Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(1)
Fifty-nine million five hundred thousand. That’s the number of displaced persons fleeing armed conflict, persecution and humanitarian crises in 2014. That is the most displaced persons since World War II and the UN predicts 2015 will see even more refugees trying to find a place to call home, where they can find stability, jobs, education and political, religious, speech freedoms. At least that is their hope. And they are willing to sacrifice everything to attempt to start their lives over in a strange country, with unfamiliar culture and language, and where they are likely to be treated with suspicion and as second-class citizens.
The millions arriving in Europe – most often via Iran, Libya and Turkey – are not migrants. They are refugees, and the distinction is critical. In the aftermath of World War II, 141 countries signed on to the United Nations Convention‘s Status of Refugees, a landmark that sets the standards for the treatment of refugees. This international law dictates that countries have responsibility to protect refugees.
A few definitions:
- A refugee is forced to flee their country to escape war, persecution or a natural disaster. It is estimated that there are close to 20 million refugees in 2014. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.
- Internally displaced persons are forced to flee their homes, but they remain within their country’s borders, an estimated 38.2 million in 2014.
- An estimated 1.8 million people were awaiting the outcome of claims for asylum.
- A migrants is someone who chooses to seek better living conditions in another country. Countries deal with migrants based on individual immigration policies and processes, while international law dictates that countries have a responsibility to protect refugees.
Rights crucial to refugee protection required by countries signed onto the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and/or the 1967 Protocol include:
- Providing alternatives to detention
- Protection against discrimination
Tune into TV Set airing October 14, 2015 and its rebroadcasts for a timely and thought provoking discussion. Barbara, a friend of TVSet is on the ground in Kos, Greece, volunteering to help arriving refugees get shelter, food and water for Kos Solidarity. Here are letters posted to the show’s host, Jim Wrathall:
October 1, 2015 – I arrived in Kos and shared a cab from the airport with some young German women from Cologne who, as it turns out, are also volunteers. They are meeting someone from Kos Solidarity tomorrow so I am connected already. They said that about 500 refugees land each night. The owner of the hotel where I stay said it was 1000 per night in the summer.
October 2, 2015 – Well, I met some people from Kos Solidarity this morning. The meeting place downtown is near the harbor, right next to the beach and the police office. Along the beach there are about fifty tents, all inhabited by men, most of them young guys. I heard they are mostly from Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Syrian families all live in hotels, which are paid for by Swedish or UK organizations. Across the water is Turkey. It is so close you can see individual houses. It just takes 40 min by ferry to get there, and it only costs 10 euro for tourists, but it is much more expensive for the refugees.
After a short intro we were immediately put to work. We distributed croissants and milk to the young male refugees, who are made stand in line. They were well behaved. No problems. Women volunteers were advised to wear sleeves, no tank tops or tight shorts because of testosterone levels.
Near the beach there are many mobile toilets and there is a hose so the guys can clean themselves.
After distributing breakfast, I went to their warehouse, the logistical center, and helped make sandwiches. We made 700 sandwiches for dinner. I heard that there are currently 800 refugees on Kos, and that they are ferried off to Athens within a few days after registering here.
Most of the people who work here are young European volunteers. It looked like only 15-20 percent were Greek. Lots of Germans, Dutch, Italians, British, Irish, also some Argentineans. Most volunteers stay for a week only, it seems.
The warehouse is the storage place for donations, which are sorted into piles. Jobs for volunteers are preparing/packing food, sort and pack clothes, toys and whatever is donated and take these things to the beach and the hotels. Most of the time there is no manager or leader around and it all seems a bit chaotic, but somehow things flow because there are so many people ready to work. Other jobs are cleaning the beach, sorting donations at the warehouse. There is also a nightshift: patrolling the beach by car and pick up new refugee arrivals, take them to tents or hotels, give them blankets. The most important meeting is at 9 pm at a restaurant where all volunteers convene and sign up for jobs the following day. The food there is supposed to be excellent.
One can work the whole day and night, and one can try to be ambitious and help organizing. I am not ambitious and plan to work only morning till mid-afternoon. Then I will take a nap and study Greek, take a stroll. I will also take some days off and explore the island.
There are other organizations here: UN, MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Red Cross. Two German women expats cook Syrian dishes for the families in their home. All help is welcome and possible.
October 3, 2015 – Hi. Just a quick update. Yesterday I spent most of the day helping a young Pakistani who had dislocated his shoulder. Took him to the hospital. It took forever till the doctor came. One of his friends died on the boat trip. While we were waiting police came with a dead body. Today they found a baby dead on the beach. I have not yet done a night shift – they are the most strenuous because most people arrive at night and need immediate care: dry clothes, food, a place to stay. Today I worked at one of the hotels where Syrian families stay. I helped organize things, distributed food etc.
The Swedes are by far the biggest group of volunteers, and very generous donators. I am fine and like what I do. I am still not overworked, and still take naps. In a few days I will go to Kalymnos, another island. They need more help there.
Below are links relevant to the show’s discussion:
Guide to Intl Refugee Law – http://www.unhcr.org/3d4aba564.html
Refugee crisis: What’s happening on the ground in Greece – http://www.mercycorps.org/articles/turkey-iraq-jordan-lebanon-syria/refugee-crisis-whats-happening-ground-greece
Here’s how you can help during the refugee crisis in Europe –http://mashable.com/2015/09/03/refugee-crisis-how-to-help/#V1yL2K7i9OqJ
Refugee crisis: apart from Syrians, who is travelling to Europe? – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/10/refugee-crisis-apart-from-syrians-who-else-is-travelling-to-europe
Department of Defense Information Report – https://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf