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The child refugees risking the Channel by boat – one year on

A group of suspected migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent after a number of small boat incidents in the Channel in September. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Bridget Chapman, who swims regularly in the Channel, wasn’t surprised when desperate asylum seekers began travelling to the UK on small dinghy boats last year. On a clear day she can see France’s coastline from where she lives in Folkestone, Kent. “If you’re stuck in Calais and you can see the British coast quite clearly, it must be really tempting to think: I’ll just get a boat,” she said.

It has been a year since the then home secretary, Sajid Javid, declared the increasing number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel a “major incident”, but boat arrivals are still a regular occurrence. On Boxing Day this year, more than 60 migrants were picked up while attempting to cross in small boats.

Since Javid declared the major incident in December 2018, it is estimated that more than 1,800 people, including many children, have crossed the Channel in small boats to the UK, compared with about 300 for the whole of 2018. Chapman, who works for Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), which supports unaccompanied minors who arrive in the UK at youth centres in Canterbury and Folkestone, has seen a 50% rise in demand in the past year.

Bridget Chapman at a centre that supports young asylum seekers in FolkestoneBridget Chapman at a centre that supports young asylum seekers in Folkestone.

Bridget Chapman at a centre that supports young asylum seekers in Folkestone. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

The government announced it would be working closely with France to bring the number of boat crossings down, but campaigners say the strategy has failed to deal with the root of the problem. The crackdown on migrants attempting to reach the UK on trains and lorries has resulted in more turning to small boats, while the situation in northern France has compounded people’s need to leave.

Maddy Allen, who works for Help Refugees in northern France, said: “The situation has continued to deteriorate. It really is the worst it has ever been. The crossings are taking place alongside large-scale evictions. It’s beyond inhumane, we are calling them makeshift camps, but in reality it’s no shelter.”

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In September, authorities in Dunkirk evicted more than 700 people, including families and young children, from a temporary migrant camp. These evictions have become a feature of life for migrants in northern France since the dismantling of the so-called Jungle, a refugee camp where about 10,000 migrants lived, three years ago. Many migrants have complained of beatings, regular arrests and the confiscation of their tents and sleeping bags.

Calais clamps down as asylum seekers say: ‘They just beat us’
“It’s unliveable, it’s dangerous, and hostile. What we’re seeing is mass homelessness on a really grim scale,” Allen said.

At the same time, the safe routes for seeking asylum in the UK are being tightened. Charities have heavily criticised the government for dropping family reunion rights for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, warning it will leave them with “no options” except to take dangerous routes.

While the Home Office has not provided figures on the number of migrant boat crossings that have taken place since last Christmas, a factsheet published in October stated: “Since January, over 100 people who entered the UK illegally on small boats have been returned to Europe.”

For those languishing in northern France, the distance between the two countries appears deceptively short. Chapman said: “I swim all year round in the Channel and I know how dangerous it can be. At night, when the air is clear and France is lit up, it looks like it would be a short walk and you would be here. It’s just not that simple in the water: there are strong tides, the water is freezing, and the Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world.”

The journey can take anything from eight to 24 hours, with smugglers cramming 30 people into boats made for six.

Yet children as young as 13 continue to make the dangerous boat journey alone. Two unaccompanied minors who did so were among a group of young refugees in a youth centre ran by KRAN at the bottom of a hill in Folkestone. The young asylum seekers spent their morning playing on guitar, painting and watching TV.

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A banner being made at the youth refugee centre in Folkestone. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian
“People who arrive on boats, in our experience, have got extremely good asylum claims. They want to make themselves known to authorities at the earliest possible opportunity so they can make their claim,” Chapman said.
Once asylum seekers are picked up by the authorities, they are first taken to a Home Office building in Dover for a health check and then given an initial screening interview so they can lodge an asylum claim. Adults or families are transferred to a hotel, usually in London, to live on a temporary basis. They are then moved to somewhere in the country where there is capacity and accommodation.

Unaccompanied minors have a different journey; they are first moved into a reception centre in Ashford, which Chapman describes as “clean, bright, and warm”. The young asylum seekers get their own room, three meals a day, pocket money, and are assigned social workers. They stay in the reception centre for an average of seven to eight weeks before they are moved to independent living, somewhere in Kent.

There are 352 unaccompanied asylum seekers under the age of 18 in Kent, according to KRAN. There are not enough foster families to place all the unaccompanied minors under the care of an adult. This is where KRAN steps in, teaching the young asylum seekers basic life skills such as cooking and budgeting, along with English language lessons.

A group of suspected migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent after a number of small boat incidents in the Channel in September.

