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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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Our Sangha: Mindfulness in Life and in Business

Our SanghaReading Time: 4 minutes

 

Our Sangha

 

By Katie McAdam, Sona Circle

After gaining a well-regarded role as an analyst at J.P Morgan, Amr Sabbah seemed to have it all. With a proud family, a secure income and a successful career, Sabbah was satisfied with his life. 

Following his first year at the global finance giant, Sabbah’s initial contentment faded as he became frustrated with the office’s toxic culture. Soon Sabbah’s mental health began to suffer as he developed anxiety and experienced frequent panic attacks. Stressed out at work, Sabbah needed a break to re-evaluate his life. 

For Sabbah, this desire for connection is a key feature in his life.  

Coming from Syria, Sabbah remembers the Damascus of his upbringing with fondness, missing the Mediterranean culture and strong sense of community. 

At the age of 19 during the Syrian civil war, Sabbah moved to the UK to study for a BA in Business Management at London Metropolitan University.  Moving to London saw a shift from Sabbah’s socially connected life in Damascus. For Sabbah, social isolation made life in the UK almost more difficult than the political instability in Syria.  

Determined to improve his situation, Sabbah worked hard to grow and develop his career at J.P Morgan’s Edinburgh office. But when the work was of detriment to his wellbeing, Sabbah needed greater peace in his life. 

In order to manage his anxiety, Sabbah turned to meditation. 

After seeing the benefits in his own life, Sabbah wanted to help other colleagues to benefit from meditation. Sabbah created a daily lunch-time meditation group to give others a space to recharge. The sessions proved to be popular at the Edinburgh branch and as a result, were implemented at J.P Morgan’s London office. 

Though meditation had been a welcome improvement, Sabbah was still unfulfilled and sought a more significant change. Sabbah moved to London with the aim of expanding his mediation groups into a business. 

With the support of The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN), Sabbah established the social enterprise Sangha Gathers. Keen to improve his knowledge of the field, Sabbah enhanced his passion through his studies at the University of East London in his Masters of Positive Psychology. 

Initially, Sabbah was drawn to following the popular model of the mindfulness app and expanding Sangha Gathers on a mobile platform. With a desire to be unique, Sabbah instead focused his attentions on creating the Our Sangha Facebook group, as a low-cost alternative to bringing people together through meditation. The Facebook group forms an important part of Sabbah’s wider social enterprise at Sangha Gathers.  

Sabbah’s distinctive approach is eager to focus on the advantages of group meditation which is often regarded as a solitary activity. 

Sangha Gathers offers both paid-for and free support. From Sabbah’s previous business experience, he knew there was a demand for corporate wellbeing programmes. Sangha Gathers provides group mediation and positive psychology programmes to businesses across the country. Most recently it has partnered with the University of Cambridge to offer 28 sessions over two weeks to university staff. Sabbah’s success at J.P Morgan has been emulated through Sangha Gathers, with his clients fostering the resilience and mindfulness to better cope within the workplace. 

On the more charitable side of Sangha Gathers, Sabbah’s personal connection has motivated him to train refugees and those from disadvantaged backgrounds through virtual positive psychology and meditation groups, in partnership with the University of East London.  

This refugee-led programme equips individuals with the ability to apply the methods learned to solve the problems they have identified in the sessions. Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown maintaining good mental health has been particularly important. To respond to the need, free meditation courses have been given to the Sangha community. 

Sabbah continues to develop his passion through Sangha Gatherers as it continues to expand.  Sabbah advises those who want to lead a similar path, that it is vital to test your ideas as soon as possible in order to gather the feedback to adapt your activities. 

He also believes that though it may take time for your passion to come into reality, you should start small and just go for it. 

Mental health and entrepreneurship are two critical areas of refugee integration which have been covered by Sona Circle Recruitment blogs. This is why we partner with many diverse partner organisations (including Sangha Gathers) which all have one thing in common, a shared commitment to supporting the skilled refugee workforce.

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 goes further than refugees and asylum seekers, it includes the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and BAME rights.

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An Insight to the Italian Migration and Asylum System

The Italian Migration and Asylum SystemReading Time: 3 minutes

 

The Italian Migration and Asylum System

 

Agnese Pierobon, Sona Circle

As the COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, economies and health systems across the world, many communities have experienced disruption. One annual event occurring each summer in Italy which has seen no change over the years; the arrival of migrants in the southern shores of the country.

