STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

OPINION 

STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

STAND Festival 2020: 'The impacts of climate enforced migration among the most vulnerable communities'
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

28th October 2020

On Tuesday 13th October, STAND, with support from UCC Enviro Soc, TCD Enviro Soc, UCC Fáilte Refugees Soc and TCD VDP Social Justice, held an online panel discussion on “The impacts of climate enforced migration among the most vulnerable communities”. Chaired by Amali Tower of Climate Refugees, the panel included Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer (Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium), Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad); Jannie Staffansson (Indigenous Peoples Rights Activist) and Genevieve Jiva (Pacific Islands Climate Action Network).

 

The panel members began by discussing the field of their work and their personal involvement. Jiva described her work with PICAN which, comprising 130 member organisations across the Pacific, champions knowledge and leadership into the effects of climate action on the area. The Pacific, she detailed, is considered to be at the front lines of the climate crisis, as climate forced migration and relocation align with intense cyclones, coral bleaching, king tides and sea-level rise. Staffansson, growing up in a reindeer-herding family, is seeing fast changes occurring as a result of temperature-rise, which caused many of the indigenous species to suffer. Accordingly, she decided that she would try to adapt by educating herself in indigenous knowledge to adapt to climate change.

 

Schaeffer, from a traditional Alaskan background, is also witnessing the suffering of her own community as a result of rising sea levels and temperatures and tries to help science and research to understand the importance of the elders’ knowledge of nature in order to help with adaptation to the new climate. Ibrahim, by contrast, coming from a nomadic culture in the Chad Basin surrounded by desert, looked back on her childhood, noting that so many of the different species of birds, insects, flowers and animals that she played with have now disappeared, mentioning that in 1960, Lake Chad measured 25km2, whereas now it only measures 2km2. Ibrahim summed up what all the panellists were working towards: “a platform at the international level to make the voices of indigenous communities heard and taken into consideration in the realm of climate change and climate forced migration.”

 

Schaeffer expanded on the struggles facing her community: the extreme weather variances prohibited infrastructure, due to the eternal truth in that “pitting modern infrastructure against mother nature, mother nature will win every time.” The summers are becoming hotter and longer, the winters colder and shorter, and as a people of the ecosystem, her indigenous community that depends on the land and food resources and agriculture are seeing climate change drastically affect plants and animals. However, she maintains that her people have lived for 17,000 years on the land; they successfully survived a period of time in which summer lasted all year round, and a lot more besides; so to Schaeffer, this instance is a mere “glimpse in time” which is not going to win.

 

Ibrahim summed up what all the panellists were working towards: a platform at the international level to make the voices of indigenous communities heard and taken into consideration in the realm of climate change and climate forced migration.”

Staffansson emphasised that some areas that were previously untouched by colonialism were now being destroyed in favour of windmill parks, for example. She asked, “Why not put them in places where you need them, beside the cities? In places where you have already destroyed the biodiversity?… We have paid for it enough.” She acknowledged that it is difficult to adapt and survive with climate change, but to also fight as a community against renewable energy destroying her lands: while it is preferred to fossil fuels, the price should not always be paid by indigenous people and their family, lands and animals. Ibrahim agreed also that it is not just about human species, but about the ecosystem as a whole.

 

Jiva acknowledged that the first thing that needs to be accomplished is visibility: the Pacific is so excluded in international spaces; and if it is not seen, then how can people care? A third of the world’s oceans are in the Pacific, lined with thousands of years of culture and history, and indigenous knowledge and science in the communities that are trying to survive. She noted how often neo-colonial thinking exacerbates suffering, for example, Australia’s grand compact.

 

Ibrahim described the impact that the Covid-19 crisis was having on her region – the Map of Hunger 2020 showed that Chad is the most vulnerable country, with an increase by 35% of food insecurity. She finds that countries are just focusing on Covid-19, when climate change is the main issue, as it makes people vulnerable. And those that are vulnerable will always be affected more by any crisis.

 

However, Schaeffer found some light at the end of the tunnel: because of the basic challenges of lockdown, her community had to revert to traditional methods of traditional medicines which were then shared across regions in the state. She emphasised the community mindset of such peoples, the focus on the bigger picture.  “The western mindset is self – family – community, while the indigenous norm is community – family – self.” This has never been more relevant than in the current climate.  She urged the youth to become their own inspiration – the voice of the youth has to be powerful but it has to be acknowledged first. The young should allow elders to tell their stories and share their knowledge; inspiration will only be what they know, and they can only know what they teach.

 

STAND Fest 20: The impacts of climate migration among the most vulnerable communities (STAND.ie, 2020)

Jannie urged the youth to take care of their community, “spend time with your sisters, gather around the fire. Gather with your community, and if you don’t have one you need to create one and take care of it.” She pressed further: “If you are young there will come a time where you need to walk the streets and protest, for us indigenous peoples that live so close to nature, seeing everything we love dying or already dead… There is still time.” 

