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AYS Weekend Digest 3–4/10/20: Open call for examples of human(itarian) crisis when ‘strongly condemning’ made any difference

International community surprised by the fact that what was announced is actually happening // Reports from Greek island of Kos raise concerns // 3 people lose lives while trying to reach Spain // Denmark wants to confiscate and tap rejected asylum seekers’ phones, plans to pay those who don’t appeal // on the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers in the UK / & more news

Vienna, Austria: Several thousand people joined a demonstration in Vienna on Saturday afternoon under the motto “We have space”. Volkshilfe Österreich and the platform for a human asylum policy called for this to show that civil society in Austria is still ready to help people in need (Photo: SOS Balkanroute)

On September 30, Bira camp in Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina was evicted without notice; some people fled to the woods, while most were taken to the Lipa camp (already full) only to be refused entry. Many have spent the night outside, with no shelter.

It is estimated that there are currently around 2,500 people in the Una-Sana Canton, outside the reception centers managed by the IOM, who expectsthat there will be 4500 homeless people on the move in the region by the end of November. Ironically, this eviction has been strongly condemned by the EU, IOM, and the US Embassy in Sarajevo. In a statement of 1 October, the EU has “strongly condemned the unacceptable actions undertaken on Wednesday, 30 September by the Una Sana Canton authorities, forcibly transferring refugees and migrants from Bira in Bihać outside the emergency facility in Lipa, which is already at full capacity. […] These unilateral actions amplify the humanitarian crisis on the ground, jeopardise COVID-19 protection measures, and severely worsen the overall security situation. […] The EU has consistently made it clear that the emergency facility in Lipa is only a temporary COVID-19 response measure and does not fulfil basic requirements needed to host refugees and migrants in current weather conditions or across winter.” The US Embassy has re-tweeted this comment, urging “the state-level BiH authorities to take the lead in coordinating with all levels of government to ensure that migrants and asylum seekers have […] their human rights […] protected”.

The same night that the Bira camp was evicted, a terrible fight broke out between two groups of people, as we previously reported during the week. Two people died and roughly 20 were wounded, many of them seriously. Many more were frightened and shocked, including the locals who witnessed the event. Unfortunately, due to the hopelessness of the state the people are left in, it is expected that more tragic news will come as a result of no proper solutions offered or even the respect of the minimal international standards when providing shelter, WASH system and other types of support.

The illegal actions of BiH authorities have also taken place in Sarajevo, where the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Sarajevo Canton continues arresting migrants across the city, particularly in the centre of Baščaršija. Local authorities have not clarified on what grounds the migrants are arrested.

UN agencies, IOM and UNHCR in particular, have been actively involved in discussions on policies, informed of decisions and plans of actions by the local officials and other stake holders. The recent eviction of people from Bira camp could never be perceived by them as unexpected, or as a surprise move by the authorities. Instead, they should have rather developed a plan on what to do to prevent such a pointless move, suggesting more sustainable, humane actions that would point in the direction of a viable solution. Only someone who has never read a single letter on the topic of the people on the move in the Balkans could be surprised by this development, certainly not someone who has sat at the meetings where such propositions were shared in the first place. If someone, on the other hand, feels they have run out of options, ideas and capacity to do anything about the situation, any day is good to move on and allow others to work on it. People’s lives are at stake, not only UN agencies’ reputation, as one can read among the priority topics in the official communication that is available to the public.
Reactions to the recently published comments by the agencies and other international community representatives were critically referred to by local activists, once again highlighting the responsibility of international organisations and the EU for the situation:

Bira i Miral: UN i EU nisu nevini u ovom zločinu protiv čovječnosti / Bira and Miral: UN and EU are…

English below. Na ruke: Ingrid Macdonald, rezidentna koordinatorica UN u BiH Peter Van der Auweraert, predstavnih IOM-a…

There are different reactions among the local community, but everyone shares the disappointment with their representatives in the talks with the international community, and all those taking decisions or avoiding to do so. Some of them keep warning the situation will only get worse precisely because nobody is changing what they are doing, how they are managing the situation, placing the responsibility for the people in need on the exhausted locals who have no capacity to provide support anymore. Here is part of one of the comments from Bihać:

Nothing comes out of hate, it can only get worse. Krajina (region) is left stranded, the world humanitarian crisis is placed on the back of a small community that, with all its towns and villages, barely has 300,000 people. It is becoming the new ghetto of the world metropolas who “express concern” out of the comfort of their sofas, warm homes and full bank accounts! The population of this region is living through another humanitarian and existential crisis, together with all of its people who have arrived and wish to move on, but can’t.
One does not simply go across half of the world and live through all the horror, hunger, cold, life threatening dangers, only to burn piles of wood in Bihać, or set fire on other people’s cars and the building of an ex-factory.

