Friday, July 31, 2015

A Desperate Nightly Race as Migrants Rush the Channel Tunnel to England - The New York Times

CALAIS, France — The sun had barely set when a 23-year-old Eritrean woman who gave her name as Akbrat fell into step with dozens of other men and women and started scaling the fence surrounding the entrance to the French side of the Channel Tunnel.
The barbed wire cut her hands, but she did not feel the pain. The police seemed to be everywhere. She thought of her 5-year-old son back in Africa and ran, zigzag through the falling shadows, once almost colliding with an officer in a helmet.
Then she was alone. She slipped under the freight train and waited, clambering out just as it began moving.

But before she could hurl herself onto the train bed transporting trucks filled with Britain-bound produce, a French officer caught up with her, she recalled in an interview on Thursday. Blinded by tear gas, she stumbled and bruised her right ankle. After being ejected from the complex around the tunnel, it took her five hours to limp the nine miles back to the refugee camp of makeshift shelters that its 3,000 inhabitants call the “jungle.”


Migrants breaking through a fence on Thursday in Calais. If they make it across to Britain, many believe they will have reached safety and a better life.CreditTom Jamieson for The New York Times

“You’re lucky you weren’t killed,” someone told her.
“I’m not lucky,” she responded. “I’ll be lucky when I’m in England.”
The desperate scene playing out each night and day in Calais, with migrants trying to vault fences or cut their way through them and climb onto trains or into trucks going across the Channel to England, is just one chapter in a painful drama playing out across Europe.
For many of the migrants who have been coming to the Continent from Africa, the Middle East and beyond, Calais, a mere 21 miles from the white cliffs of Dover, is their last stop. If they make it across to Britain, many believe they will have reached safety and a better life. Some are attracted to Britain because they speak some English, others because they see better job prospects there than on the Continent. A few even cite a strong pound.
Those who make it as far as this port city often express striking and implacable certainty about their right to go the rest of the way, having come so far.
Nursing her sprained ankle outside the tent she shares with a dozen of other men and women, Akbrat lamented the fact that she would have to rest for a few days before making another attempt. “I’ve crossed the sea and walked for many months,” she said. “I am not giving up now.”

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Like others here, she declined to give her full name or have her photograph taken for fear of jeopardizing her chances of slipping across the border undetected.
Akbrat arrived in Calais five days ago. But she has spent much of her life as a refugee. When she was 13, her father was killed, a political assassination in Eritrea, she said. Her mother fled with her and her two sisters to Sudan. When her mother died seven months ago, Akbrat left her son with her aunt and began her own journey to Turkey and then across the Mediterranean to Greece. She hopes to bring her boy to Britain once she has papers and has found work, she said.
“I thought I would die on that boat,” she said. “Until I die, I will try to go to England.”
Like Akbrat, many migrants here try every night, sometimes several times, undeterred by injury or the deaths of others. They set off late in the afternoon, walking three or four hours to the freight train terminal. There they await sunset, sometimes around campfires, before hauling themselves over the fences in large groups in the hope that some will slip through police lines.
Ten migrants have died over the past six weeks, said Chloé Lorieux, a nursing student who volunteers for the charity Médecins du Monde and helps at a clinic in the camp. This month, she said, a woman lost her baby after her water broke prematurely when she tried to climb onto a train. Many here have multiple scars from barbed wire or police batons and, in the worst cases, multiple broken bones from being hit by a departing train.
“We see terrible injuries every day,” Ms. Lorieux said.


Migrants in Calais. "We come here because this is the only road to England," a Syrian man said. CreditTom Jamieson for The New York Times

But every night a few make it. How many, no one can say; estimates range from a handful to 40 people. That is what keeps them going, said Mima, 26, a university graduate from Ethiopia, who began his journey in June last year, fleeing a jail sentence as a member of an opposition party. He paid traffickers — brokers, he calls them — $5,000 his mother had saved up for him to make it across Sudan, Libya and the Mediterranean to Italy. Half of the 243 people on the rickety boat died during the crossing to Europe, he said.
“The U.K. is not paradise, it’s not heaven, I know that,” he said. “I know it’s not safe to jump on a moving train. But we have no choice. If you had a choice, why would you do this?”
A Syrian man, Yusuf, 40 said he had much the same feeling. He came from Dara’a, and said he was a lawyer who supported the democratic movement and was forced to flee.
“We come here because this is the only road to England,” he said. “Every day we go to the train. Whenever we try, we are pushed back by the police. They come at us with their dogs, their tear gas, but we go every night.”
He has not told his family the conditions he is living in, he said — unwashed and exhausted and with hardly any money left because he has paid most of it to smugglers. “Many Syrians are cultivated, we are educated, we want to go to an educated place, and I can already speak a little English,” he said.

Calais, which has long been a gateway to Britain and was once under English rule, has become a snapshot of what is going on in the rest of the world.


Migrants in Calais waited for a chance to run past the police to climb onto trains Thursday near the Channel Tunnel. CreditTom Jamieson for The New York Times

When there are troubles in Afghanistan, as there are now with the Taliban’s return to several areas, the numbers of Afghans in the sprawling refugee camp in the Calais dunes rise. Syrian refugees are there in large numbers, and there are some Iraqis. Sudanese have come, as well as Somalis. A couple of years ago there were more people from Burundi and Rwanda, aid workers said.
Set on the edge of Calais in a dusty patch of land with no trees for shade, the refugee camp resembles camps throughout the underdeveloped world, or worse. It has just 30 toilets for 3,000 migrants; international humanitarian standards would dictate one for every group of 20, Ms. Lorieux said.
For a long time, there was not even any water, but now spigots have been set up in several sections of the camp. Jean-François Corty of Médecins du Monde calls it a “tolerated slum.”
The place is littered with garbage, empty water bottles roll in the dust, broken garbage bags stink of rotting food. Since it is not an official refugee camp, there are none of the tents or sets of pots and pans or blankets that are usually provided to refugees by the United Nations or other aid groups. The shelters are patched together from wood and canvas and plastic bags donated by volunteers from Calais who are moved by the migrants’ plight.
Some camp dwellers have tried hard to make “the jungle” more livable. Some of the black plastic sheets marking out most tents have been adorned with brightly colored flowers and slogans. Others have picked flowers and put them in a plastic bottle on a makeshift tabletop.
The Ethiopians have built an Orthodox Church, partly with money donated from friends who made it to Britain months ago. There are at least four mosques in the camp and several shops.
“This is my village,” said Shaheen Khan from Afghanistan, smiling, with his arm drawing a semicircle over the tents stretching into the dunes. He said he has been on the road for seven years since the Taliban threatened his family.

As the migrants were getting ready for their next attempted crossing on Thursday night — among them a 9-year-old boy and a pregnant woman — a squad of France’s semi-military gendarmes were getting ready, too.
Temporarily housed in a hotel a few miles from the camp, the officers are on roughly the same schedule as the migrants: They get up late and then work through the night.
“We are all migrants here,” joked one of them before heading out on duty in gleaming riot gear. But then turning serious, he said: “It makes you think, this job. How can you judge a guy who has nothing, who is fleeing war and just wants a life for his family?”


Tom Cruise in

Monday, July 6, 2015

Family reunion out of reach for many refugees in Europe -IRIN Global

OXFORD, 6 July 2015 (IRIN) - Imagine that you have to flee your country and, for whatever reason, you cannot take your family with you. After a long and perilous journey, you finally reach a safe country and successfully apply for asylum there. What will be your next and most urgent priority? For the vast majority of us, it will be to ensure the safety of the family we left behind and to be reunited with them as soon as possible.

