Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

HUMANITARIAN

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

Ellen McVeigh

4th June 2020

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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Ethiopia’s forgotten war

More than two million people have fled the region, and there have been at least 10,000 reported deaths with tens of thousands of people are currently seeking refuge in the neighbouring country of Sudan. However, as communications have been almost entirely cut in the region, it is impossible to calculate exact numbers.

Is a diamond anyone’s best friend?

The lack of laws leads not just to well-below-the-poverty-line wages, but also to fatal working conditions, child labour, and the flourishing of public health issues as the sex trade thrives in many diamond mining towns, leading to the spread of HIV and other STI’s.

The rise of antisemitism in Europe

The recent rise in antisemitic acts has at times been linked to Covid-19 restrictions. During periods of turmoil, it seems that anti-Jewish sentiment rises. We need only look to poverty-stricken Germany in the 1920s or to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century.

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out.

Humanitarian activist profiles

STAND News Humanitarian editor, Amyrose, takes a look at some influential activists from around the globe.

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Philip Kleinfeld, correspondent and editor with The New Humanitarian, recently met with aspiring journalists in conjunction with STAND News and SIN. Kleinfeld relayed his experiences in the humanitarian crisis sector, outlined tips for eager journalists and reiterated the inefficiency of the traditional humanitarian sector of journalism.

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

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

Ethiopia’s forgotten war

More than two million people have fled the region, and there have been at least 10,000 reported deaths with tens of thousands of people are currently seeking refuge in the neighbouring country of Sudan. However, as communications have been almost entirely cut in the region, it is impossible to calculate exact numbers.

Is a diamond anyone’s best friend?

The lack of laws leads not just to well-below-the-poverty-line wages, but also to fatal working conditions, child labour, and the flourishing of public health issues as the sex trade thrives in many diamond mining towns, leading to the spread of HIV and other STI’s.

The rise of antisemitism in Europe

The recent rise in antisemitic acts has at times been linked to Covid-19 restrictions. During periods of turmoil, it seems that anti-Jewish sentiment rises. We need only look to poverty-stricken Germany in the 1920s or to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century.

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out.

Humanitarian activist profiles

STAND News Humanitarian editor, Amyrose, takes a look at some influential activists from around the globe.

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Philip Kleinfeld, correspondent and editor with The New Humanitarian, recently met with aspiring journalists in conjunction with STAND News and SIN. Kleinfeld relayed his experiences in the humanitarian crisis sector, outlined tips for eager journalists and reiterated the inefficiency of the traditional humanitarian sector of journalism.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Find out more about the project on their website.

 

 

Photos by Ellen McVeigh

 

 

 

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

Ethiopia’s forgotten war

More than two million people have fled the region, and there have been at least 10,000 reported deaths with tens of thousands of people are currently seeking refuge in the neighbouring country of Sudan. However, as communications have been almost entirely cut in the region, it is impossible to calculate exact numbers.

Is a diamond anyone’s best friend?

The lack of laws leads not just to well-below-the-poverty-line wages, but also to fatal working conditions, child labour, and the flourishing of public health issues as the sex trade thrives in many diamond mining towns, leading to the spread of HIV and other STI’s.

The rise of antisemitism in Europe

The recent rise in antisemitic acts has at times been linked to Covid-19 restrictions. During periods of turmoil, it seems that anti-Jewish sentiment rises. We need only look to poverty-stricken Germany in the 1920s or to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century.

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out.

Humanitarian activist profiles

STAND News Humanitarian editor, Amyrose, takes a look at some influential activists from around the globe.

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Philip Kleinfeld, correspondent and editor with The New Humanitarian, recently met with aspiring journalists in conjunction with STAND News and SIN. Kleinfeld relayed his experiences in the humanitarian crisis sector, outlined tips for eager journalists and reiterated the inefficiency of the traditional humanitarian sector of journalism.

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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Sexism wins gold at the 2020 Olympic Games

Gymnast Suni Lee amazed the world when she won the all-around gold medal with lash extensions and a set of acrylic nails applied. The fact that she completed a gold-medal routine without even so much as breaking a nail is insanely impressive in itself, but we must think critically about the society we live in, in which a world class athlete felt it necessary to compete with these additional obstacles in the name of appealing to the unattainable beauty standard expected of women.

Portraying women in the media

So why does one-dimensional coverage of women in media matter? Newspapers and magazines inform people’s views and opinions. It affects how we as society see women unconsciously. When the media furthers the perception of women as sex objects, that has knock-on consequences throughout society.

