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Greece Illegally Turns Away Thousands of Vulnerable People Seeking Asylum: A Crisis of Accountability

Greece illegally turns away refugeesReading Time: 4 minutes

 

Greece illegally turns away refugees

 

By Zoe Allen, Sona Circle

Greece accused of illegally expelling refugees

Last week, the New York Times reported claims that Greek authorities have been taking refugees from refugee camps and abandoning them in motorless rafts outside the Greek sea territory border rather than offering them asylum. 

The report claims over 1,000 refugees have been expelled in this way, which is illegal under international law that rules that countries have to offer safety to those who are fleeing violence and persecution. The groups, including children and babies, were left floating in the sea, either to be picked up by Turkish border forces or to be lost at sea. 

The New York Times report was formed from interviews with refugees who were abandoned by the Greek forces, with further evidence from three independent watchdogs, two academic researchers and the Turkish Coast Guard.

Greece denies claims of abandoning people at sea

Greece has since denied these claims, saying that Greece follows international law and has offered asylum to tens of thousands of people. Rather than saying they will investigate the reports, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis claimed that the reports were fabricated by Turkey.

He further deflected blame onto Turkey by claiming that Turkish border forces had been escorting boats filled with refugees into Greek waters rather than taking them safely to Turkey. 

This comes after Turkey recently announced they would not stop refugees from travelling on to Europe, largely through neighbouring Greece, causing large amounts of tension between the country and even resulting in violent border clashes. 

UNHCR calls on Greece to investigate the claims

UNHCR confirmed that these allegations had been increasing in number since March and that it appears to be true that refugees “may have been summarily returned after reaching Greece”.

UNHCR, amongst other rights groups, have called for the Greek government to investigate these claims internally, but there is as yet no call or seeming intention to investigate or intervene externally.

However, it is likely UNHCR, as a powerful international body on refugees, will monitor the situation and any further allegations.

NGOs and charities blocked from providing further assistance

Moreover, many NGOs and aid organisations have been blocked from operating in Greece, as legislation was introduced earlier this year to limit the ability of charities to provide support to refugee communities. 

This has resulted in further uncertainty, opacity, and lack of accountability for Greek authorities and a lack of protection and aid for refugees in Greece. 

This has meant there have been fewer reports on this situation and no immediate response on the ground to prevent this happening. However, as the situation continues to develop – as the New York Times report was only released on August 14th – there may be services put in place to prevent this happening further. 

To fully prevent further human rights abuses, it seems likely an investigation by UNHCR will be necessary, however, UNHCR is yet to express an intention to do so.

A note on the terms we use

Refugees are people who have fled persecution, war, famine and serious threats to their life in another country and settled in another country. A person seeking asylum is fleeing these threats and applying to resettle in another country but has not yet been awarded the right to remain. Refugees and asylum seekers cannot return to their home country safely. 

We never use the term “illegal migrant” which you may find some people using. Seeking asylum is by definition never illegal under international law, no matter what methods have been used to gain entry to a country. Using “refugee” instead of “migrant” helps differentiate between people who have moved country searching for jobs or wealth (economic migrants) and people who have moved country because they have no other choice if they want to live freely and safely (refugees). 

How can we help in the UK?

There are still plenty of organisations working on the ground in Greek’s refugee camps providing essential supplies and services to people in need. You can find a list of organisations to donate to or volunteer for here. 

As yet, there are no petitions calling for independent reviews or interventions in Greece or Turkey. However, you can sign the #EuropeMustAct petition started in March, which calls for fair relocation of asylum seekers, oversight of Greek refugee camps and a register of European legal, medical and protection staff to work in Greek camps to support refugees.

It’s also very important that we continue to welcome and support refugees in the UK as well as helping them in mainland Europe. You could donate to major charities helping refugees in the UK, such as British Red Cross or the Refugee Council.

Get involved with Sona Circle?

At Sona Circle Recruitment, we partner with companies to provide paid internships and apprenticeships to refugees, helping to combat an elitist internship culture and the recruitment practices that currently exist. If you know of a company that would be interested in hiring from the dependable refugee workforce, they can get in touch with us here.

You can also show your support by donating on our JustGiving page or by purchasing an Equal Tee from our online shop where all the profits go to supporting refugee employment. 

By wearing a #EqualTee you are standing in solidarity with any group in society that has been unfairly treated or discriminated against. This doesn’t end with refugees and asylum seekers, it includes the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and BAME rights.

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5 Great Initiatives Supporting Refugee Integration in the UK

Refugee IntergrationReading Time: 3 minutes

 

 

by Katie McAdam, Sona Circle

Settling into a new country can be very daunting for many refugees. Language barriers, new cultures and lack of social connections make integration a difficult process. Integration is vital not only for improving local community relationships but also for reducing the problem of social isolation among refugees.

Those who are socially isolated experience a lower quality of life and have less access to services and employment. Various initiatives, from small community groups to international projects have emerged to foster the integration of refugees. Below are five great initiatives supporting refugee integration in the UK.

1. Migrant English Project

Overcoming language barriers is one of the most effective integration methods. Refugees with adequate language skills are more likely to access services, obtain employment and be able to form social connections.

Community language groups such as the Brighton based Migrant English Project, help refugees to practice their language with locals in an informal setting. By chatting with locals, refugees acquire not only the language but social connections within the community. The volunteer’s wealth of local knowledge is also helpful to advise refugees on legal, housing and health matters.

2. Integration of Refugees Through Sport (IRTS)

Integration can take a more activity-based approach and act as a fun way for refugees to connect with their communities over a common interest. Sports initiatives such as the European wide IRTS, have been particularly popular initiatives.

IRTS helps fund various local groups to run sports clubs which connect refugees and their communities through sports such as football and table tennis. These projects improve both refugees’ mental and physical wellbeing, as refugees can keep fit whilst making new friends.

Bonding over a shared interest also allows local people to find common ground with refugees and decreases the likelihood of stigmatisation towards refugees. When integration is based on having fun with others, it feels less clinical and more like community spirit.

3. Refugee Survival Trust’s Glasgow

Befriending schemes help refugees to build deeper connections with the community on an individual level. The Glasgow based Refugee Survival Trust’s Glasgow Welcome programme matches refugees with a partner whom they meet up with to explore cultural sites in the city.

Touring local sites allows refugees to learn about the city and feel more connected to their host community. As the programme occurs fortnightly over six months, this enables refugees to develop a closer relationship with their volunteer.

4. Culture Kitchen by Culture Connect

Food-based projects are a delicious way to bring people together and is something universally enjoyed. Newcastle based Culture Connect is a volunteer-run charity which regularly hosts the community lunch programme, Culture Kitchen.

Most of the volunteers are refugees and asylum seekers who find a great sense of purpose in cooking for their communities. The scheme gives refugees the opportunity to share their culture through good food. Additionally, the lunches provide refugees with a social space to chat with locals.

5. LINK IT

Ensuring that refugees have the skills and knowledge about their adopted communities early on in the process is vital for successful integration. UN-led LINK IT focuses on relocation of Syrian refugees to the EU. LINK IT fosters integration throughout a refugee’s relocation journey in offering both pre and post-arrival assistance.

The initiative’s pre-arrival orientation provides refugees with practical information so that they have realistic expectations of life in their host nation.

After arrival, employability focused information sessions help refugees’ transition into the local workforce. This support is twofold in the community with local services such as police forces, social work and health workers are given tailored information on how they can best support refugees.

The refugee experience does not end once they have received their status from their host country.

Refugees face a process of settling into and developing their lives in a new environment. Integration with local neighbours greatly improves a refugee’s wellbeing and prospects. In order to maximise refugee potential in our communities, we need to create beneficial conditions through adequate support.

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Refugees in Entertainment

Statue of refugee, Freddie Mercury in SwitzerlandReading Time: 3 minutes

 

 

Katie McAdam, Sona Circle

In 1969 Farrokh Bulsara fled Zanzibar, (modern-day Tanzania) due to the ensuing genocide of Arab and South Asian minorities. With a great songwriting talent and an impressive vocal range, he dreamed of stardom. After joining the band Queen, he changed his name and then changed the history of rock music.

The newly named Freddie Mercury and his band, would go onto produce an era defining sound and some of the greatest rock albums of all time. Freddy Mercury’s musical success and brilliant stage presence made him a global superstar. His musical legacy has influenced subsequent generations of musicians from Lady Gaga to Nirvana. Mercury continues to exert a huge cultural significance in the UK and was named one of the Greatest Britons by the BBC.

Talented individuals like Freddie Mercury stand to show the cultural impact refugees can have within the entertainment industry of their adopted country. Stories like Freddy Mercury’s are rippled throughout the entertainment industry. With their talent and perseverance, refugees have made many successful careers in the industry, spreading joy to many.

Indeed, the entertainment industry has hosted some of the most celebrated and influential refugees today.

Entertainment is something that can be universally enjoyed. However, often the perspectives we showcase are by a limited few. Refugees can offer a unique perspective which enriches and diversifies our culture. Entertainment is a valuable tool in informing the public, with artists often using their work as a platform to explore issues related to the refugee experience.

This has been particularly clear in the comedy industry; with comedians such as Shappi Khorsandi, humanising the refugee narrative in confronting it with humour and light. Khorsandi came to the UK as a child during the Iranian Revolution as her father’s satirical work put her family’s safety in danger.

She has found a source of comedy in British life, identity conflict and discrimination showing that life as a refugee is not simply defined by tragedy and loss. Her creative talent has also been channeled into her novels ‘Nina is Not OK’ and the soon to be released, ‘Kissing Emma’ as well as her memoir ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English’.

Work within the entertainment industry has allowed comedians like Khorsandi to shift perspectives and challenge misconceptions about refugees in an entertaining way. Refugees are able to further influence the public by using their voice to focus attention on issues they value. The success and public image of refugees in the industry has been used by many to enhance philanthropic efforts.

Chart topping singer Rita Ora, has used her prominence in the industry to act as a well-known activist. In 1991, following the outbreak of the Yugoslav wars, Ora’s Albanian heritage meant she risked persecution by Yugoslav forces. Her family managed to escape her home town, Pristina, on one of the last planes out of Kosovo and settled in London. Showing great musical ability from a young age, Ora gained a place at the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School. This kick-started her career in the industry and she has since been nominated for five BRIT awards and seven MOBO awards.

Ora is greatly revered in her native Kosovo and in 2015 was awarded the title of Honorary Ambassador of Kosovo for her work. She is a real role model for many refugees, and acts as UNICEF Ambassador working on various projects concerning refugee rights such as her campaign on the Syrian refugee crisis.

These stories are just some of the many successes of refugees within the entertainment industry. Refugees have and will continue to prosper, achieve and innovate in the field inspiring the next generation of budding artists. Their talents and unique perspectives are vital in shaping the future of a demanding and often elitist profession. The dreams of today’s refugees will go on to produce the legends of tomorrow.

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Refugees & COVID-19: Why the Ability to Self-Isolate is a Luxury

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

 

By Aanya Bhandari, Sona Circle

In an appallingly short span of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a calamitous global effect, touching nearly every country and territory. As is the case with any catastrophic event, certain groups are left more vulnerable than others. One such group in this instance is refugees.

Refugees face immense barriers to accessing healthcare and taking preventive measures which others might take for granted, including regular hand-washing, sanitation facilities and of course, the ability to self- isolate.

A study by the University of Birmingham shows that many undocumented migrants are apprehensive about seeking medical help, for the fear of being reported to immigration authorities and being deported. As a result, they are often left to suffer in silence.

Even in normal times, those living as refugees, migrants, or internally displaced due to conflict, environmental disasters or extreme poverty, face physical and psychological barriers to integration. However, due to the pandemic restrictions, which have put a halt to economic activity globally, groups of individuals that were once extremely vulnerable are now struggling to survive.

Employment opportunities which were previously available in the informal economy have vanished, resulting in a loss of income opportunities and an increase in economic hardships for millions.

As UK unemployment claims have soared by nearly 70% since April 2020, we’re left to imagine the impact on refugees, considering the refugee unemployment rate has historically been three times as high as that of the British population.

While many NGOs and governmental organisations are working to stabilise the situation on the economic front, COVID-19 has no geographic borders or language barriers, and self-isolation is far from becoming a reality in major refugee camps around the world. Refugees residing in shelters, shared lodgings and overcrowded housing with common kitchens and toilets are simply unable to self-isolate, bolstering health risks and concerns about contracting the virus.

According to an emergency release by UNHCR, 134 refugee hosting countries have reported local transmission of COVID-19 within camps, including Bangladesh which hosts almost 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, with 600,000 concentrated in the Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site.

Consequently, local NGOs have cut down on the number of volunteers going into refugee camps to decrease the risk of bringing in the virus. As a result, many initiatives that support refugees, including education, skill development, and mental health counseling sessions, have been stopped.

The cumulative effect of the economic, social, psychological, and medical complications has caused an unprecedented disruption to the lives of millions of refugees.

As the world economy struggles to re-stabilise, the global community must work together and demonstrate solidarity to ensure that the human rights and protection of forcibly displaced people are preserved.

While you’re surrounded by your loved ones, in the safety and comfort of your homes, you can show your support by making a donation (no matter how big or small) to the Sona Circle Refugee Employment Fund where 100% of donations go directly to supporting refugee employment in the UK, via our Just Giving page.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sonacircle