Refugees and disabilities

Refugees and disabilities

Imagine having to leave your hometown to escape the war. Imagine having to travel for miles and miles only to be pushed on an overcrowded boat with no beds, no toilets, no privacy. Not even a plug to charge your phone.

If you’re lucky you’ll only have to spend about a week on this boat before you reach the shore and can stretch your legs; but if you’re not that lucky then you could also end up spending an extra four or five days at sea, hoping that some wealthier, safer country will eventually open their ports and let you dock. What if you run out of water? Or food?

Now imagine having to go through all that once more, this time as a person with a disability.

In 2011 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that around 15% of the world’s population is affected by a form of disability[, and a report published by the Women Refugee Commission (WRC) found that 13.2 million people forcibly displaced in 2016 had disabilities. In spite of this shocking number, no formal system to identify refugees with additional support needs is currently in place.

The refugee camps where people are left waiting for weeks, months or even years for their host country to make a decision about their future, are not exactly designed for people with physical impairments (and in some cases not even for human beings in general, but that’s a different story) with some of them being unable to shower for weeks. This lack of accessibility does not only translate into poor access to infrastructure, but also to suitable accommodation, health care, and other basic humanitarian services; for these reasons, UNHRC in 2011 described refugees with disabilities as ‘more likely to be sidelined in every aspect of humanitarian assistance’.

Although universal measures are still to be developed, this issue has been added to the agenda of the 2018 Global Compact for Migration – the first attempt of an intergovernmental agreement organised by the UN to discuss and find solutions to the main challenges of international migration.

In Germany, the Federal Association Lebenshilfe (which literally translates as ‘life help’ and provides support to people with disabilities since 1958) is lobbying for the rights of disabled refugees in the country whilst providing them with useful information, such as how to access the healthcare system or how to apply for financial help. The German Federal Government is also working in partnership with the WHO to train refugees in Turkey to provide health support to those with additional needs, with an estimated 350 refugees having been trained as of June 2018.

Steps in the right direction, but the road ahead is still long.

Migration Routes from Africa to Europe

Migration Routes from Africa to Europe

Between January 2017 and March 2018, 124,711 asylum seekers crossed the Mediterranean towards Europe from the north of Africa in hope of reaching refuge from political turmoil and persecution in their home countries. Of this number, 2,873 people were pronounced dead or missing according to the UNHCR. The majority of these people depart from Libya after making the long and treacherous journey north from their countries of origin, although the countries contributing the highest number of displaced people in January 2018 are Nigeria, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.

The UNHCR aims to drastically improve the situation for refugees reaching Europe from Africa through political and financial support for the host and transit countries on the Mediterranean route to Europe. The strategy works under the assumption that a whole host of factors will continue to push asylum seekers across the Mediterranean, most prevalently human rights abuses and inter- and intra-state conflicts; such factors are not likely to lessen any time soon, and so attempting to more rigidly patrol state borders will be futile in states’ attempts to stem the flow of people to their territory. In fact, studies show that by reinforcing border control measures authorities simply lead to the spawning of new migration routes which most likely pose new threats to the safety of those trying to make the passage.

The route between northern Africa and Europe is one of the deadliest migration paths in the world. If refugees are able to make it across the sea without their boat capsizing and their family drowning in the tumultuous waters, they are regardless often subjected to kidnappings at the hands of gangs in exchange for ransoms, detainment in labour camps and forced prostitution (Independent). In fact, the majority of those making the journey never intended to cross the Mediterranean at all – the International Organisation Migration (IOM) conducted a survey of African asylum seekers in Libya which found that almost 60% of them originally intended to stay there (Independent). However, after experiencing first-hand the political conflicts raging in Libya, many refugees did not deem it to be much safer than the situations they were originally fleeing. Forced to choose between persecution and violence in Libya and the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to potential safety in Europe, many in Africa choose the latter.

The UNHCR’s campaign appreciates that large migratory flows can place strain on the resources of host and transit countries along the Mediterranean route, specifically if those affected are already afflicted by economic woes. As such, it calls that the countries which lie along this route need international support and investment to bolster the resources they are able to contribute to the issue. Furthermore, increased awareness of the risks associated with the crossing from Africa to Europe will hopefully generate a dialogue beneficial to the asylum seekers affected, sparking humanitarian outreach rather than protestation from European citizens against the refugee crisis. raft

The Situation of Refugees and Migrants in Turkey

The Situation of Refugees and Migrants in Turkey


Turkey hosts one of the world’s largest refugee populations, with over 3.5 million registered Syrian refugees alone (June 2018 figures). 94% of refugees live outside camps in urban and peri-urban areas and 70% are women and children. The other 6% live in 21 camps (the so-called “temporary shelter centers”) spread across 10 provinces (Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Kilis, Kahramanmaras, Mardin, Hatay, Adana, Adiyaman, Osmaniye, Malatya). The biggest camps in terms of population are Saricam (a container camp in the province of Adana, with over 27,000 people), Akcakale and Suruc (tent camps in the province of Sanliurfa, respectively with almost 24,000 and 23,000 people).

On March 2018 the Turkish government announced that they are working to set up new camps near the Syrian city of Idlib and the areas of the Euphrates Shield Operation. These additional camps should host 170,000 people.

Not all refugees hosted in Turkey are from Syrian: there is an increasing number of people of other nationalities, mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia, among others. However, the Turkish asylum system treats those people differently. Syrian nationals, as well as stateless persons and refugees from Syria are provided with temporary protection (TP) by the Government of Turkey, that is acquired on a prima facie, group-basis. On the other hand, asylum seeker from other countries of origin are expected to apply for an individual international protection status. Those procedures for the determination of their status are not always fair and efficient.

In general, despite new initiatives to improve the situation of refugees, many face insufficient access to livelihoods, housing, health care, and education for their children and there has been reports of forced returns of refugees and asylum-seekers, including to Syria. In addition, hostility from locals has risen recently, with an increase number of incidents reported. During the campaigns for the June 2018 elections, opposition parties threatened refugees with deportation.

Adana, Turkey

Adana, Turkey. Photo by Hulisi Kayacı on Unsplash

The EU-Turkey refugee agreement

On 18th March 2016 Turkey and EU signed a refugee agreement, to limit the mass influx of irregular migrants entering the European Union through Turkey. Wanted by EU, who has actively sought to prevent asylum-seekers and refugees from accessing its territory, the EU-Turkey deal commits Turkey to accept the return of any irregular migrant who is found to have entered the EU through Turkey without having already undergone a formal asylum application process. In exchange for Turkey’s willingness to secure its borders and host irregular migrants, the EU agreed on the 1-to-1 principle: for each Syrian returned to Turkey, a Syrian migrant who had qualified for asylum will be resettled in the EU. In addition, the deal sets a 6 billion euros payment to the Turkish government, to spend in projects (Facility for Refugees in Turkey – FRiT) aiming to improve refugees’ condition, and in particular on humanitarian assistance, education, migration management, health, municipal infrastructure, and socio-economic support projects.

The EU further incentivized Turkey to agree to the deal with a promise of lessening visa restrictions for Turkish citizens.

From the EU point of view, the agreement has been a success, contributed to a significant drop in the number of arrivals on the Greek island. However, the deal has been the target of numerous criticism, in particular that it forced migrants to start using other and potentially more dangerous routes, such as the journey between North Africa and Italy, and that in general the agreement has set a dangerous precedent by putting at risk the very principle of the right to seek refuge. In addition, long asylum procedures and a huge backlog have stranded thousands of asylum seekers on Greek islands, double the capacity, in squalid conditions.

Balat Mahallesi, Turkey

Balat Mahallesi, Turkey. Photo by Ali Arif Soydaş on Unsplash

The Turkish asylum system

As mentioned above, the Turkish asylum system has a dual structure. Syrian nationals, as well as stateless persons and refugees from Syria are provided with “Temporary Protection” (TP) by the Government of Turkey. The Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) is the responsible governmental authority for the registration and status decisions within the scope of the temporary protection regime. The TP grants beneficiaries right to legal stay as well as some level of access to basic rights and services and they are under normal circumstances not sent back to Syria unless they themselves request to do so.

On the other hand, asylum seekers from other countries are expected to apply for an individual “International Protection” status and are subject to a status determination procedure conducted by DGMM. There are three individual “International Protection” statuses from DGMM: 1) “refugees,” who are fleeing from events in Europe, and who are permitted long-term integration in Turkey; 2) “conditional refugees,” who are fleeing from events outside Europe, and who must await resettlement to a third country; and 3) “subsidiary protection” beneficiaries, who do not qualify as refugees or conditional refugees but who require protection because they face the death penalty, torture, or generalized violence amounting from armed conflict in their country of origin.

For all International Protection applicants, Turkey has what is called a “satellite city policy” which requires them to live in a designated province (which excludes the largest cities of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir). Turkey has also recently required Syrian refugees under Temporary Protection to remain in the province in which they first registered.

UNHCR has still a key role in Turkey. In theory, DGMM is the sole decision-maker on asylum matters but in practice, however, UNHCR continues to undertake registration for non-Syrians and refugee status determination for a limited number of individuals whom they identify as being particularly vulnerable – based on UNHCR’s own mandate, not Turkish law – as well as the processing for resettlement of particularly vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Children playing soccer in one of the old streets of istanbul.

Children playing soccer in one of the old streets of istanbul. Photo by Ozan Safak on Unsplash

Information for asylum seekers and access to NGOs and UNHCR

The DGMM also operates a hotline service called Foreigners Communication Centre (Yabanci Iletisim Merkezi, YİMER). It is possible to reach the centres which serves in Turkish, English, Russian and Arabic at any time of day.

UNHCR has set up a platform (“Help”) which provides information in English, Turkish, Arabic and Farsi. Another useful resource about Turkish asylum procedure is provided by Aida here. Also, many NGOs provide assistance and counselling. It is important to know that international protection applicants and status holders are free to seek counselling services provided by NGOs.

Here a not-exhaustive list of NGOs:

  • SGDD-ASAM is the largest NGO and implementing partner of UNHCR in Turkey, upon registration in Ankara. It has offices in more than 70 cities in Turkey, including all satellite cities, and operates a helpline in different languages.
  • Refugee Rights Turkeyin Istanbul and Mülteci-Der in Izmir have helplines and can be accessed by phone.
  • IKGVhas 7 offices in Turkey and provides information and psycho-social support to approximately 200 people per week.
  • Support to Lifeand YUVA are also mainstream organisations that are very active in the field, the former having presence in eight cities.
  • KADAVis providing help for women in Istanbul.
  • KaosGLbased in Ankara assists LGBTI people living in cities such as Denizli, Eskişehir and Yalova.


Anna Silvestri

*first image: Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Damla Özkan on Unsplash

We Need More Hero Refugees

We Need More Hero Refugees



In May, France found a hero to contend with the latest marvel release. Footage was released of a man called Madamou Gassama expertly scaling 4 floors of apartment walls in less than 30 seconds to save the life of a child was dangling from a balcony. In true action film fashion Mr Gassama reached the child with seconds to spare; he was met with roars of applause from the crowd waiting with baited breath below.


The identity of our superhero was revealed, and he was unmasked as ‘refugee’, the actions of this hero  were applauded and circulated the news outlets; probably to the despair of some of the more right wing press but refugees cant spend all their time making murderous terrorist plots. Mr. Gassama had a meeting with French president Macron who announced that Mr. Gassama will be made a hero. “I told him that in recognition of his heroic act he would have his papers in order as quickly as possible,” Mr. Macron said in a statement on Facebook after meeting with Mr. Gassama at the Élysée Palace in Paris. The Paris firefighters also said they were were “eager to welcome” Mr. Gassama into their ranks.  A lovely rags to riches tale, Mr Gassama received citizenship and a job and no one could argue it was undeserved.