Bihać has become a city on the migration route for people arriving from all sides of the world and for various reasons, but with a single wish: to enter the EU.
The same EU that has not only shut its doors to them, but has also put locks and their guard dogs at its doors, and has sent its organisations to our back yards, to take care of everything apart from what (whom) they should.

The hypocrite Europe is “expressing concern” for the state of the people who stayed in the streets after the closing of the Bira camp, while on the other side they are forcing the security at their borders, turning their heads away and closing their eyes, allowing the Croatian border police to beat people, humiliate them, take their clothes and shoes off, burn their belongings, only to illegally push them back across the border, entering illegally to our country while doing that. All this only to protect themselves from the “uninvited guests” who keep coming and wait for an opportunity to try the “Game” again.
The Game for a beetter life, dignity and their place under the sun.

Adding to the current debate on the recently published Migration pact, but also the overall policies put into practice at the outlines of the EU and across the member states, a good reminder comes from Jeff Crisp:

A non-exhaustive list of the methods states have used or proposed to block or deter the arrival of asylum seekers:

1. Impose visa controls on them
2. Impose passport controls on them
3. Deploy immigration officials at foreign ports/airports
4. Fine airlines/shipping companies bringing them in
5. Build a wall/fence to stop them crossing a border
6. Deploy the military, police & vigilantes to stop them crossing a border
7. Detain them at the border
8. Detain them on an island
9. Detain them on a boat
10. Detain them on a disused oil rig
11. Intercept & return them to where they came from
12. Pay smugglers to return them to where they came from
13. Pay a country of origin to intercept & return them
14. Pay a country of transit to intercept & return them
15. Send them to another country
16. Destroy or disable the boats they intend to travel in
17. Fail to undertake search-&-rescue activities
18. Prevent NGOs from undertaking search-and-rescue activities
19. Sink their boats
20. Let them drown

And here are some of the ‘safe & legal routes’ we could have instead:

1. State-sponsored refugee resettlement

2. Community-based refugee resettlement

3. Humanitarian visas

4. Humanitarian corridors

5. Labour mobility schemes

6. Family reunion schemes

7. Educational scholarships


Italian Coast Guard inspection has concluded that Open Arms meets all safety standards required for SAR activities and has not been blocked, they reported.
In the meantime, Mediterranea, Open Arms, Sea Watch and MSF are demanding that the Italian government stop the blockade of rescue ships in the Mediterranean:

3 ottobre 2013/2020 nel Mediterraneo:

Le 200 persone — donne, uomini e bambini — che hanno perso la vita annegando in mare secondo l’ultimo rapporto di Alarm…


Some of the voices from Greece unraveling the real situation and state of things…


By the end of October 2020, the inhabitants of the new camp are reportedly planned to be reduced to 6,500. The ‘decongestion’ of the island is also done, in order to quicker facilitate a closed controlled structure, still planned by the authorities.

This is what “minimal international standards” look and taste like in the newly formed Moria2:

It looks like the Greek police and secret services really went out of their way to criminalise NGOs:

The Skaramangas camp near Athens is placed under quarantine until 12th October. Quarantine in the Koutsochero camp near Larissa is extended to the same date. Lockdowns keep being imposed only on refugee camps across the country.


Situation on the island of Kos, as we’ve been reminding, has been getting worse and not much attention or action is being directed towards solving it. The conditions in the camps and around them are horrid, and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to present a priority on the political scene.


Three dead on the way to the Canary Islands

Two more people who tried to reach Gran Canaria on Friday on a boat died after being admitted to the hospital. The three people were on board in two small yet overcrowded boats. The first of them had been found dead by Salvamento Marítimo, and the other two were taken to hospital in a very serious condition. At least ten others were severely hypothermic and dehydrated upon arriving at Arguineguín port.

144people were rescued near Gran Canaria on Friday. Sixteen of them were transferred to hospitals in the capital, four of which are still in ICU, as many have been admitted to ward and six are under observation.


Voting to deprive people of privacy and blackmail them not to use legal help

The Social Democratic Danish government proposes that the phones of rejected asylum seekers could be confiscated and tapped.

According to the Human Rights Convention, to which Denmark has also acceded, all people have the right to privacy.

The Minister of Immigration and Integration Affairs Mattias Tesfaye will reportedly seek support from the right-wing to make the proposal come through parliament. He said they couldn’t “simply allow people to erase things from their phone” …
Among other bizarre things they plan to introduce is clearing rooms of personal belongings after a week if residents do not comply with the so-called reporting obligation, and then the government will give 20,000 kroner to rejected asylum seekers if they do not appeal their case.

