we will continue to provide this service. 

How I (try) to help refugees online.

How I (try) to help refugees online.

Sometimes it is easy to associate the word ”refugee” with stateless people wandering a desert in order to drain the oasis of a ”settled” community. However, many people do not realise that refugees are doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who simply want the universal human rights that are inherently born within all of us. Human rights do not have to be given, bought, earned or inherited. It just simply is. The ability to live in a state of dignity is an unquestionable right that this organisation is aiming to achieve for all who require it within Europe.

There are many sad stories of our clients that could be written here, but what does that truly achieve? A momentary flash of pity then a continuation into the trance of ”normality” however, the feelings of joy in knowing that a soul has been helped can last a lifetime. A client once told me that I was his dear friend for life. That simple sentence, did more for me than a thousand compliments from acquaintances. Want to know what I did for him? I just gave him the information of where to go and what to do next to help him and his family.

Everyone knows the expression that ”knowledge is power.” Information is necessary to even save and build the lives of families. Asylum Links EU is a non profit organisation with an enthusiastic team of international volunteers working towards the goal of providing necessary the information refugees require to either gain asylum, relocation, housing support, obtaining work, access to health care, reunification with other family members and a plethora of other needs. Our clients contact us from countries such as Greece, Germany, France and Serbia. The need for help is a world wide issue and requires world wide help.

Data from World Economic Forum states that more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 78 countries in 2015. Information from 2016 found that nearly 370,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe , most of them having faced the perilous journey by sea. The UNHCR data sourced from 2016 showed that an astounding 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. These numbers are an abomination to the absolute basic way of the human quality of life.

Misplaced people can easily be lost in the jungle of confusion surrounding their dire circumstances. As we work together for a solution to disperse the problems that so many refugees face, this essential work is key to the process of eliminating refugee status and gaining the power of an un-purgatory like state of being. Studies have been administered by the European Migration Network showing the positive effect of refugee migration and integration into German society over several decades. Evidence has shown that the economic benefits of refugee integration has increased the availability of jobs by the different fields of commerce introduced into society and simultaneously increasing international trade. Negative impacts on the wages of the indigenous population do not exist and to a certain extent positive effects can be seen.

If society does not want refugees sitting in limbo, then the only solution is to empower them; with knowledge, help and the comfort of knowing that someone out there who they may never ever meet truly cares.

By Sophia Woodleigh

If you would like to get involved, join our group of volunteers. With your support, we will continue providing this service, wherever it is needed, across Europe and the Middle East.

Thank you!