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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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Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants

The Migration Normalization Plan will allow Venezuelans living irregularly in the Dominican Republic to work, move without risk of deportation, open bank accounts and join the country’s social security system.  Photo: IOM / Francesco Spotorno

 

 

Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.

Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000  Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.

“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018.  “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”

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Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.

With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000  registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.

“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.

READ  IOM appeals for lifesaving assistance to over half a million displaced and vulnerable migrants in Niger

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

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Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

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“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  UNODC Executive Director launches strategic vision for Africa 2030

 

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