The same is true for most refugees arriving in Europe. According to EU legislation, they have a right to be reunited with their closest family members - usually their spouse and children under the age of 18 – but realizing that right is another matter. Just as the number of refugees arriving in Europe is rising, member states are making it more difficult for their families to join them.
According to Anne Bathily, a senior policy officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), an umbrella group for refugee organisations in Europe, this is no coincidence. She points out that family reunification is one of the few legal channels available for refugees to come to Europe and suggests that states are keen to reduce such channels.
ECRE’s members report that the trend is towards more restrictive eligibility criteria, more onerous requirements for supporting documentation and less availability of state-funded legal aid to help refugees navigate the increasingly complex application process.
Bathily told IRIN that national legislation on family reunification is changing so rapidly that even some lawyers and NGOs providing legal advice report having difficulty understanding the procedures, let alone refugees who may not even speak the language.
Unrealistic timeframes
A 2003 EU Directive on the right to family reunification exempts refugees from some of the more difficult conditions that other categories of migrants have to comply with when applying, such as proof of sufficient income and accommodation. But refugees only benefit from these exemptions if they submit their applications within a certain timeframe after being granted refugee status. In some member states, they have as little as three months to make applications and those with subsidiary protection rather than full refugee status don’t benefit from the exemptions at all. This is despite the fact that in countries such as Hungary, subsidiary protection is the main form of international protection given.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, as well as refugee rights groups have pointed out that three months is not a realistic timeframe to submit family reunion applications. It can take several months to trace the whereabouts of missing family members and several more to track down the necessary documentation to support applications such as birth and marriage certificates.
Limited definition of family
Under the EU Directive, member states are only required to recognize the nuclear family as eligible for family reunification – spouses, minor children and parents of unaccompanied minors. Most member states have stuck to this limited definition which, according to Bathily, does not recognize the way that forced migration can change the makeup of a family and their dependency on extended family.
Vanessa Cowan, who manages the British Red Cross’s family reunion assistance programme, noted that orphaned children are often raised by aunts and uncles but are not eligible for refugee family reunion in the UK unless they have been formally adopted. Elderly parents and children over the age of 18 also don’t qualify. This can lead to parents having to leave behind a child who may have just turned 18, but still be dependent.
Long waits
According to a report published jointly by ECRE and the Red Cross EU office in November 2014, family reunification procedures for refugees “are extremely lengthy, often lasting several years”. In just one example, a refugee in France waited four years for a decision relating to reunification with his wife and three children.  
Araya's story
Araya, an Eritrean living in Birmingham, has been granted refugee status but her husband has been refused a family reunion visa to join her and their daughter.

Read more
Refugees, who have already been through gruelling journeys and lengthy asylum procedures, are often unprepared for the length of time it can take to reunite with their families, said Cowan. “It’s difficult for them to cope with the knowledge that their families are vulnerable in another country -they may be in danger, the children not going to school, not having enough to eat.”
Being separated from their families also affects refugees’ ability to integrate in their host countries, according to Bathily. “The impacts of separation are huge. People can’t really settle and invest in their new country when their first concern is what is happening back there?”
Risky journeys
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to family reunion for refugees is the fact that applications have to be made by family members in their country of origin, or where ever the nearest embassy may be. Typically, the “sponsor” - who is the refugee already in the EU - begins the application, if they’re lucky with some help from a lawyer or NGO, and then forwards it to the family member who must complete it and bring it to the embassy where they will be interviewed. 
In conflict-affected countries like Syria, embassies are no longer functioning and family members have to make costly and dangerous journeys to neighbouring countries to reach an embassy, where they may have to remain for several months while awaiting an outcome. 
It's not rare that a family has left the place where they live to reach an embassy and has been subjected to violence on the way.
“In the cases that we’ve helped, it’s not rare that a family has left the place where they live to reach an embassy and has been subjected to violence on the way,” said Cowan.

The ECRE/Red Cross report gives the example of a Syrian woman and her child who were trying to reach the Belgian embassy in Ankara to make an application, but were arrested at the Turkish border. The woman’s brother and brother-in-law, who were travelling with them, were killed - the report did not explain how - and the woman and her child were detained for several days before having to return to Syria. 
The final obstacle is often one of cost. If and when a reunification visa is finally granted, the cost of flying family members to Europe may be unaffordable. The British Red Cross provides travel assistance for refugee families to reunite, but such assistance isn’t available in all member states.
“Sometimes it doesn’t happen because people don’t have sufficient money to pay travel costs,” said Bathily.
Figures for how many refugees in Europe successfully reunite with family members aren’t available because their applications are not tracked separately from those made by other categories of migrants, but UNHCR has noted that the numbers are low and make up a very small percentage of overall migration to Europe. 
UNHCR has advocated for swifter, more efficient family reunification procedures for refugees in Europe, particularly for Syrians, but there is little indication that member states are prepared to make the process any easier.  
“When you’re uprooted, your family becomes your country; it represents everything you left behind,” said Bathily.
“But this is where you see the tension between state interests and individual interests. [States are] saying that being generous in family reunification is a pull factor.”

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