“We got out from the metal fence, but we still live behind the mental fence”

On October 21 the immigration service will visit center Avnstrup where many of the families from the deportation center Sjælsmark are now living. The residents are planning a protest against life in the camp. Stay tuned and support whenever you can.

The boycot campaign in Avnstrup has started! Last week nearly all the people living in Avnstrup came together to refuse taking anything that Red Cross is handing out.

In connection with the protests at Avnstrup, the Danish refugee activist Lene Kjær points out that a boycott of the duty to report is a violation that might result in imprisonment and that long sentences are given for even minor violations by this group of rejected asylum seekers. The sentences include a 6-year deportation sentence. It has potentially very dire consequences for residents when they protest by refusing to sign the report chart.


A shameful story of criminalising the persecuted

The UK Home secretary Priti Patel has pledged to make the UK’s asylum system “firm and fair”, promising “the biggest overhaul in decades”, in a speech at the Conservative Party virtual conference. She has vowed to “accelerate” the operational response to illegal migration and heighten deterrents to it. Patel has recently praised the jailing of asylum seekers deemed to have steered boats, while the head of the taskforce tackling Channel crossings declared that anyone at the helm should “expect to be arrested” on arrival.

A Home Office spokesperson said “the courts have already shown that individuals will be sentenced for facilitating a criminal trade”, adding that a judge had dismissed a defence made on humanitarian grounds.

Many have criticized this move.While Detention Action, a human rights group working with immigration detainees, said the proposals set out by Ms Patel showed a “contemptuous disregard” for the horror backstories of many of those making their way to Britain.

Acting campaigns manager Izzie McIntosh added: “We must guard against it becoming a shameful story of criminalising the persecuted. What are the safeguards for ensuring that people pursuing their legal right to claim asylum are not treated as people-smuggling criminals?

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen called the plans “nonsensical” and called for more efforts to be made on “providing sanctuary”.

In a commentary on INews, Ian Birrell notes that “Britain actually receives fewer asylum claims than its major European competitor nations and accepts a tiny fraction of the numbers taken by some poorer places around the planet. The number of applications for asylum has fallen over the past year — and is significantly lower than in 2016, the year of the Brexit referendum that was won after her side whipped up hostility towards migrants and refugees. Yes, the same people those shameless politicians then clapped for working in our care homes and hospitals during the pandemic. But sadly, even before the outbreak of culture wars, facts never carried much weight in this emotive issue.”

In the UK we force skilled asylum seekers who have escaped persecution and torture to subsist on handouts of less than £5.50 a day, in damp, dirty and vermin-infested accommodation. Delays in processing asylum applications, some of which take years, have rocketed; there are now more than 45,000 applications awaiting a final decision. — The Observer

The attacks on “activist lawyers” who are just doing their job in providing legal representation to asylum seekers against a Home Office whose willingness to trample on human rights was left utterly exposed by the Windrush scandal, it is reported.

This includes the briefing that Downing Street is seeking to “radically beef up the hostile environment”, despite the fact that aspects of it have actually been ruled racially discriminatory by the high court.”

Moreover, a new figure published by the Home Office under the Freedom of Information act, brings to 16 the number of asylum seekers who died in detention in the 6 months preceding the lockdown, a figure that raises further concern on the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers in the UK.

The UK Home Office is also under intense criticism after “a series of leaksrevealed the controversial ideas raised within Whitehall to discourage crossings.” The plans reportedly included sending people to centres on remote islands in the south Atlantic, as well as proposals to build facilities in Moldova, Morocco and Papua New Guinea. Further ideas, now dismissed, included holding them on oil rigs, or deterring them from crossing the Channel with wave machines and blockades. See more here.


A deadly journey.
Cameroonian refugees on the Guatemala-Mexico border

Carlos Dada · Diary: At the Mexican Border · LRB 8 October 2020

L ast​ October I was in Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, investigating new migrant routes from Central America…

The 3rd October 2013 is a date that will sadly remain in history to document the geographies of violence drawn by the EU border apparatus. On this day, seven years ago, approximately 368 people died when the boat carrying them from Misrata, Libya, caught fire and sank off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy:

Borders Through Time: Commemorating Lampedusa

Post by Victoria Canning and Francesca Esposito. This is the first post of Border Criminologies themed week on ‘Borders…

Read about Sissa Education, a project started around a chess board. ‘Checkered foundations: How a chessboard educated hundreds’

Checkered foundations: How a chessboard educated hundreds | Routed Magazine

MADISON MISZEWSKI | 15 AUGUST 2020 | ISSUE #11 I remember the heat, the cicadas, and the tap of each piece as I…

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Are You Syrious?

News digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and people on the move, but also for journalists, decision makers and other parties.