 

Ibrahim called it the “youth battle, not only the indigenous fight,” imploring us not to “let them decide in your place, decide for the future that you want, and you can do it.” Jiva urged us to work as intergenerationally as possible – you can’t fix the future without learning from the past. Her final words were words that echoed the message of the entire discussion: “Get involved. You are our leaders.” 

 

Conall Keane, Social Justice Officer of Trinity Vincent de Paul Society, was also in attendance of the panel discussion: 

 

I thought it was a very insightful discussion that really showed just how diverse and widespread the issue of climate change is. Hearing from a range of communities around the world – a rare positive side-effect of the current restrictions on in-person events – with such different cultures, such different ways of living, and such different experiences, yet all sharing the common misfortune of struggle with climate change, brings to light the stark reality of what most people only loosely understand to be a global issue.”

 

The unequal burden of the impact of climate change was evident to Conall who felt “hearing about the severe damage that we in Western countries cause for these communities serves as an urgent reminder that the issue of climate change needs to be brought more into the public eye; the fact that people from the places in the world that are least impacted by these issues are the ones who are making the key decisions on behalf of those who are suffering the most is awful and unjust, and listening to the accounts of the speakers added greatly to the frustration I felt with those circumstances. For that reason, I think it’s more important than ever that we educate ourselves and each other on the issue of climate change because unfortunately, we can’t easily shift the imbalance of influence so the only alternative is to cultivate an awareness and understanding of the problem in those places that are in the position to bring about the necessary changes.” 

 

You can watch back the panel discussion above or on Youtube here. For Conall, “the simultaneous wonder and frustration that the discussion evoked are a testament to how worthwhile a discussion it was! 

 

 

 

Featured photo by STAND

 
 

 

The complex relationship between climate change and migration

The complex relationship between climate change and migration

OPINION 

The complex relationship between climate change and migration

climate migration
deepthi suresh stand news

Deepthi Suresh

17th October 2020

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990 noted that the greatest single impact of climate change might be on human migration. Millions of people could be displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption. The meteorological impact of climate change can be divided into two distinct drivers of migration: climate processes such as sea-level rise, salinization of agricultural land, desertification and growing water scarcity; and climate events such as flooding, storms and glacial lake outburst floods. Successive reports and various other studies have argued that environmental degradation due to climate change is poised to become a major driver of population displacement. It is a mega humanitarian crisis in the making. These repeated analyses or predictions, such as the possible displacement of 200 million people by 2050, may have made the argument of climate change increasingly confident in the scientific community – but the consequences, and its impact on human population distribution, largely seem unclear. The adverse impact of climate migration cannot be portrayed by the simple imagery of a coastal farmer being forced to pack up and move to a rich country.

 

From livelihoods to identity, the environment plays an important role in everyone’s daily lives, hence different types of climate migrants. Climate change would therefore influence many people’s decisions to stay or indeed to move. There is a rapidly growing literature contributing to the migration-environment theory: (1) migration is a fundamental strategy for addressing household risk arising from the environment; (2) environmental factors interact with broader socio-political histories; (3) the migration–environment association is shaped by social networks.

 

The first group who were forced to relocate from their ancestral homes due to climate change were the inhabitants of the coastal villages in Alaska – namely the Shishmaref and Kivalina groups. The low-lying coastlands of Bangladesh and India have faced severe storms as a result of the dramatic change in climate. A sea-level rise of 20 inches could displace over 6 million people in Bangladesh alone. As a result, many rural Bangladeshis have migrated to the capital, Dhaka, thereby resulting in an increase in the population growth to about 17 million, and thus also causing severe strain on the capital’s infrastructure. As the trend suggests, more affluent people have the opportunity to emigrate, while the most vulnerable people from poor households are trapped in risky areas.

 

Climate migration occurs both between and within countries. It may be temporary or permanent. It could follow existing routes or forge new ones. The impacts of climate change could trap people in dangerous places, and on the other hand, force people to move. Most people move within their own country if they are forced to flee due to floods, droughts and rising seas. But sometimes, when disasters unfold more slowly, some people decide to move across borders – either with or without the help of their governments. Climate migrants’ choice of potential destinations is further affected by the policies in these destinations.

 

It also seems as though there has been a collective and unfortunately a successful attempt to ignore the scale of this problem. Climate migrants who were forced to flee due to sudden or gradual changes in their natural environment as a result of climate change are omitted in international refugee and immigration policies. There is considerable resistance to the idea of expanding the definition of political refugees to incorporate climate refugees. When, where and how people will be forced to move as a consequence of climate change remains elusive, as do definitions about what it means to be a climate migrant and how best to govern the problem. It is also highly likely that the burden of providing for climate migrants will be borne by the poorest countries, especially by those who are least responsible for emissions of the greenhouse gases. This plight has been thoroughly observed and discussed, yet with no sustainable solutions to the horrifying crisis faced by political refugees. Those who are forced to move as a result of climate change are not protected by existing laws, and thus, the human rights afforded to them are unclear.