A banner being made at the youth refugee centre in Folkestone. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

By January 2020, there will be 920 people who arrived as unaccompanied minors in Kent that have since turned 18. Among them is Faisal Hakimi, a 20-year-old refugee from Afghanistan who works as a mentor at the centre. He said: “I try to help by answering their questions about the Home Office and I sometimes help with translation. Mostly, we’re here because they’re feeling really lonely. They’re really young. They’re 13, 14, 15 and it’s really hard.”

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Another mentor, 25-year-old Amani Arab, said she was lucky to have been granted humanitarian protection that allowed her and her family to fly to the UK from a refugee camp in Lebanon. She has slowly been able to rebuild her life in the UK after fleeing Syria in 2013 and wants to become a cook.

“There are many young children here and I want to be able to help them in some way so I often come here to cook meals. It feels amazing how happy I can make them with such a simple act,” she said. Her mother, who often comes to help her, is widely referred to as Mum by the rest of the group.

Integration with the local community is key to the work that KRAN does, as the response to boat arrivals from the media and politicians can be alarming and inaccurate. “We did one integration activity with the local primary school where the school selected some young people from families who had negative attitudes towards refugees. The young students were really scared and anxious about the visit, but within about five minutes of being here, with some biscuits and a football, everybody was friends,” Chapman said.

Hakimi already has a lot of hometown pride. “Many people say Dover is the worst place in England, but I would say they’re wrong. It’s the best place,” he said. “I feel like I was born in Dover. The people, the sea, the white cliffs – everything about Dover is nice.” When he talks about his favourite meal, fish and chips, Chapman interrupts to tell him: “Jewish refugees introduced fish and chips to this country.”

(www.theguardian.com.uk)

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IOM assists border control on route linking Ethiopia, Kenya

IOM has helped to establish a new Border Control Post between Ethiopia and Kenya. Photo: Rahel Negussie/IOM

Addis Ababa – Ethiopia, Africa’s second largest country (by population) after Nigeria, is also one of the continent’s largest sources of international migrants.

Along its vast national circumference –some 5,311 kilometres, connecting Ethiopia to Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia– government control posts are limited. Lack of adequate staffing and modern technology impedes proper migration management, a matter of concern for national governments as well as for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

At the start of this new year, IOM has helped open a new Border Control Post (BCP) between Ethiopia and Kenya. The post, at Neprumus in Ethiopia’s Dasenech district, straddles one of the 830-kilometer Ethiopia-Kenya frontier’s most frequented migratory routes, alongside a major route for Ethiopian migrants trying to reach South Africa. Ethiopians normally pass through Kenya into Tanzania, then travel further south.

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In March 2020, at least 60 Ethiopian irregular migrants were killed after being trapped in a lorry along this route. Hence, the urgent need for better and improved border control posts in the region.

“Supporting the establishment of modern and efficient BCPs will facilitate safe and orderly migration of citizens, enhance the relationship between bordering countries, provide protection, and increase the political and socio-economic stability between Ethiopia and Kenya,” explained Kederalah Idris, IOM’s Better Migration Management (BMM) Project Officer.

IOM is also supporting Ethiopia’s Immigration, Nationality, and Vital Events Agency (INVEA) with training to enhance the capacity of immigration officers, and at the same time supplying infrastructure and office equipment, computers, and generators to establish new border control posts.

“Strengthening BCP will play a great role in facilitating safe movement of community members to neighbouring Kenya and will create job opportunities for the community. In addition, it will have a big contribution in facilitating regular migration, while monitoring irregular movements,” said INVEA Director-General, Mujib Jemal, during his opening speech. He also recognized IOM and the zonal administration’s efforts in facilitating the opening of the BCP.

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At stake is more than improved border efficiency. IOM sees hope for improved trade benefiting the regional economy and raising livelihoods for some 48,000 people living in the Dasenech District.

Health checks are also being integrated into the BCP, which is a timely development given that COVID-19 continues to affect the nation. As of 18 January, there has been 131,546 confirmed cases in Ethiopia leading to 2,033 deaths. Against this COVID-19 backdrop, IOM looks forward to these new controls reducing mobility restrictions and facilitating movement of goods, services and skills. Beyond commerce, IOM also views BCPs as vital for protecting people from falling prey to human smugglers and traffickers.

Plans are to open more BCPs in the Pagag, Kurmuk, and Fefrer border towns in Gambella, Benishangul Gumuz, and Somali regions, bordering South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia respectively.

During the inauguration attended by representatives from IOM and senior officials from INVEA, IOM Ethiopia received a ‘Certificate of Recognition’ from the Ethiopian authorities for the support to strengthening Ethiopia’s border management and control efforts.