Mr Gassama like all refugees had a story which included a perilous journey from a dangerous country risking his life by paying smugglers to take him across the dangerous Mediterranean sea.[2] Mr Gassama will be one of the lucky few granted full citizenship; as in 2017 only five people were granted residence papers for “exceptional talent” or “services rendered to the community[3] Citizenship will seem like a far out dream to many in a country with increasingly strict immigration laws and where refugees are viewed with suspicion and skepticism.

Refugees all over fighting for citizenship can celebrate; as the secret to achieving citizenship has been revealed. All that’s required is showing your worth through acts of heroism. In order for a nation to see your humanity and value as a human you must contribute via knightly deeds. Some suggestions could be rescuing a cat stuck up a tree, pulling a child out a manhole or pushing an old lady out the way of oncoming traffic. Clearly in order to release yourself from the label of ‘refugee’ and achieve status and worth as ‘citizen’ you need to be ‘eye of the tiger’ style excellence not just any old human. Perhaps the only solution is for refugees to start staging these heroic acts and throwing cats up trees themselves in order to display grand gestures of gallantry.

Macron has been quick to clarify that Gassama is an exception not the rule and has taken a tough approach to immigrants. Parliament had been discussing a draft put forward by the French government which restricts the right of asylum seekers.[4] This has been criticized by human rights groups. It seems it takes exceptional acts of bravery and service for refugees to be considered worthy of a country to live in. We automatically label these people problematic and a nuisance, they have to prove that they are worthy of belonging, to us.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

Featured Photo by Muhd Asyraaf on Unsplash

IM JANA…  I want to talk about my experience with IDP

IM JANA… I want to talk about my experience with IDP

I’m Jana…
I want to talk about my experience with IDP[s (Internally Displaced People)]

As you know, in 2014 isis destroyed the property of the citizens, so they fled to nearby safe areas when I was working with an international organization.

We visited the Hassan Shami camp, between Mosul and Erbil. I saw citizens who were starving, some of them exhausted, looking for food and medical aid, waiting for visitors to complain about their tragedies and suffering, some of them dropped out of school and left everything with their money and possessions.
The new camps were also built and the dilapidated tents repaired.

As for the entry of IDPs into the city / Erbil was [on] the way. [It was] Slightly difficult for them because of the lack of money to buy as well as hospitals within the city was expensive treatment fees. 
So many cases were exacerbated due to lack of provision of appropriate conditions for treatment.

Most of the tents were drowned by rainwater tents, with food and blankets.
In addition to the insects and diseases prevalent among the children of the camp/

Hasan Shami Camp, May 2017

There were also many burns In the camp because the oil used was not good where it was. 
The tents are burning and the families and children are burning and dying. Some of them are deformed. In most cases, there is no cure. Medical and psychological treatment of these unfortunate cases. 
We can imagine the amount of grief and psychological devastation, the hopes and the future are shattered.

There was some help from neighbors to provide a new tent, after the first [ones] burned but this is not enough for them.

When Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) [started operations] in a hospital in Mosul, [that] provided some job opportunities inside the hospital for displaced people from the eastern part of the city: as nurses, cleaners and guards for the hospital. So I suggest that this assistance [could] be expanded to include places outside Hospitals, in cooperation with the government.

Well, in my opinion, children should be given classes to compensate for their previous school. If not, the result will be an ignorant people and life will be difficult for them.
Good jobs should also be provided to these people to help their families.

The situation of migrants in the Netherlands

The situation of migrants in the Netherlands

Situated in the north west of Europe, the tiny state of the Netherlands is a tough destination for migrants. Considering all the hardship and obstacles that migrants encounter on the road, I found it at times almost miraculous that people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or Eritrea reach this country at all. Arriving in the Netherlands means first of all that you did manage to leave your country, that you haven’t drowned in the Mediterranean sea, you haven’t been sent back to Turkey, you didn’t get stuck or imprisoned in one of the camps on the ‘Balkan route’, you haven’t been kidnapped, sold or enslaved by human traffickers in the African desert (or you managed to escape from them).