 

The complex status of human mobility is further debated upon, including the argument surrounding whether or not the climate migrants should be given a climate-specific legal status in addition to the refugees’ status (if given in the first place at all). It might also lead to a biased debate and would give only partial solutions to address the issue of human migration and climate change.

 

According to the Division of UN Migration Agency (IOM), the media has time and again pushed for features on climate refugees. In contrast, however, some of the smaller affected communities or states do not want to leave their homes or would rather move in dignity through regular channels without having to leave everything behind and run for their lives. IOM stresses the fact that “reducing the issue of migration in the context of climate change to the status of ‘climate refugees’ fails to recognize several key aspects that define human mobility in the context of climate change and environmental degradation.’’

Some of the aspects are as follows:

 

1. Climate migration is mainly internal: when migration is internal, the migrants remain under the responsibility of their state, as they do not cross borders and are not seeking protection from a third country or at the international level.

 

2. Migration is not necessarily forced, especially for a very slow onset process of climate change. In this instance, migration is still a matter of choice, even if it occurs in a constrained manner, so countries need to set in place a proper strategy migration management and agreements rather than refugee protection.

 

3. It may be an impossible task to separate environment or climatic reasons from humanitarian, political, social, conflict or economic ones as it may lead to long and even unrealistic legal procedures.

 

4. Creating a special refugee status for climate change-related reasons might, unfortunately, have the opposite effects of what is sought as a solution: it can lead to the exclusion of certain categories of people who require protection, especially the poorest migrants, who are moving as a result of a mix of factors and would not be able to prove the link to climate and environmental factors.

 

5. Opening The the 1951 Refugee Convention might weaken the refugee status, which would be tragic given the state of our world in which so many people require protection because of persecution and ongoing conflicts.

 

6. Creating a new convention might be a lengthy political process that countries may not even have an appetite for. Many responses can come from migration management and policy as highlighted already in the 2011 International Dialogue on Migration and the recently adopted Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The Nansen Initiative that was launched to look at gaps in protection for people being displaced across borders by disasters, undertook thematic and regional consultations and also concluded with a document that proposed a “toolkit” of migration policies, rather than recommending the establishment of a new status for these people.

 

7. Climate migration discussions should not lose their focus on preventive measures: the key objective of our generation is to invest in climate and environmental solutions for our planet, so that people will not have to leave their homes in a forced way in the future. The Paris Agreement offers anchorage for climate action that considers human mobility to avert, minimize and address displacement in the context of climate change.

 

8. IOM encourages the full use of all the existing bodies of laws and instruments pertaining to human rights, refugees etc.

 

9. Human rights-based approaches are key in the addressing of climate migration: states of origin bear the primary responsibility for their citizens’ protection, even if their countries have not been the main contributors to global warming; they should therefore apply human rights-based approaches in terms of their citizens moving because of environmental or climatic drivers.

 

10. Regular migration pathways can provide relevant protection for climate migrants and facilitate migration strategies in response to environmental factors. Many migration management solutions are available as a response to challenges posed by climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters, in terms of international migratory movements. They can provide a status for people who move in the context of climate change impacts, such as humanitarian visas, temporary protection, authorization to stay, regional and bilateral free movements’ agreements, among several others.

 

It is of the utmost importance that greater resources are dedicated to mitigating the complexity of climate migration and to the finding of an effective solution. Further research is needed to determine the best ways in which to improve the migratory process, be it through providing safer modes of transport, or by increasing migration monitors, and most importantly, by improving the destination country integration resources. The solution and strategies that the international community might indulge in together may be the defining factors of international relations in the 21st century – which is presently in dire need of restructuring.

 

To learn more about ‘Climate Migration’ check out STAND’s online student festival taking place between the 12th – 24th of October 2020. To register for online workshops, creative events and panel discussions, click here!

 

 

 

Featured photo by pxfuel

 
 

 

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures

OPINION 

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 lockdown measures

climate migration and covid-19
lydia howard Chevalier

Lydia Howard Chevalier

6th October 2020

Unfortunate, though it may be, the initially positive reactions of eco-activists after the introduction of strict lockdown measures may have been premature. Online reports of crystal-clear water running through the canals of Venice and visible starry skies in China proved to be the glimmer of hope we were all desperately searching for in the midst of these unprecedented times. That sense of hope was short-lived, however, and data soon emerged showing that although levels of carbon emissions declined somewhat thanks to lockdown measures, this was merely a temporary slowdown – and environmental damage from the burning of fossil fuels is continuing, unabated. Indeed, pandemic safety measures, such as the wearing of PPE, is contributing even further waste – non-recyclable face masks and gloves can be found discarded carelessly on our streets and in our landfills. Whilst our attention has been almost exclusively focused on COVID-19 during these past few months, we must not forget that nothing on our planet exists in a vacuum – climate change is inextricably linked with public health as well as with migration.