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The establishment of this important BCP is supported by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

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Amid 2020 pandemic IOM supported over 2,500 migrants with voluntary return from Greece

Dudu and his family taking some selfie pictures before departing to Georgia. Photo: Konstantina Mintzoli/IOM
A family from Iraq receiving transportation assistance from IOM to the airport in Athens. Photo: Konstantina Mintzoli/IOM

Athens – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) supported the voluntary return of some 2,565 people from Greece to their home countries in 2020, in coordination with the Greek authorities and respective countries’ diplomatic representatives.

Amid hardships and challenges induced by COVID-19 in the past year—including mobility restrictions and closed borders—many migrants living in Greece expressed interest in returning voluntarily to their home countries.

“It is extremely important to be able to continue offering the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration support during this challenging period, as for many migrants, COVID-19 posed additional challenges to their stay in the EU,” explained Gianluca Rocco, Chief of the IOM Mission in Greece.

The 2,565 Returnees from Greece through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme originated from 46 countries, with the largest contingent (734 migrants) coming from Pakistan. This was followed by Georgia (529 migrants), Iraq (489), Afghanistan (188) and Iran (163). Thirty per cent of migrants assisted were males between the ages of 22 and 29.

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The number of returns fluctuated throughout 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, from 868 in the first quarter to 300 per month at the end of the year.  Since launched in Greece in 2010, IOM’s AVRR programme has assisted more than 50,000 people to voluntarily return to their home countries.

In 2020, IOM developed initiatives to overcome challenges, mitigate negative impact on migrants and ensure that Ministry of Health protocols were applied to all without discrimination. IOM medical teams provided assessments and medical examinations, including COVID-19 testing. In addition, relevant information was communicated through online outreach activities, and the dissemination of leaflets and posters to migrant communities. In parallel, helplines operating in 13 languages supported remote counselling as needed.

“We worked intensively with the Greek authorities and the Embassies of countries of origin to develop new cooperation mechanisms to overcome mobility restrictions and make the returns possible, particularly for the most vulnerable,” said IOM’s Rocco.

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IOM Greece also established an Online Scheduling Appointment (OSA) platform through which potential beneficiaries were able to book counselling appointments online.

When commercial flights were not available, IOM organized charter flights to Georgia and Iraq for 433 people in total in close collaboration with all relevant actors in Greece and the two destination countries.

Prior to their departure from Greece, migrants who applied for AVRR had the opportunity to access temporary accommodation facilities including the Open Centre for migrants (OCAVRR) in Athens.  IOM also provided a cash grant to cover returnees’ initial basic expenses after their departure.

Upon return, 1,008 migrants who qualified under the programme for in-kind reintegration assistance were able to use the support to set up small businesses (individually or in partnership), training programmes, temporary accommodation, job placements, medical support and material assistance.

IOM reiterates the importance of promoting the systematic inclusion of reintegration assistance as a force for stability in communities of return and as a bridge between migrant return and sustainable development.

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Download here for a snapshot view of the programme’s main 2020 highlights.

The project “The implementation of assisted voluntary returns including reintegration measures and operation of Open Center in the Prefecture of Attica for applicants of voluntary return (AVRR/OCAVRR)” is 75 per cent  co-funded by European Funds (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund) and 25 per cent by Greek National Funds.

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Human trafficking: PJI  urges proper trauma management for returnees

The Pathfinder Justice Initiative (PJI), a Non-Governmental Organisation, has called for proper trauma care for migrant returnees to prevent them from becoming vulnerable to subsequent trafficking.

Evon Benson-Idahosa, the Executive Director, PJI, made the call at a Rehabilitation Workshop for Providers Serving Survivors of Human Trafficking held in Benin on Thursday.

The workshop was organised by PJI and funded by INSighT- Building Capacity to deal with human trafficking and transit routes to Nigeria, Italy and Sweden.

Benson-Idahosa said that a majority of returnee-migrants usually undergo different traumatic situations and needed to be properly rehabilitated before being integrated back into the society. She noted that if the migrant returnees were not properly rehabilitated, they would not be able to put into good use any form of skills acquisition or empowerment received.

“Providers serving survivors should know how to handle traumatised victims because many of them, especially females, have been raped and have gone through horrible experiences during their trafficking journey.

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“The providers should know that there are best practices in terms of handling trafficked victims; they need to use a survivor centred approach to prioritise the needs of the victims,” she said.

She called on the government at all levels to partner more with NGOs on providing best traumatic care for returned migrants in the country.

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