In Pictures — Refugee Info Bus
In this new era of global ideas and mass migration, information is key. In response to the Refugee Crisis in Europe, the Refugee Info Bus is a mobile and adaptable on the ground project providing internet access, legal rights education and empowerment through technology.
We started in response to some very specific problems in the Calais “jungle” refugee camp. In February 2016 the unofficial camp held over 5000 persons. The camp was on the edge of a small town and on the fringe of society with little help from large NGOs and a hostile local government and violent police presence.
The problems we sought to address were as follows:
- Few migrants in the camp knew what asylum involved and the differences in between the asylum system in France and the UK.
- Although the Calais Jungle received international media attention, it was the residents themselves who were offered the least information, official or otherwise, on developments that would affect their lives.
- Very few people had access to the internet to be able to find out this information and more importantly, contact loved ones at home and in Europe to discuss their situations and often, let each other know they are still alive.
- Because of the fragile and changing nature of the situation, many project spaces set up by NGOs, grassroots groups and individuals were often attacked by locals, police, smugglers and then burnt down or evicted.
Although not as visual as the need for shoes, food and shelter, these issue were immediate. The situation facing Refugees in Calais was always an emergency. So, in just a few weeks from the initial idea, the Info Bus came to fruition in the form of a 28 year old horse box. In just over a week we converted it into a mobile office space, which was insulated and painted. We added a solar power system, enough for phone charging, a few laptops and, most importantly, the mobile wifi hotspot.
WIFI and Technology
Access to the internet is one of the most powerful tools a displaced person can have.
It is a free Whatsapp call home, it is google translate, downloadable maps, legal rights information. When you have no state, no home and an unknown future, it is a way to make your voice heard.
The Refugee Info Bus acts as a mobile internet cafe, with devices for people to borrow, and wifi to connect to. The wifi works to a radius of 30m around the vehicle, and up to 100 devices can connect adequately at one time. The benefit of this wifi is that it works from a sim card that is replaced regularly, so can work anywhere there is a mobile signal.
We try to guarantee that every user can at least make voice calls from their mobile using common apps such as whatsapp, but the majority of our users able to make multiple phone calls, FaceTime, message, and search for information at a high speed.
Our citizen journalism programme encompassed writing, photography, and video. We supported residents of the camp to be the storytellers of their own narratives, as well as to report live from the ground, about the events unfolding in the camp, particularly during the eviction of the camp in October 2016.
All of the articles, images and videos made collaboratively through one-on-one sessions, as well as larger projects, including the distribution of disposable cameras to 50 residents of the camp, were published on our social media pages, as well as on our website. Our social media pages in particular, gained a huge readership and continue to get substantial traffic because of the way we support these stories from a position alongside our refugee colleagues and friends. Much of our journalistic work made it into international news sources, such as The International Business Times, France 24 Observers, The Guardian and the BBC:
Our social media real-time on the ground reportage of the eviction of the camp in October can be found here:
Human Rights and Legal Systems Education
We run workshops, create infographics and info packs which explain how asylum systems operate in Europe, which also include methods and tips of ways refugees have, in the past, challenged unfair legal decisions or human rights abuses. Topics we covered were Dublin regulations, family reunification and the asylum systems of their country of application. This information was delivered in multi-lingual information packs with visual aids, and language-appropriate workshops with trained professionals.
Info packs are necessary during emergencies to convey information to as many transitory people as possible. In the weeks before the final calais eviction we distributed 1000s of Info packs containing information on asylum in the UK and France, what to do if you are detained, useful contacts, a map of France and a break down of the latest Government policy towards refugees in calais. All in our packs were created in English, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Tagrinia, Amharic and Oromo.
We are also working towards sharing digital content about asylum procedures and refugees rights in the form of pdf, video and audio that can be shared online and offline smart phone to smart phone
Refugee Info Bus in Greece
The new Info Bus Greece is smaller, more nimble and more powerful. The situation in Greece, while in some parts has settled, in other is still incredibly volatile and subject to unforeseen changes. This is where we work best.
The press no longer have access to so many camps, people are becoming less interested in the plight of people stuck in limbo. Therefore, it is easier for people to be deported, detained, or for their plight to be forgotten, as the world turns its head. Therefore, we will provide on the ground coverage of what is happening in Greece.
Those who have see first hand, know that at every point of the European refugee crisis there is a lack of information available to refugees, including legal rights, success rates of asylum in different countries, changes in refugee policy such as the opening or closing of borders.
In November 2016, the Refugee Data Rights Project carried out research which concluded that, 69% of refugees in camps in Central Greece had no access to information on asylum laws or immigration rules. This information exists and is freely available, but not many people are offering it.
On a larger scale, we believe that the group who has the smallest voice in the debate and policy discussion regarding the European refugee crisis, are refugees. We propose to counter this using methods of citizen journalism.
The Info Bus will continue to work in Greece at least until the end of 2017. As the situation in Calais once again gets worse with hundreds of unaccompanied minors living on the streets, we will offer support and resources to our partners on the ground. With support and funding we will keep working to help the most marginalised refugees in Europe.
To support the Refugee Info Bus please donate on link below. All money raised goes directly to our on the ground operations. mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/refugeeinfobus
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