Empowering women through female rap music

The recent increase in the popularity of female rap through platforms such as Tiktok has led listeners to view the music as both empowering and progressive. However, many still argue that the sexual and arguably aggressive lyrics of women in the industry further perpetuate the misogynistic connotations of hip-hop. Regardless of the stance that one may take on the topic, it seems as though there is an undeniable depth to our beloved hot girl summer anthems.

How domestic abuse scares its victims into silence

“I became a Zumba instructor. I travelled half of Europe with my kids. My daughters are free to live without a verbally and physically abusive father. All I can say is that I am grateful to Ireland and the people who supported me through that difficult time.”

The power of small

It is undeniable that sexual assault and rape are seriously pressing and important global issues. However, in the search for solutions, we tend to jump to the biggest problem solver – how can the law be reformed to better protect victims? Sometimes though, smaller actions can have a very worthwhile and instrumental effect.

We need to do better if we are to protect girls

The real conversation lies in asking ourselves why altering our appearance has become so normalised and readily-available as a cosmetic service. When and why did our natural faces with textured skin and varied features become undesirable and “ugly”?

An Interview with OurTable: “It All Comes Down to Integration”

An Interview with OurTable: “It All Comes Down to Integration”

STAND talks to Ellie Kisyombe from Our TABLE Dublin about the history of Direct Provision in Ireland, changes to the system and the role of ‘OurTable’.

 

 

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Activists + Innovators Series: Blessing Dada

In our live series, Activists + Innovators, we speak with Blessing Dada, a 21-year-old mental health advocate who campaigns for intersectional approaches to mental health and learn more about how we can #RISEUP for mental health reform.

Activists + Innovators Series: Fairtrade Ireland

In our live series, Activists + Innovators, we talk with Lucy Geraty from Fairtrade Ireland about the impacts of our consumption on the environment and human rights. We also discuss their current campaigns and the steps individuals can take to be ethical consumers.

Activists + Innovators Series: The History of Plastic with VOICE Ireland

In our live series, Activists + Innovators, we talk with Lyndsey O’Connell from VOICE Ireland to launch our #ConsciousConsumption campaign.

Activists + Innovators Series: World Refugee Week with The Danú Project

In our live series, Activists + Innovators, we talk with Paula Martinez from The Danú Project during World Refugee Week.

Activists + Innovators Series: Mental Health Matters with UCC Sámh

In our live series, Activists + Innovators, we talk with Katie Curtin from UCC SÁMH on the topic of mental health and student wellbeing.

Activists + Innovators Series: Fashion Revolution Week with Studio Minti

In our live series, Activists + Innovators, we talk with Laura Egan from Studio Minti during Fashion Revolution Week.

The Construction of a Mass Graveyard: Europe’s Externalization Policy

The Construction of a Mass Graveyard: Europe’s Externalization Policy

The UNHCR recently released figures of the number of people forcibly displaced in the world. The overall figure topped 70.8 million, from which 25.9 million are refugees who have had to cross international borders to look for better livelihoods. Most of these migrants come from countries that have continuously persecuted their lives to a point where fleeing is the only option left. Despite around 80% of refugees being hosted in countries neighbouring their own, the desired end destination can often be more developed countries for the hope of increased opportunities and security. The increase in migrant flows, especially due to the ongoing conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan has put immense pressure on not only neighbouring states but also many countries in Europe. However, the lack of a proper database system in Europe has made it difficult for states to determine the cases of thousands of asylum seekers.  

 

The purpose of what is known as the ‘Dublin Regulation’ is to establish which member state of the EU is responsible for the examination of asylum applications from asylum seekers. In practical terms, the EU state in which the asylum seeker first applies is responsible for the application procedure. The regulation also allows the state to consider other criteria: from family considerations to recent possessions of visas in a member state to whether the applicant has entered the EU irregularly or regularly. However, this process accounts for various flaws in the system. Firstly, most asylum seekers often flee in tough situations and do not have the time to collect all their relevant documentation and hence, under the regulation, their applications would be rejected indefinitely due to the lack of documentation. Secondly, most asylum seekers have to take dangerous pathways to get to an EU state and sometimes these include being smuggled across the Mediterranean in rubber rafts. The irregularity in arrival to the EU more often than not prolongs application processes for making an asylum claim. But, most importantly, these continuous irregular arrivals in large numbers have put immense pressure on states that are close to the Mediterranean like Greece, Italy and Spain. This leads to the encampment of migrants in Greece while the other two countries place them in asylum centres  in which they could spend years in overcrowded conditions that put their lives at various risks. 

 

In an attempt to control these influxes, the EU has inherited a Border Externalization policy. These policies are created to externalize their borders, making it hard for forcibly displaced people to get to Europe in the first place. This involves agreements with Europe’s neighbouring countries to accept migrants whose claims have been rejected, to providing advisory on how they should adopt similar measures of border control. In other words, these agreements have turned Europe’s neighbours into becoming Europe’s policemen. And because they are so far away from Europe’s shores, the impacts are completely almost invisible to citizens of the EU. The United States has also been actively “de-bordering” their borders since 9/11 by thickening of border defences through the creation of buffer zones to the notion of “smart borders” that are able to filter people and goods rather than block their flow. They are also increasing the  use of military technology for border enforcement, as well as layered border inspection/policing approaches that move customs and immigration away from the actual territorial border.

 

Despite their similarities, I would argue that the EU’s externalization policy is far more instrumental in the way that it acts. There are far more actors and mechanisms that play a role in implementing EU’s externalization policy. The EU and individual member states like Italy, Germany and Spain are now providing millions of euros for various projects to stop the migration of certain people taking place on or across European borders. Deals with countries like Turkey, Libya and Morocco have enabled the EU to train their police and border guards, establish extensive biometric systems, and donations of air surveillance equipment like drones and helicopters that make monitoring more effective. 

 

What makes these deals problematic are that many of the countries receiving support are authoritarian and not stable themselves and the funds they receive often go to state security organs most responsible for suppression and abuse of human rights. The EU in all its policies puts human rights, democracy and rule of law at the core of its practices but there seems to be no basis for this when it comes to embracing dictatorial regimes as long as they serve them by keeping “irregular” migrants from reaching European shores. These policies therefore have sweeping consequences for displaced people especially when their “illegal” status already makes them vulnerable to human rights abuses. Many of them, especially those that are intercepted at sea are taken back to countries like Libya or Morocco where they end up in exploitative working conditions, detention centres  and/or get deported to countries where they fled from. Women and children face high risks of gender-based violence, sexual assault and exploitation.

 

The growth in tracking and management of EU’s externalization policies have turned the Mediterranean into Europe’s graveyard. There have been thousands of documented deaths in this area while thousands more go unnoticed. This narrow self-defeating concept of security and migration control has  increased the risks that forcibly displaced people face at various levels. More importantly, it does not address the root causes of migration like conflict, violence, economic deficiencies, and does not hold the states accountable for not being able to manage these problems. Instead, by enhancing military and security forces both internally and externally, it is likely to aggravate suppression, limit democratic accountability and increase the conflicts that will lead to more people being forcibly displaced. It is time to change the course. Instead of externalizing borders and walls we should be externalizing real unity and respect for the people who have already lost so much on their way.

 

 

Photo by Georgetown Journal of International Affairs

 

 

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Ethiopia’s forgotten war

More than two million people have fled the region, and there have been at least 10,000 reported deaths with tens of thousands of people are currently seeking refuge in the neighbouring country of Sudan. However, as communications have been almost entirely cut in the region, it is impossible to calculate exact numbers.

Is a diamond anyone’s best friend?

The lack of laws leads not just to well-below-the-poverty-line wages, but also to fatal working conditions, child labour, and the flourishing of public health issues as the sex trade thrives in many diamond mining towns, leading to the spread of HIV and other STI’s.

The rise of antisemitism in Europe

The recent rise in antisemitic acts has at times been linked to Covid-19 restrictions. During periods of turmoil, it seems that anti-Jewish sentiment rises. We need only look to poverty-stricken Germany in the 1920s or to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century.

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out.

Humanitarian activist profiles

STAND News Humanitarian editor, Amyrose, takes a look at some influential activists from around the globe.

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Philip Kleinfeld, correspondent and editor with The New Humanitarian, recently met with aspiring journalists in conjunction with STAND News and SIN. Kleinfeld relayed his experiences in the humanitarian crisis sector, outlined tips for eager journalists and reiterated the inefficiency of the traditional humanitarian sector of journalism.

Pressure From Local Communities Stops Deportation Orders

Pressure From Local Communities Stops Deportation Orders

Michael Usiku, a student of Carlow College, is the latest example in a string of deportation orders delayed as a result of pressure from local communities. Michael, a Malawian national, received a deportation order in December 2019 after failing to provide proof of study in time for a renewal of his student visa. This failure was partially due to the fact that the deadline set by the Irish National Immigration Service (INIS) was several months before Carlow College sent letters of enrolment. As a result, Michael’s student visa was not renewed and he was ordered to leave the country.

The deportation order came while Michael was sitting his exams, and ordered Michael to leave the country by December 29. In response to the order, a number of Carlow College staff and students mobilised, as well as several civil society organisations. A group of approximately 25 protesters met at the steps of the Department of Justice on December 18, in order to pressure the Minister for Justice into stopping the deportation and granting Michael a visa to complete his education. This may have been instrumental in leading to the delay of the deportation order for 10 days as his deadline approached, at which point he was required to sign in with the INIS. Following this sign-in, the order was delayed again until the 20 February, at which point he must sign in with the INIS again, according to Adam Kane, President of Carlow College Students’ Union.

This case is one in a string of cases where local communities, and schools in particular, have been instrumental in the delay or revocation of deportation orders. The case of Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue, a child who was born in Ireland to a Chinese national, gained significant media attention around the same time as Michael’s case. In Eric’s case, his primary school mobilized support for their pupil, who had never been to China, and who would have limited access to services in China such as health and education, as he is not a Chinese citizen.

Although there are differences between these cases, in particular the length of stay, and the depth of integration into Irish society, they also show similarities. One of these is the role of local communities, and in particular of schools in mobilizing support, and the capacity of this support to have a significant influence on the decisions of the INIS and the Department of Justice. Another similarity appears to be the discomfort shown with deportation, an understandable unease in a traditional country of emigration. This discomfort is particularly evident around children born in Ireland to parents who have no right to residence. This phenomenon follows the passing of the referendum in 2004 that revoked the ius soli rule whereby those born on Irish soil automatically become Irish citizens. Since then, there have been multiple cases of children who are born and raised in Ireland, who nonetheless have no right to Irish citizenship. The discomfort with this situation is clear from the level of community mobilisation for those who have regular contact with these children, although this policy is by no means unusual internationally.

Ireland is not the first country to learn the hard way how difficult it is to forcibly return individuals who have built connections in the country. The Netherlands, which used to adopt a dispersal policy for asylum seekers realised that this led to the integration of asylum seekers into the small villages and towns to which they were sent. This made deportation very difficult, with communities staunchly protesting deportation orders. As a result, the Netherlands had to reverse this policy, and now mainly keeps asylum seekers in housing centres close to big cities in an effort to prevent integration into the local community. 

While many countries have been dealing with sensitive situations of migration and deportation for many years, it is a relatively new phenomenon for Ireland. Ireland’s immigrant population has quadrupled since 1990, when the Celtic Tiger changed Ireland’s economic and employment landscape. However, with a greater ability to control our borders, due to relative geographic isolation, cases like those currently being experienced have been rare. Nonetheless, Ireland has increasingly become a country of destination for both EU and non-EU migrants, likely thanks to a strong demand for both high-skilled and low-skilled labour, and a continuously strong economy. The significant shift in Ireland’s migration profile in a very short period of time means that both our institutions and our society are ill-prepared to approach deportation and return, one of the most controversial issues in migration regulation. Another theme arising from these recent cases is that of discomfort with the idea of children born and raised in Ireland who have no right to Irish citizenship. Prior to the 2004 referendum that revoked the right, being born in Ireland automatically entitled children to Irish citizenship. While 79% of voters cast their vote in favour of this revocation, a Behaviour and Attitudes poll for the Sunday Times taken after the publicity garnered by Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue’s situation showed that around 71% of those polled were in favour of granting this right to automatic citizenship. With increasing immigration and an increasing realisation of the reality of not providing birthright citizenship, it may be time for the Irish population to revisit this question, one of many challenging debates to be had in a changing country.  

Photo by marctasman, Wikimedia commons

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

Ethiopia’s forgotten war

More than two million people have fled the region, and there have been at least 10,000 reported deaths with tens of thousands of people are currently seeking refuge in the neighbouring country of Sudan. However, as communications have been almost entirely cut in the region, it is impossible to calculate exact numbers.

Is a diamond anyone’s best friend?

The lack of laws leads not just to well-below-the-poverty-line wages, but also to fatal working conditions, child labour, and the flourishing of public health issues as the sex trade thrives in many diamond mining towns, leading to the spread of HIV and other STI’s.

The rise of antisemitism in Europe

The recent rise in antisemitic acts has at times been linked to Covid-19 restrictions. During periods of turmoil, it seems that anti-Jewish sentiment rises. We need only look to poverty-stricken Germany in the 1920s or to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century.

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out.

Humanitarian activist profiles

STAND News Humanitarian editor, Amyrose, takes a look at some influential activists from around the globe.

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Philip Kleinfeld, correspondent and editor with The New Humanitarian, recently met with aspiring journalists in conjunction with STAND News and SIN. Kleinfeld relayed his experiences in the humanitarian crisis sector, outlined tips for eager journalists and reiterated the inefficiency of the traditional humanitarian sector of journalism.