 

In 2019 alone, extreme weather events displaced 24 million people within their own countries – an alarmingly high number, serving as a stark reminder that we must not ignore the seriousness of the issue. Climate change is likely to result in even more frequent and intense weather events in the future, which will inevitably lead to a dramatic shift in the demographics of our planet. The displacement of large numbers of people is a high-risk scenario, particularly during a global pandemic – how can migrants obey stay-at-home orders when their homes have been destroyed by hurricanes, bush fires and major floods? Can we reasonably expect social distancing in cramped refugee camps or frequent handwashing in places where soapy water is often unavailable due to damage to infrastructure? Consider the example of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti; survivors in crowded camps were often forced to drink water that had been contaminated by flooded rivers and latrines, resulting in a serious cholera outbreak, killing many of those who already displaced. If we wish to suppress the spread of COVID-19, we must also simultaneously address climate change.

 

Hurricane Matthew: Haiti storm
Hurricane Matthew: Haiti storm

Hurricane Matthew: the impact on housing in Corail and Jeremie, Haiti (BBC, 2016)

Migration due to environmental change is not a new concept; however, the levels of climate migration have increased dramatically in recent years. According to the Migration Data Portal, in 2019 alone, nearly 2,000 disasters triggered 24.9 million new internal displacements, the highest number since 2012. These were mostly the result of tropical storms and monsoon rains in South Asia and East Asia and Pacific. While it is difficult to measure exactly how many have fled their homes as a direct result of climate change, it is categorised as a “threat amplifier”: something which exacerbates an existing situation, such as conflict or competition over scarce resources. Those who are forced to flee their homes as a direct result of sudden-onset weather changes face a complex legal situation when attempting to access assistance or seek asylum; the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) currently refuses these migrants refugee status, designating them merely as “environmental migrants” and leaving them out in the cold without legal protection.

 

Unlike the measures introduced to tackle the pandemic, there is no organised effort to monitor the migrant population, and the UN lacks the resources to address their needs. The Sustainable Development Goals mention climate action and the urgent need to address it; however, the refusal of the US to adopt the Global Compact and its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement are not very encouraging signs of a commitment to future action. The Global Compact on Migration represents a unique opportunity for the international community to understand the climatic drivers of migration as well as the impact of migration on the environment, while the Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by setting out goals involving carbon-emission mitigation, new technologies and the reinforcing of countries’ adaptive abilities in the face of severe weather events.

 

How a situation is perceived is critical when planning an effective response. Too much doom-and-gloom on the news can lead to “crisis fatigue” – a phenomenon many are already familiar with, watching the ever-rising death toll on television every night. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which is only amplified when the population also views extreme weather events as “acts of God” over which they feel no sense of control. Utilising a crisis-narrative inhibits effective action, as crises are typically short-term, unexpected events of which we could have had no prior knowledge or indeed, any level of preparedness. This can be applied to both COVID-19, which proved to be the “Disease X” public health experts have warned us about for many years, as well as climate change, the effects of which we have long been aware of. We cannot keep burying our heads in the sand when faced with mounting evidence of the effects of both of these threats.

 

COVID-19 and climate change pose immediate and long-term challenges to our well-being and everyday survival; the New York Times estimates that in South Asia alone, the living conditions of 800 million people could dramatically diminish due to climate change. Therefore, both must be addressed with an equal amount of urgency, long-term planning and multilateral cooperation. One significant difference must be acknowledged, however: flattening the curve of climate change will take many years, as opposed to mere weeks, and will require effective, pre-emptive intervention. International organisations such as the UN should specifically target the most vulnerable populations when planning to provide assistance and support, as it is often the countries with the lowest adaptive capacities who suffer disproportionately from the effects of flooding, droughts and desertification.

 

“The lockdown measures we have all recently been subjected to has offered us a brief insight into the impact on human wellbeing of restrictions on mobility.”