This summer, however, the Italian Parliament is discussing a reform of the law covering the asylum reception system, putting to question the protection granted to migrants.

Italian Minister of Interior Mr Lamorgese submitted a legislative proposal in order to reform the so-called “Safety and Immigration decree”. 

To understand the impact of this proposal, it is important to take a step back and have a look at the Italian asylum system and what effect any changes will have on the lives of refugees.

In Italy, the reception system for asylum seekers and refugees was formally established in 2001, when the PNA (Program of National Asylum) was formed. This was the first public program of its kind in the country.

Later in 2002, an important innovation to the programme was implemented, the national network of the SPRAR (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees), which represented the cornerstone guidelines for the reception of refugees in Italy. The SPRAR was in place during the first extraordinary wave of arrivals, between 2011 and 2013.

During that critical period, in order to cope with the increased number of arrivals, the then Minister of the Interior declared a state of emergency, the so-called North Africa Emergency (ENA). A new reception system was set up to work in parallel to the SPRAR. 

This new system brought with it a new set of problems as it cut down the services to asylum seekers (i.e. poor integration programmes, no language classes and no job orientation).

In 2013, when the state of emergency had passed, the ENA reception programme was discontinued, which meant that the migrants still hosted in the reception facilities at the time had to leave, with no alternative accommodation provided. 

The “respite” period was short, however, and in 2015 a major wave of new arrivals in Italy found the country yet again, unprepared.

To provide a timely response, the CAS (Extraordinary Reception Centres) was set up, with the aim of fulfilling the shortcomings of the SPRAR system. The guidelines regarding the structure and management of the CAS have remained vague over time, without clearly indicating minimum structural requirements or quality standards. 

These centres, however, instead of representing a temporary solution became the focus of the Italian reception system efforts. In 2018, the Safety and Immigration Decree essentially transformed the extraordinary reception centres into an essential step in the application for international protection. 

At the same time, the SPRAR renamed SIPROIMI (Protection for Holders of International Protection and Unaccompanied Foreign Minors) has seen the exclusion of migrants and asylum seekers from potential benefits by creating a range of categories of migrants, such as refugees, subsidiary protection, unaccompanied minors and special cases (victims of violence, labour exploitation, health treatment and civic value).

The newly iterated SIPROIMI, proposed by a populist Italian politician, was met with a lot of concern by immigration experts, as it decreased the minimum standards of living for asylum seekers. In the CAS extraordinary reception centres, support with language, employment and integration were withdrawn which meant that many months were wasted while asylum seekers awaited their asylum claim results. 

The new Minister of Interior, a technician with a broad range of experience, has proposed a change to this regulation, a reintroduction of the SPRAR system and a modification of the Safety and Immigration Decree. This is currently on the agenda for the Italian Parliament to vote on. 

In the meanwhile, thousands of migrants are leaving Libya and North Africa and heading towards Italian shores. After decades, an effective European response is still lacking. Italy remains alone in the rescue of migrants from the shores due to the lack of a cohesive agreement among the European Union. 

However, in this chaotic picture of the Italian legal framework concerning refugees, there is one thing that has always made a positive difference to the country’s response to refugees, this is the commitment of the Italian population in supporting refugees and asylum seekers by volunteering and donating to support refugee programs. 

Many of the flaws of the government response systems are repaired by the commitment of the Italian people. 

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The Culture and Heritage that Refugees Leave Behind

Culture of RefugeesReading Time: 2 minutes

 

Culture of Refugees

 

By Katy Cottrell, Sona Circle

When refugees are forced to flee their countries for their safety, they are also forced to leave behind their homes, jobs and many of their personal possessions. But what is sometimes overlooked, is the loss of the unique culture and heritage of their home country. Sometimes this can lead to cultural bereavement, where in addition to other traumas that refugees face, they must grieve the loss of their native culture.

Researchers from Georgetown University interviewed refugees to find out what it was that they missed most about their former lives. This research highlighted the rich and unique culture that once connected the communities that these refugees came from. For example, one Palestinian man spoke about how he missed sharing Friday evenings with his neighbours, where they would ‘get together and chat, and their stories wouldn’t stop until the middle of the night’.

