News Update – 16 March ’16
Our weekly news update on refugee issues around the world.
- The past fortnight has seen the dismantlement of around half the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. Following a court order last month, prefecture officials began ordering people to leave their shelters, built by camp residents and volunteers, before they were taken apart. Authorities assured NGOs working in the region that space would be made to cater for the newly displaced in shipping containers in the north of the camp and other centres around France. Reports from a number of the organisations however indicated that there were far from enough spaces made available for the approximately 3,500 refugees facing eviction. Despite assurances that the eviction would be humanitarian and would not feature bulldozers, bulldozers were used, while a number of clashes took place as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse residents.
- On Monday 7th March refugees began moving into a humanitarian refugee camp in Dunkirk after residing for months in atrocious conditions in the nearby Grand-Synthe camp. The camp, built by Medecins Sans Frontieres, can house 2,500 people and came after Damien Careme, the local Green mayor, fought for the right to build the new camp against the wishes of the French government, which refused to pay a centime towards it. Conditions at the previous site have been labelled as among ‘the most appalling’ ever seen.
- Macedonia has forcibly returned thousands of refugees to Greece after they bypassed the closed border and crossed into the country through a river. Macedonia closed its border earlier this month, leaving 12,000 refugees, many women and children among them, stuck in increasingly worsening conditions on the Greek side of the border. On Monday a number of those in Idomeni left the camp and made a human chain across a freezing river to allow people to cross. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that three people drowned while attempting to cross.
- The European Union and Turkey agreed last week the broad principles of a plan to stem the flow of refugees attempting to reach Europe from Turkey. Under the plan discussed in Brussels, all refugees and migrants who arrive in Greece from Turkey would be returned to Turkey. For each Syrian sent back, a Syrian still in Turkey would be resettled in the EU. As part of the proposed deal Turkey will receive extra funding from the EU and further progress will be made on Turkey’s application to join the EU. The UNHCR has expressed concern that some aspects of the plan might not be legal and might forego refugee protection safeguards enshrined in international law.
- The government has been defeated on two amendments to the Immigration Bill as it passes through the House of Lords that have the potential to radically improve the lives of asylum seekers in the UK. Last week an amendment proposed by Lord Alton was passed which will allow asylum seekers to work if their case has not been resolved after six months. Currently asylum seekers are dependent on government support, receiving £5.28 per-day to cover all necessities apart from accommodation and bills. Yesterday peers voted to limit detention in immigration removal centres (IRC) to 28 days. This period may be extended but any appeal to do so would take place through the courts. Baroness Lister of Burtersett, who supported the amendment, said indefinite detention impacted on people’s mental health and the current situation was a “stain on this country’s human rights record.”
- Tuesday 15th March marked the fifth year of the ongoing Syrian conflict. Since then over 4.8 million Syrians have escaped the country, the vast majority living in neighbouring countries, while 6.6 million people are today displaced within Syria, against a pre-war population of over 20 million. On March 30, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, will be hosting a high-level international conference in Geneva, calling on governments to offer a major increase in resettlement places for Syrians.