The idea that closed borders represents safety while open borders bring chaos and danger is a flawed and dangerous one that right-wing populists across the developed world have capitalised on throughout both the 2015 refugee crisis and the current pandemic. The lockdown measures we have all recently been subjected to has offered us a brief insight into the impact on human wellbeing of restrictions on mobility – a mere snapshot of what it is like for those fleeing parts of the world rendered uninhabitable by the devastating effects of climate change. Whilst all public health experts recommend travel and border restrictions as a necessary part of the pandemic response, they emphasise that this must be done on a test-and-trace basis, instead of an all-encompassing blanket ban. Such measures could lead people to fear “outsiders” or “foreigners” as potential sources of infection, a fear which could translate into a long-term policy if we are not careful. We need to remember the opportunities and benefits of welcoming migrants into our communities: many societies are experiencing a demographic decline and ageing populations – a fresh injection of migrant workers can provide a significant boost to local economies, a much-needed necessity in many post-COVID nations. The irony seemed lost on U.K. politicians recently when many applauded and expressed gratitude to the NHS for saving lives throughout the pandemic, despite the fact that many of its healthcare workers are migrants living in a nation whose Home Office is fighting to maintain policies that promote a “hostile environment” for such workers in order to deter any future influx.

 

And so, we have arrived at our current situation, through a combination of denial, ignorance (politically motivated or otherwise) and a preference for short-term gain, all whilst ignoring the true long-term pain. This myopic attitude must change if we are to ensure the survival and quality of life of the inhabitants of this Earth. We cannot simply relocate the problem, irresponsibly dispose of our waste in developing nations, and perpetuate an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The evidence is clear: the developed world may be more capable (but perhaps not always willing) to prepare for and manage the effects of extreme weather events, while many in underdeveloped nations lack this capacity. Yet as true as it is that we will all suffer through our own inaction, this conversely means that we will surely all benefit through positive, coordinated action.

 

To learn more about ‘Climate Migration’ check out STAND’s online student festival taking place between the 12th – 24th of October 2020. To register for online workshops, creative events and panel discussions, click here!

 

 

 

Featured photo by Wallpaper Flare

 
 

 

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

HUMANITARIAN

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

rubber dinghy refugees uk media
ellen mcveigh

Ellen McVeigh

4th September 2020

 

Earlier in August 2020, during a live item on BBC Breakfast, presenter Simon Jones and a small crew filmed a group of around 15 refugees on a precarious dinghy attempting to cross the English Channel from Calais to Dover in order to seek asylum in the UK. In an unsettling, almost dystopian piece of television, Jones explains in real-time the incredibly dangerous and desperate scene taking place behind him, as the individuals in the overcrowded dinghy attempt to drain the water collecting in the boat using buckets. The whole item is presented with the detached demeanour of either a sports commentator watching a boat race, or the tour operator on a whale watching tour. Despite asking them where they are from and if they are OK, there is a palpable lack of any kind of insight into the context of this journey, what they were fleeing from, or really any sensitivity towards the incredibly complex situation the refugees had found themselves in. What does the public learn from stories such as these?  

 

While this is an issue which is essential to report on, many are sceptical about the timing of these news stories while the UK is still deep in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the government continues to face public scrutiny. With a death toll of more than 40,000, the worst in Europe, it could be argued that a few dozen people attempting to seek asylum in the country is not the most significant issue to be focussing on right now. The question of what led people to make this journey is the much more important issue, but these 10 minute live segments simply are not able to get to the crux of these issues. Around the same time as the BBC Breakfast show came out, Sky News had a similar piece on individuals from Sudan attempting to cross the Channel in a small dinghy without life jackets. Despite both news outlets reassuring their viewers that they were conscious of the safety of the refugees, many critics were worried not only about the risk of death but also the incredible depths to which these mainstream media outlets could stoop when covering these issues. To turn this dangerous situation into a television spectacle, filming vulnerable people who are unable to properly consent, highlighted a long-standing issue which the UK media has had with refugee and migrant issues for many years.  

 

In 2016, a report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that the volume of mainstream UK news coverage of asylum seekers and refugees has been increasing noticeably since the early 2000s. The report found several elements of this coverage which have had an impact on the British public’s perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers. They found that stories about migrants secretly crossing the English Channel from France had been a persistent feature of the British press, and particularly in right-wing newspapers such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail. The report found that British newspapers regularly conflated stories about asylum seekers and refugees with other migrants, using the terms refugees and migrants interchangeably and sometimes even within the one article. In the more right-leaning papers, the UNHCR found frequent usage of the trope of the ‘bogus asylum seeker’, and the creation of distinctions between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ asylum seekers, often used to support hostile policies from the UK government. They found that these right-wing newspapers are likely to detach stories about refugees entering the UK from their home countries and that this lack of context leaves readers “badly informed about the factors behind refugee flows”. Even the BBC was found to divorce refugees from the push factors in their home country, instead largely focussing on political opinion from across the UK regarding the intake of refugees to the country. 

 

The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility.”

It could be seen as the result of decades of cynical reporting on refugees from the British press, as well as the rising mainstream prominence of far-right groups such as UKIP, that we could see asylum seekers in such a desperate situation being shown live on breakfast television as a kind of visual spectacle. In an article in gal-dem magazine, Diyora Shadijanova speaks to the ‘Faragification’ of the media; the idea that the British media can continuously debate issues surrounding asylum and immigration in a detached, theoretical way rather than real situations happening to real people, which the UK government has a direct hand in affecting. Diyora highlights the fact that British media debates refugee issues in isolation, not addressing the circumstances which push someone to board an unsafe dinghy on the English Channel. They often fail to address the part the UK Government has to play not only in the global conflicts which produce refugees but also in creating a ‘hostile environment’ through the removal of safe, legal routes to seek asylum in the country. The obsession with ‘civilised’ debates on complex human rights issues has led to the normalisation of anti-immigration rhetoric. While waiting for the media to come to a balanced conclusion, people will continue to risk their lives on the Channel because they simply have no other choice. 

 

The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility. In May 2020, The Guardian reported that the recently drafted Brexit text showed the UK Home Office’s plans to terminate the current system of family reunification, a policy which currently grants unaccompanied minors sanctuary in the UK. Despite earlier commitments to reunite refugee children with family in the UK, the draft negotiation text for Brexit seeks to ensure that family reunification will be on a discretionary basis, rather than a mandatory obligation. This news outraged refugee charities such as Safe Passage and Amnesty International, who warned it would endanger already vulnerable minors, and drive them into the hands of smugglers and gangs. In August, following the controversial BBC Breakfast Channel crossing segment, Safe Passage warned that more children and families would risk their lives by crossing the Channel through unsafe means if the UK government scrapped the legal routes to family reunification. They are concerned that many are already running out of time to seek a legal route before the Brexit transition period ends, and are instead being forced into lorries and dinghies.  

 

bbc refugee report english channel
sky news reporting refugees english channel 2020

 

The warnings from charities about children risking their lives in an attempt to cross the Channel became incredibly poignant on the 19th of August when it was reported that a 16-year-old Sudanese boy had drowned in the English Channel while attempting to reach the UK. When tweeting her condolences for the boy’s death, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed that the incident was “a brutal reminder of the abhorrent criminal gangs and people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people”. She faced a backlash from charities and other organisations who made the point that it was the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ was the very thing forcing people into these situations. Safe Passage highlighted that this tragic news was a “direct consequence of a lack of safe alternatives”; whilst Amnesty International UK demanded that both the UK and French governments share their asylum obligations. Just days earlier, Patel had announced plans to send royal navy warships into the English Channel to block migrant crossings, despite warnings that this was dangerous and unlawful. Amnesty International UK had warned that the only people who would benefit from these dangerous proposals would be the very smugglers and gangs who Priti Patel claimed to abhor.  

 

Years of intensifying anti-immigration rhetoric across the British press have calcified during the Brexit era, heightened by a Tory government which are openly committed to evading their responsibility to some of the most vulnerable in society. The divorcing of any context, for people making dangerous journeys across continents and seas, from the political situations in their home country or the lack of safe alternatives to entry as a direct result of UK government policy. This detachment from human rights issues, to the point of dehumanisation, allows a reporting on refugee issues which focuses entirely on political debate as opposed to empathetic framing of these issues which focuses on first-hand knowledge of the situation. Rather than seeing this lives as disposable, a tragic inevitability of the curious quirk of Channel crossings, it is important to reframe the conversation not in terms of personal responsibility but in terms of government policy which directly impacts on the paths that incredibly desperate people take when they are given no other choice. No human being is illegal, travelling across the Channel in a boat is not illegal, seeking asylum in the UK is not illegal. 

 

 

Featured photo by Pikist

 
 

 

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Opinion

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy 

Greece Refugee Policy

1st September 2020

 

On 2 September 2015, almost five years ago to this day, the world was horrified as images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s dead body emerged, washed up on a Turkish beach. His family, fleeing the Syrian civil war, was trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. Since his picture made front-page news around the globe, media interest in the plight of these refugees has slowly dissipated.  

 

Meanwhile, the evolving crisis is worsening in Greece. As a primary entry point to the EU for those seeking asylum, the country is clearly overwhelmed and incapable of hosting those seeking protection. Facing discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of the Greek government, tensions have heightened during the Covid-19 crisis. Refugees who survive the journey to Europe think that the road ahead of them will be easier than the journey they have left behind. The reality is that suffering is far from over. 

 

Oinofyta refugee camp is located an hour from Athens. In November 2017, the camp was closed as it did not meet the minimum legal standards, yet it reopened just five months later. A source stated that, upon reopening, conditions were actually worse than before, due to reduced outside-support and services offered to the residents. Nonetheless, demand clearly overrode the need for a safe place to house refugees. Mothers, fathers and children are being kept in the camp; a disused chemical factory deemed structurally unsound, which ultimately does not meet the basic needs of humans; there is no clean water, the building is unsanitary, and the toilets have no doors for privacy. The camp is left unattended, with residents locked inside, on the weekends and overnight 

 

Pregnant women who go into labour when the camp is unattended are left to fend for themselves; in one particular instance, it was reported that a woman was assisted by other residents during her labour. The residents called an ambulance, which arrived two days later. Post-delivery, no assistance was provided to the new mother and child, by any official. The sad truth is that the woman would have probably received better medical care in a war zone  than on EU soil in this instance. Residents transferred to Oinofyta from Moria, often described as the worst refugee camp in the world., They stated that conditions had been terrible in Moria, but that at least organisations such as Médecins San Frontières (MSF) provided medical assistance. This is due to the Greek government revoking access to healthcare for asylum seekers. The only way to get out of these camps for medical treatment is to register for an asylum application, and this process presents yet another set of challenges.  

 

Oinofyta refugee camp is truly hell on earth, and it has been left up to asylum seekers to arrange their asylum appointments, which have to be organised via Skype. As you can imagine, this is an impossible task for those who don’t own a smartphone or don’t know how to use the internet. Even those who can navigate these first steps run into roadblocks. Six months after one asylum seeker arrived in Greece, he still has not been successful in organising an appointment, as the line is constantly engaged. People who have suffered in their home country and experienced suffering along their journey do not deserve to be housed in deplorable conditions with no healthcare or legal assistance, in what they expected to be a safe place to exist. 

 

Despite financial support sent to the UNHCR and the Greek government by the EU, conditions in these camps are yet to improve. There have been allegations and investigations into a lack of transparency and possible embezzlement and corruption in relation to funds allocated to Greece to take care of these refugees. The Greek government has adopted an increasingly hard-line approach to those that are refugees and the already inadequate system that attempts to support them. 

 

“Traditionally, the Greek government has given refugees six months to find suitable financial support and accommodation after their asylum application is deemed successful. In March, they reduced this time frame to just one month.”

As Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely, even if they are from countries with high rates of Covid-19, certain refugee camps have been subject to a continued lockdown since March 23. More than five months on, it has been extended seven times. This embodies the message from the Greek government: the difference between being welcomed and being treated as livestock is your country of origin and your financial means. As camp conditions worsened during the lockdown, many residents said that they felt abandoned and unable to source medication for the sick. The extended lockdown has been deemed discriminatory and unjustifiable in terms of public health by humanitarian agencies such as MSF, violating a long list of national, regional and international laws – notably Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Greek government is using the pandemic to detain and exercise control over refugees, worsening their already dire circumstances. 

 

Traditionally, the Greek government has given refugees six months to find suitable financial support and accommodation after their asylum application is deemed successful. In March, they reduced this time frame to just one month which, understandably, has led to residents refusing to leave their accommodationsparked protests and triggered a dramatic uptake in homelessness. This homelessness is especially prevalent in Victoria Square, Athens. According to organisations such as foodKIND, many residents in refugee camps have had their cash cards revoked due to this tightened timeline.  

 

These cash cards are a monthly financial allowance allocated to refugees. For the majority, this is their only means of feeding themselves and their families. Eligible refugees are subject to monthly verification checks and need to register through the smartphone app Viber – which means that, much like the asylum application process, possessing and being able to use a smartphone and internet access are required. There is a pattern occurring here: the Greek government is actively implementing a process that will make even the most basic and vital support extremely difficult to obtain for those most vulnerable.  

 

This system has led to fears of the financialisation of refugees in Greece, where money can even be deducted from a cash card as a form of punishment. According to estimates, this five-month reduction affects 11,000 refugees in Greece. It is simply not feasible to expect a refugee to find employment within a month in Greece, considering it has the highest unemployment rate in the EU. Organisations such as MSF have stated that no one is exempt from eviction, with Greek officials evicting refugees with serious health and mental health problems. In fact, in June, an MSF patient with existing health issues died from cardiac arrest after being threatened with eviction. This individual was literally scared to death by the actions of the Greek government, and to their benefit, one less refugee lives. Even so, the Migration Ministry’s Secretary-General still came out in defence of the change in law, stating that ‘if they are pampered, how are they ever going to find a job and become part of society?’. It is apparent that, wherever possible, the Greek government seeks to render these refugees despondent, hoping that they will disappear or cease to exist. 

 

Greece has made it near impossible for humanitarian organisations to operate in the country, imposing a multitude of expensive and bureaucratic obligations on them. Organisations offering essential services such as midwifery, healthcare and legal assistance are often ignored or denied entry to the refugee camps. In response, 72 organisations released a statement to Greek officials, urging them to reconsider the rules implemented in July due to the fact that ‘humanitarian work is essential work’, yet this ‘administrative assault’ on civil society groups has yet to be reversed. Legal Centre Lesvos has claimed that there is now constant police presence at their centre, resulting in the intimidation and threat of fines for people trying to access their services. Greek officials have also been harassing MSF, imposing fines exceeding €35,000 and threatening legal action which has directly led to the closure of the Covid-19 Isolation Centre on the Greek island of Lesvos. This centre was set up in an attempt to deter the devastating effect an outbreak in Moria could have on residents, as local health facilities are unable to cope with such an outbreak. The pandemic has only served to accelerate the government’s onslaught on refugees, at a time where countries such as Portugal granted refugees full citizenship rights during the pandemic. These tactics, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, can be perceived as a ‘cleansing’, as the Greek government is making it clear that they do not care whether these refugees live or die. 

 

The In a New York Times article  New York Times released on August 14, it was reported on August 14 that these hard-line tactics have extended to the sea. More than 1,000 people trying to reach Greece by sea have been turned away by the Greek coast guard, and some were even removed from the detention centres on the Greek islands. These people were often abandoned at sea on overcrowded life rafts in flagrant violation of humanitarian law. Despite the evidence, in the form of survivor interviews, photographic and video evidence, the Greek government has denied that these expulsions even took place. As the world is preoccupied with the coronavirus threat, the tactics of the Greek government have become more extreme and organised; they abandon these migrants around the Greek-Turkish sea border, where their survival is dependent on the compassion of the Turkish coast guard. A doctoral researcher at the Irish Center for Human Rights was among the first to document this unprecedented tactic adopted by the Greek government. Compelling evidence regarding these illegal pushbacks has since been recorded by organisations with a presence on the Greek islands, such as Legal Centre Lesvos and Aegean Boat Report, since March. There have been more recent reports of Greek officials injuring refugees on boats, imitating video evidence which emerged earlier this year.  

 

More than 1,000 people trying to reach Greece by sea have been turned away by the Greek coast guard… these people were often abandoned at sea on overcrowded life rafts in flagrant violation of humanitarian law.

These hard-line anti-refugee tactics are blatantly illegal. The European Union was built on solidarity and as a safe haven for those fleeing persecution and war. In the context of conflict, the mistreatment of civilians is deemed a war crime, so why is the world turning a blind eye to what continues to happen in Greece? As we ourselves are navigating this pandemic, imagine the suffering endured by these refugees, as Greek officials capitalise on the fact that our attention is being diverted elsewhere. Greece’s policies and tactics are entirely devoid of empathy and fail to give even a moment’s consideration for the human rights of these people. They have sought safety and dignity in EU territory and are met with prolonged suffering. Mechanisms in place to help refugees, such as cash cards and the asylum process, are riddled with unnecessary hurdles.  

 

Nothing comes easy for them; so don’t we have an obligation to support these vulnerable people in any way we can? Instead, the already inadequate support system is being used against them as a punitive measure, to avoid them being ‘pampered’. The Greek government is essentially caging these people in, to the detriment of their physical and mental health, taking anything but a humanitarian approach to this crisis. We must remember that these people are fleeing war-torn countries and have, in some cases, been subject to torture and sexual violence. Yet the Greek government has purposefully rendered especially vulnerable refugees homeless, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

 

In a final twist of hypocrisy, Greece is the current chair of the Council of Europe, the EU’s leading human rights organisation. Imagine the consequences of an EU country setting such an example for the rest of the world. 

 

If you would like to help organisations making a difference in the everyday lives of the refugees struggling in Greece please consider donating to the following organisations: 

foodKIND, who provide meals for 700 people a day in the Oinofyta and Malakasa refugee camps in Greece. 1 euro equals 3 meals for a refugee in need, click here to donate. 

Aegean Boat Report, who work to provide neutral, detailed and accurate information concerning boats arriving in the Aegean sea. This organisation has brought a lot of information to light concerning the disturbing practices against refugees arriving to the Greek islands from Turkey. By donating here you will be contributing to a better and more widespread understanding of this ongoing refugee crisis. 

 

 

Featured photo by Fotomovimiento

 
 

 

Friendship SPO: ‘Nothing will happen if voices from the field aren’t put on a plateau’

Friendship SPO: ‘Nothing will happen if voices from the field aren’t put on a plateau’

An Interview with Runa Khan, Founder & Executive Director of Friendship SPO

‘Nothing will happen if voices from the field aren’t put on a plateau’

Young Greens outside the Dáil

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.

She emphasised the impact that climate change is having on the people of Bangladesh, and the importance of bringing the voices of these climate-affected communities to the fore so that everyone might be inspired to take climate action.

To learn more about the amazing work that Friendship SPO carries out in Bangladesh, follow the links below.

To learn more about the STAND Student Festival, click here.

 

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