Once in the Netherlands, you have to make you way through the Dutch and European bureaucracy and procedures. The Dutch migration system and migration law distinguishes between regular procedures and asylum procedures. Regular migration is for example labour migration, migration for study, education or family life, if you have (core) family in the Netherlands.  If you have a well-funded fear of persecution, or there is a violent conflict in your home country, you can apply for asylum.

The Dutch asylum system is very well organized. The institutions work relative efficiently but there are also very strict criteria for being granted a refugee status. And with the high influx of migrants in 2014 and 2015 they got stricter. As an asylum seeker have access to free legal aid, interpreters, and to organizations that support you during your procedure and life in the Netherlands. The asylum procedures take between one week and six months, depending on your country of origin and your situation.  Documentation is hereby extremely important. During the procedure you will be provided by housing, healthcare and food.  Once you have a refugee status, you are entitled to housing, healthcare, work or social welfare. There are social programs and organizations that help you with your new life in the Netherlands.

Anyone who considers applying for asylum in a European country should be prepared for the so called Dublin convention.  It is called after a treaty that the European countries made in the city of Dublin, Ireland in 1990. It is supposed to be a common European framework to determine which European country is responsible for your asylum request. This system has been criticized a lot for its dysfunctionality and it is one of the many badly constructed things in the EU, but it is a reality that a lot of asylum seekers have to deal with. It says in short that the EU country responsible for you asylum request is the country where you are first fingerprinted, or the country that gives you a visa. It means, that you don’t really have a free choice in which European country you ask for asylum.  There are some exceptions to this, for example if you have dependent family members in one European state (especially when you are a minor), you can eventually be transferred to your family members.  Your fingerprints are registered in the so called Eurodac system and every European country can access this database.  When you arrive in the Netherlands and you are previously fingerprinted for example in Austria, you will be sent back to Austria where your asylum request will be processed. If you don’t want to be sent to the country where you are fingerprinted, you can appeal.

The Dublin regulation is handled more or less strict in different EU countries. In the Netherlands it is taken quite seriously, with one exception: If you were fingerprinted in Greece, you will not be sent back to Greece.  However, with the EU-Turkey deal this policy could change in the near future.

A downside of the Netherland as a migration country is that the situation for undocumented migrants is very difficult. Once your asylum procedure is rejected and eventual appeals have been unsuccessful, the Dutch government insists that you have to leave the country. If you can’t leave because you have no identification documents or don’t want to leave for other reasons, you have no legal status in the Netherlands at all. That means that you are not entitled for healthcare, housing, work or education and you are forced to live a life in the shadows.  Also are the Dutch known for the frequent and extended detention of undocumented migrants, even if this improved a little after a ruling from the European Court of Justice.


Why we should support Asylum Links

Life of a migrant, wherever he or she is, can be extremely challenging, complicated and exhausting. Being on the move means facing uncertainty, danger, trauma, life-threatening situations.  The ones on the move need the support of those who are settled and safe.  One way of support is passing on information in order to make well informed choices for the future. Information that sometimes can make the difference between life and death. Volunteers in and outside Europe have been inspirational in their reaction to the migrant flows in terms of offering support on numerous levels. Fortunately there are organizations like Asylum Links that just do what has to be done in the name of humanity.

I want to end with a poem that says it all, written by the Swedish author and journalist Stig Dagerman in 1953.

Flight sought us out

A bird seeks flight. We did not.
Flight sought us out. That´s why we´re here.
You who weren´t sought out – yet possess your freedom,
help us carry the heavy load of flight!

A shackle seeks a foot. We chose to go forth.
The night was merciful. Now we are here.
You are too many – might say those who are free and safe.
Can there be too many who know what freedom is?

No one seeks destitution. We did not.                                                                                                                                                        It sought us out along the way. Now we are here.
To you who weren´t sought out: We know the weight of freedom!
Help us carry the load of being free!


Translated by Lo Dagerman

Refugee Life Style: Waiting to be Legal – Greece, Turkey & European Union

Refugee Life Style: Waiting to be Legal – Greece, Turkey & European Union

In this motionless humankind world I write down the words that have already been written, once again.

According to UNHCR 2016 report, the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home by armed conflict, generalized violence and persecution.

Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

In Greece 2018, more than 60000 refugees and migrants (mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis) are trapped, more than 15000 have been confined to the islands.

Greece’s legal system on asylum is based on the Geneva Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol, and on European Union (EU) legislation on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

At present, Turkey is the highest host countries worldwide with 3.9 million registered refugees (mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis) where almost 230000 are hosted in camps.

Turkey was one of the original signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention but limits the scope of the Convention’s application to European asylum seekers.

Turkey’s Law on Foreigners and International Protection introduced changes in its asylum system setting many temporary statuses (conditional refugee status, humanitarian residence permit, or temporary protection) for those coming from outside of the Convention’s application scope.

They can be qualifying for international protection and not be subject to return to their home country but  they do not have the ability to integrate into Turkish society.

Facing the massive flux of Syrians in 2015, European Union (EU) established measures to prevent illegal entries and disorganized asylum process.

Balkans borders were closed and two relocation plans for Syrians, Iraqis, and Eritreans were set to transfer 66000 refugees from Greece to other EU members over a period of 2 years.

In order to cope Greece deficiencies in its asylum services, EU set funds and personnel needed for Frontex – European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to help and operate the asylum centers.

The stress on Greece’s obligation to stop onward movements is based on the Dublin Regulations EU rules that require the first country of entry to take responsibility for asylum applications.

The refugee crisis has also jeopardized the functioning of Schengen Area as some EU countries have re-imposed border controls and others are considering reintroducing border controls if Greece fails to control the current migratory flow.

During that first year, less than 200 asylum seekers have been transferred out of Greece under the plan and EU countries have deployed just over half the personnel to operate the centers.

On March 18, 2016, the European Union signed an agreement with Turkey to stem migration and refugee flows to Greece.

The EU-Turkey deal commits Turkey to accept the return of all asylum seekers who travelled through its land in exchange for billions of euros in aid, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, and revived negotiations for Turkish accession to the EU. The deal also provides for the resettlement of one other Syrian refugee from Turkey for each Syrian returned to Turkey under the deal.

Asylum seekers from other countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, do not even have access to temporary protection status.

At the same time, Greece, supported by the EU, put in place a containmennt policy, confining more than 15000 asylum seekers to the islands, living in crowded and filthy processing centers, in lightweight tents or even sleeping outside on the ground.

In addition, no one, regardless of nationality, who arrived after March 20, when the EU-Turkey deal went into effect, is eligible for relocation under the scheme.

In reality, the EU-Turkey agreement has set a dangerous precedent by putting at risk the very principle of the right to seek refuge.

While Greece remains on the frontline of Europe’s asylum and migration challenges and Turkey is hosting over millions refugees, the acute economic crisis is felt by everybody and conflicts, far from ending, are sharpened increasing the hostile behaviour against refugees.

Despite UNHCR, NGOs and individual efforts to protect refugees and migrants and work on integration, this motionless humankind world is wrong, once again.


Bárbara Orozco Díaz / 24 May 2018



As human beings, we should never forget 3rd October 2013

As human beings, we should never forget 3rd October 2013

Since a very young age I remember empathising with sufferers. Suffering was something eerily fascinating to me, an expression of the soul, the mind and the body that manifests differently according to what you are suffering from. Exploring suffering was my way, as a youngster, to get closer to one’s vulnerability.
3rd October 2013 was the day when suffering tasted extremely bitter, and tasted like unfairness, death and many teardrops.
3rd October 2013 was the day when circa 366 refugees and asylum seekers died trying to reach the costs of Southern Italy. It was defined as one of the most terrible tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea after the Second World War. 155 people survived (41 of them were minors), 366 died and 20 were never found.
This tragedy hit me like a fist punch in my stomach. I was devastated and confused. But mostly, I could have seen my father or even myself among those people, as my family crossed the same Sea the same way those people did.

The sunken shipwreck that transported 386 migrants

Being a refugee is not a choice. Dying away from home, in a sea is not a choice. Putting unaccompanied minors on fragile boat is not a choice. And we must understand this, the same way we should try to understand why our indifference, fear of even xenophobia of refugees (especially if hosted in our countries) is dissociating us from the gravity of this humanitarian crisis. How, as human beings, have we come to turn our backs to this:

Red roses, teddy bears and flowers to commemorate refugees and asylum seekers who lost their lives during 3rd October 2013

And this

Unknown body of migrant floating in the sea

Suffering is something we all feel deeply, and makes us do things we never thought possible from us. Images like these ones have the power to make us reflect on how we perceive the suffering that we see through a television screen, or read in a newspaper. We do feel moved, but we decide to move on and concentrate on other things. And outside the comfort of our lives, 3rd October 2013 happens every day. We render this humanitarian disaster a mere daily news that has us accustomed to feel sadness, but not too much. Anger, but not too much. Guilt, but not too much.
3rd October 2013 is a date recognized solely by the Italian government. However, I believe that such tragedy (and perhaps the lessons learned from it) should reach a wider public. And as mentioned before, the above pictures show us images that are constantly displayed on news channels, and is this constancy that perhaps strips such pictures from their true meanings:
Don’t turn your back to suffering, but act on it.


Roki Seydi

The unique experience of LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers within the UK

The unique experience of LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers within the UK

Asylum Links offers refugees and asylum seekers the accessibility to documents and contacts that assist them in establishing the rights that are available to them in the country they are trying to relocate to. Having fled a country that has stripped these rights from them, Asylum Links facilitates the necessary information and support to help refugees, migrants and asylum seekers to reconfigure their lives in a period of turmoil and uncertainty.

Women and minors have been recognised as being especially threatened by their situation as refugees, however another unique situation that has not been quite as widely acknowledged is that of LGBTQ refugees. LGBTQ people may have been forced out of their country due to their experience surrounding their sexual orientation, or otherwise due to political conflict.

Asylum seekers in the UK are at risk of isolation due to the weighted pressure of seeking security without the prejudice they are conditioned to be fearful of.  Their previous circumstances may have shaped a wariness or uncertainty within them due to the riskiness of being open about their identity within their home territory. If it is difficult to trust people with the knowledge of your identity within the social environment of your origins, how readily can you trust people in a new and unfamiliar backdrop. Implications may arise for LGBTQ people if their gender identity or sexual orientation was to be found out by people from within their home communities. This shows the lasting impact of the LGBTQ refugee experience, even once they have arrived in Scotland. This notably affects mental health and also the confidence to approach the appropriate support services. They may struggle in expressing themselves emotionally, but lack of knowledge in regards to language specific to LGBTQ identity may also create a barrier when seeking advice.

The intersectionality of LGBTQ experiences requires expert support in that every case is unique within the larger experience of being a refugee. This is where Asylum Links provides a network of helpful sources to whatever range of support is solicited. In the past, the Scottish Asylum system has not been sufficient in thoroughly protecting LGBTQ people. Often, when making asylum claims, the system dismissed the legitimacy of their experience by purporting that security could be available to them within their home country if they were to maintain their gender identity or sexual orientation as private. Although, it is no longer viable to reject asylum claims for this reason, LGBTQ refugees are still particularly vulnerable in their journey. LGBTQ people constantly face misrepresentation, with organisations and authorities lacking in understanding of the intersectionality of their experiences in relation to their gender identity and sexual orientation. Asylum seekers have been known to have claims rejected under premise they cannot ‘prove’ their sexuality.  Detention centres are also known for having a history of violence and abuse towards LGBTQ people as there is not sufficient support or refuge from these antagonistic behaviours. This emphasises the length of the journey and also the necessity for an immediate support system when refugees arrive in the UK. It is a basic human right to live freely under whatever gender identity or sexual orientation and this struggle to maintain this human right without discrimination can still be overlooked.

These are examples of how LGBTQ people have a lonely and frustrating experience as refugees. Therefore, carefully tailored advice is at the crux of improving this difficult passage, helping alleviate a situation that is both intimidating and overwhelming.

Photo by Harry Quan on Unsplash

Are refugees to blame?

Are refugees to blame?

Sometimes the images of horror and destruction we see on the news can be so overwhelming that it leaves us with a sense of helpless. The refugee crisis seems far too complex, our news screens are filled with grim images of dead kids, cities covered in rubble, men in balaclavas holding massive guns.

In some sense it can be comforting to distance these individuals from ourselves, alienate, create a ‘them and us’ dichotomy which allows us to blame the individuals for their situation rather than feel empathy. I saw this recently in the comments section of a news article concerning refugees ; many attested that the people that live in places such as Syria should simply ‘stand up and fight for their country’ and ‘defend their territory. I’m sure Barry from Wandsworth would grab all his kitchen utensils and rush to the front door for queen and country if ISIS were hammering at his door. Many suggested that somehow the refugees were faking poverty because they dared to own an android phone. I know that if I had to rush from my home for my safety and make a perilous journey, one of the first things I would grab is my phone. Not so I could snapchat my journey across Europe in the back of a lorry or see my tinder matches in France but to have some connection with family and friends; to let others know I am safe and to have necessary contacts that could help me. We have to remember their entire identity is not ‘refugee’ and that as soon as you become a refugee its not like a reverse Cinderella where a godmother comes along and transforms your clothes into rags and your hair into matted strands, they are normal people.

In 2016 the news confronted us with the startling image of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach, spat out by the waves, face down. Highlighting the desperation of the people, the horrors a mother must be running from to put her own toddler in a boat, knowing he may not survive the trip. The headlines very quickly changed from accusations of hordes of refugees swarming European countries, bleeding the benefits system dry, planning terrorist plots and raping young women to outcries of sympathy and support. As if it was an epiphany that these refugees were dying in vast numbers attempting to escape terrorist groups and war zones. As if we did not know that ISIS could be a particularly cruel bunch. The right to asylum is an inalienable right documented in the UN. Everyone has the right to flee a country from persecution, in fact 19 million children flee their own country every year, sadly 70% do not reach their destination.[1] I witnessed a glimpse of some of the atrocities on a small visit to the Calais refugee camp where many refugees stayed in the hopes of eventually reaching the UK via the port. Many staying up all night attempting every single evening to find some way to get to the UK. Many of the men I met had been doctors, lawyers, teachers in their countries but had been stripped of everything in the move here, including their identities. Finding borders closed, police that assault and tear gas you and hospitals refusing to treat you. Forced to be stripped of your humanity and treated like a parasite for the crime of wanting to be safe in a country.



Why Are The Refugees There?

The situation in Calais is part of a mass migration crisis caused mostly by displaced people from war torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and North Africa. Many are staying in Calais in the hope of reaching the UK because of its proximity to the port. [2]The camp was officially demolished in October 2016 but since then has began to build up again. The crisis was not solved and the refugees merely shifted to other locations across northern France[3]  Many are hidden in small camps, fields, garages or derelict buildings. Others are at an official camp near Dunkirk at Grande-Synthe.[4] Many want to get to the UK because they dream of a better life, they dream of jobs, opportunities, security and many have family already there.


What Can You Do to Help

There are some fantastic charities that I discovered in my research. Some of these I have previous experience through volunteering or fundraising for.

Calais Action

Calais action provides mobile internet and calls to refugees providing a lifeline to recipients. For many accompanied children this is the only safety net they have and for many this is the only way they can contact their families and let them know they are safe. All you need to do is text CALA85 and the amount you want to donate to 70070.

Refugee Community Kitchen

Refugee community kitchen provides nourishment to people in need. You can email to volunteer with the kitchen or you can donate money.


Care4calais helps with distribution of essential products such as toiletries or clothes. Sometimes all refugees arrive with is the shirts off their backs. They are currently doing Packs4Calais where you can collect essential items together for refugees into a pack and drop them off at a collection centre where they will be sent to Calais. You can volunteer with Care4Calais in Calais, or you can help with collecting and sorting items to be sent from the UK to Calais. You can also donate funds or buy essential products.

Calais People to People Solidarity

This is a group where you can help organise aid from the UK to those stranded in Calais. You can find your local group on the facebook page.