#SafePassage Helping Refugees

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 15.46.11In a bit of a change from my usual digital subjects I want to tell you what I’ll be doing this weekend. I’ll be joining a protest in Amsterdam as part of the Europe-wide  #SafePassage protests.

The protests are being organised largely via Facebook, and they’ll be in more than 100 cities; Tirana, Vienna, Brussels, Vancouver, Zagreb, Pula, Split, Prague, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Paris, Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Dresden, Flensburg, Hamburg, Idomeni, Molyvos, South Lesvos/Mitilini, Reykavik, Dublin, Tel Aviv, Florence, Lecce, Pescara, Torino, Riga, Amsterdam, Groningen, Utrecht, Derry, Bergen, Fredrikstad, Oslo, Trondheim,  Braga, Coimbra, Funchal, Lagos, Lisboa, Ponte Delgada, Porto, Viana do Castelo, Brasov, Belgrade, Gottenberg, Stockholm, Malmo, Bern, Biel/Bienne, Lausanne, Zurich, Aarau, Ankara, Bodrum, Izmir, Brighton, Bristol, Llandudno, London, Newcastle, Oxford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, New York and 40 Spanish cities, .

The current humanitarian crisis stems from failed states, and failed crops, the geo-political reasons for the crisis within each country vary, but the result is the same. Millions of people unable to live the sort of life we take for granted in safety leave their homes, most settle nearby either within their home country or in a neighbouring state. A few make the difficult and dangerous journey to Europe. How dangerous? Hundreds have died this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Europol estimates that 10,000 refugee children are missing.

The situation as it stands leaves refugees – those people most in need of help – unnecessarily vulnerable.  The #SafePassage campaign calls for;

We are demanding that European authorities and governments take action now to open secure safe passage routes for all those who seek protection.

– #safepassage means legal and safe routes: no more deaths at our borders

– #safepassage means protection for refugees on their travel through Europe

– #safepassage means keeping internal borders open within Schengen

– #safepassage means high standards of reception and asylum in all European countries, no longer diminishing the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, allowing refugees to keep their belongings, allowing them to be reunited with their families immediately and providing stability as far as their right of residence is concerned.

If you can please join a protest near you.

I know that this is a highly politicised area, but whatever your political opinion I just don’t believe anyone can see the evidence of children drowning in the Mediterranean and think it’s OK. So here are some other things you can do tailored to match your view.

You believe; People should stay in their country and not leave.
The reality; Most of those fleeing their home countries would like that. As the poet Warsan Shire so memorably put it “No-one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark”.

Many of the refugees in the current crisis are coming from Syria, a country destroyed by five years of war, with a death toll approaching half a million, here are some “before and after” pictures. The warring factions have blocked of supply lines so not only are homes, schools and offices destroyed there is no food and no medicine in many areas. Even when there is food it is incredibly expensive.

How you can help; Campaign to your MP and MEP to reach a political solution.
You believe; People fleeing war, famine or persecution should apply for refugee status in the first country they come to.
The reality; Under the UNHCR doctrine a fleeing refugee can apply for asylum in any country that is a signatory to the treaty. In principle they should apply in the first safe country. The Dublin treaty, which covers Europe, enforces the “first safe country” idea.

There are far more refugees sitting in camps in the “first safe country” than are coming to Europe, so most have done that. Hans Rosling sums up the data well.

Here’s a pub crawl analogy for anyone who thinks people should just stay and fight.

How you can help; Campaign for your government to support the refugees in the camps in Lebanon and Turkey – funding is currently at about 1.50 euro per day. Here’s Hans Rosling again on the importance of funding.
You believe; Refugees need to follow the values of their host country and integrate.
The reality; I agree, although I’d add that we can learn from each other. Refugees often live in exile for a long time, (17 years according to this UN spokeswoman) many never return home. The two keys to refugees, or new comers, settling happily are; language and work opportunities.

Former refugees have gone on to become successful representatives of their new country; learning the language, and building a career. But it starts with understanding.

How you can help; Look for organisations that support refugees learning languages, skills, and host countries. Volunteer.

I belong to a Facebook community called Refugee Startforce, the goal is to help refugees learn Dutch language and culture, and it starts by sharing a coffee together. Through this community I’ve seen other initiatives; shared meals, art events, coding training, and company visits.

Use your skills to help refugees, if you’re an accountant – offer to help new businesses get started, if you’re an artist – invite artists to your studio class, if you’re a psychologist/therapist -offer some of your time, and if you’re a writer – write.

New comers have a lot of needs when they first arrive, and it can feel overwhelming if you’re a local with your own busy life. But I’m inspired by the groups I see taking action already, I think the members feel that if we all do a little to support the new comers the investment will be worth it.

You believe; Refugees need help getting to safety.
The reality; Governments are not supporting this, in fact there is some evidence that governments are undermining the rescue efforts, the good news is that many humanitarian organisations are doing their absolute best to save people crossing dangerous winter seas, and support those crossing unwelcoming terrain.
How you can help; Financially support or volunteer at one of the on-the-ground organisations. Here are three of my favourites;

MSF – Doctors without borders are working to provide medical care in the Mediterranean, and at the camps in France
Pro-Activa – life rescue teams, who started by pooling their savings to be on Lesvos for a month, and  have now crowdfunded support to stay longer.
Dirty Girls of Lesvos Island –  a group who have taken on the mammoth task of washing discarded clothes for reuse by new arrivals.

But there are loads of ways to support – add others in the comments.

You believe; You’d like to support #SafePassage but there isn’t an event in your city, or you’re busy that day.
The reality; We’re all busy and none of us can be everywhere.
How you can help; Show your support by posting about #safepassage on facebook, twitter or Instagram. You could also change your Facebook/Twitter picture to the #safepassage image. (Right mouse click the one below to save it)

safepassage

If you would like to suggest other ways to support refugees please feel free to add them in the comments below. I do moderate the comments on this blog due to spam so don’t panic if your helpful suggestion doesn’t appear right away.

See you on Saturday!

Images from #SafePassage Amsterdam and used with permission.

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