It is understandable that some refugees may experience a culture shock when arriving in countries such as the UK, where interactions between neighbours tend to be briefer and bonds less strong. Other refugees from Syria spoke about frequenting the markets in Damascus where Syrian food, handmade crafts and jewellery are sold or drinking coffee whilst listening to storytellers and poets who, prior to the conflict, would recount ancient tales in local cafes.

These are just some examples of the cultural heritage that refugees have often been forced to leave behind.

When refugees arrive in their new host country, there is often a strong pressure to conform to this country’s culture at the expense of maintaining their own traditions that have always been integral to their lives.

Researchers have described two processes of integration when refugees (and migrants in general) begin living in a new country: assimilation and acculturation.

Assimilation is when a minority group gradually and eventually loses all the cultural markers that set them apart as an individual group, instead of adopting the culture of a larger group. This integration process is often associated with poorer mental health and psychological well-being and lower self-esteem.

In contrast, acculturation is thought to be a more positive process in which a minority group is able to maintain their cultural traditions and co-exist with the dominant culture.

This is why it is important to celebrate and be respectful of refugee’s cultural traditions and heritage. Many refugees seek to share their home country’s culture using music, food and fashion, and you can show your support for this by supporting refugee-led businesses. For example, Anqa Collective is an online marketplace where you can shop for clothes and other products that have been made by refugees and are often inspired by the culture of their home countries. Similarly, Migrateful is a charity that provides cooking classes (currently online) that are led by refugees so they can share and celebrate their culture through cuisine.

Overall, it should not be overlooked that culture is an important part of all of our identities, and when refugees are living and integrating into a new host culture, they can enrich this society by bringing various parts of their heritage with them.

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A Guide to Apprenticeships for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Workplace ApprenticeshipReading Time: 3 minutes

 

 

By Zoe Allen, Sona Circle

What are apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are training programmes designed to prepare you for a career in a particular trade or profession. Importantly, they include practical, on-the-job training, and you are paid whilst you complete your apprenticeship.

Apprentices also have to spend at least 20% of their time (i.e. usually one day a week) completing more academic training for their profession, usually in a classroom setting, and often at a local college or university.

Apprenticeships vary in length between 1 and 6 years, depending on the profession you are training in.

Can I do an apprenticeship as a refugee or whilst an asylum seeker?

In the UK, refugees (those granted settled refugee status) have open access to the job market and so can legally take part in any apprenticeship. However, the rules are a little different for people seeking asylum (who have not had their claim accepted).

If you have been in the UK for 6 months without your asylum claim receiving a response, you are eligible to apply for and start an apprenticeship. This is also the case if you have appealed against a rejection of your application and, after 6 months, you still have not received a reply to your repeal.

This is different from other forms of paid work; if you want to take up any other form of work, you have to wait for 12 months without a response before you can apply for a permit.

If you are seeking asylum and thinking of applying for an apprenticeship, you should discuss this with your case handler.

What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship as a refugee or an asylum seeker?

Apprenticeships teach you tangible, hands-on skills that are designed to make you job-ready as soon as you leave the programme. This means that you are more likely to be able to secure a steady income quickly and easily.

If you have not had a job before, or do not have experience with skilled work, then hands-on training that allows you to earn while you learn might be perfect for you.

If you are still developing your English skills, it might suit you better to complete a training course with less written work and reading, and more practical work. Working as an apprentice is also likely to include one-on-one or small group training, which is ideal to help you improve your spoken English skills and form social connections in the UK.

As above, a big benefit is that if you are seeking asylum you can start an apprenticeship (and start earning an income) 6 months earlier than you can apply to start any other form of paid work.

Where can I find apprenticeships?

At Sona Circle Recruitment we have partnered with apprenticeship provider WhiteHat to advertise apprenticeships to refugees on our website. You can take a look at the apprenticeships currently available here.

There are also many other ways you can find apprenticeships that work for you or operate in your area. You can visit the website of your local college, university or training centre to see if they partner with local companies to offer apprenticeship training.

There are also a lot of searchable apprenticeship boards online, such as the government’s dedicated site, apprenticeships.gov.uk or on the UCAS website. If there is a particular company you are interested in working with, you can contact them directly to see if they offer an apprenticeship programme.

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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