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"Wanted by the police! The RefuComm team"

Sharon Silvey   18.09.2017

RefuComm is surprised to find themselves on the front page of Politico Greece today on Chios.

Although we are very grateful for the publicity for our amazing micro SD card project, which has been rolled out on Chios this week, following our research in June and July where we tested it's effectiveness, we find it slightly disturbing, and also slightly amusing that we are the subject of police scrutiny, by no less than a "top official" in the Greek police force.

Read here

"So why is no-one talking about Samos?"

Sharon Silvey   18.09.2017

The island of Samos, in the media spotlight for much of 2016 and the first few months of 2017, appears to have dropped off the radar.

Sharon Silvey reports on conditions there and asks they the situation is not being reported.

Read Here.

"Helping Humans to Help Themselves."

Sharon Silvey   18.09.2017

RefuComm have been providing information to people seeking international protection for two years now and through our constant interaction with refugees and by asking and listening to what they tell us, we have moved swiftly to provide them with what they tell us they need.

https://medium.com/@sharonvaleriesilvey/the-refugee-crisis-in-europe-83a1b869fe17

"Call for Solidarity from RefuComm"

Sharon Silvey   06.08.2017
Souda Camp Closure
Chios
 
The Refucomm team spent a lot of time on Chios in June and July 2017, getting under the skin of the problem of information provision and trialing our micro SD card project.
 
When we arrived in June 2017 there were over a thousand people ‘living’ in terrible conditions in Souda and the dearth of media attention has highlighted the absolute disgrace of people being left there for so long.
 
No one should have had to live like this. Not when the EU has provided such huge sums to take care of refugees stuck in Greece. In the winter we watched people freezing in the snow, dying trying to keep warm and now summer is here people are living in blazing heat with no protection from the sun. The water is regularly cut off. It is not a proper shelter, it never was. The long waits while Greece sorts out their procedures led to self immolation. The stain of Chios will live long in history.
 
But let us not forget that there is a strong sense of community at Souda, the camp is near the town centre and people can escape the mundane long days and months of waiting for the Greek authorities to sort themselves out in friendly community centres and at least distract themselves from the conditions they are living in. The fear is that Vial will eventually become a closed centre again, as it was in the beginning, and people will be isolated in Vial with no witnesses to tell the story of what happens to them from here.
There are only about 300 people living in Souda right now (despite sensationalist posts by volunteers who say otherwise and misrepresent the situation from afar). Last night we got a message from one of our interpreters on Chios that Souda ‘camp’ will be closed by the end of August. Friends of friends at the municipality confirm that this is the case.
 
These are people who fled their homes, and now they are living with uncertainty again. Some will be sent to Vial and some to the mainland.

We must not forget them when they are in Vial or wherever else they are sent.

RefuComm has already made careful preparations to track their progress and potential difficulties that might come with isolation, by setting up Whatsapp groups, grouped by language and by gender, with interpreters in each chat, so that we can give legal and emergency assistance and people can tell us what is happening to them.
 
Next week, thanks to the outstanding success of our micro SD card trial in July, we will be sending 200 micro SD cards into Vial for people who haven’t yet had their interviews so that they have access to information about the procedures and interview preparation. The price of the card will be to join our whatsapp groups. Thank you to all those who donated the SD cards to enable this. It really is essential now, more than ever, that people stay connected and we are racing against the clock to get it done.
 
We have set up a deportation line with our amazing partners at Refugee Infobus so that people can report potential deportation. Deportation advice and numbers for support groups in Turkey are included. We can track what happens to people. If their phones are confiscated by the authorities they still have the SD card which includes support numbers for them and a record of their important documents.

We will not forget them, we have it covered.

In the longer term, we are rethinking our plans for Greece. Micro SD cards are needed for the other Islands. Things are changing becoming more and more uncertain for the refugees with the absence of EU funded NGO’s. Chios is an example of how things are changing, The EU is putting more and more pressure on Greece to clear the Islands. It is imperative that we are ready to continue to help people.
 
We are asking everyone to pull together now and put plans in place to make sure people are assisted in creative ways and we need to move fast.
 
This is a new reality, and we are agile enough and smart enough to beat the system, aren’t we? Isn’t that what we are good at?
Please help us to help people to support themselves. We need volunteers to help us to load and distribute SD cards on the Islands and we need funds for SD cards and printing of instruction leaflets

Join us today in solidarity and help us to get information to refugees who we may not have access to for much longer.

The RefuComm Team

"Listicle on legal problems for refugees"

Kestor Ratcliff   17.05.2017

05/16/2017

You are free and responsible to make your own personal moral decision about what to do about this, but consider that there are now thousands of volunteers who befriended refugees over the last few years who share the experience of moral alienation from the conventional ‘mainstream’ European society now. A burning sense of injustice and moral alienation cannot be suppressed even if we wanted to, so we should reflect and then plan how to direct that fire of righteous anger wisely and well.

https://medium.com/@kesterratcliff/listicle-on-legal-problems-for-refugees-90540b0a2e66

 

 

 

 


"Is Greece unneccessarily Putting lives at Risk?"

Sharon Silvey   17.05.2017

Is Greece unnecessarily and perhaps unwittingly putting more refugees at risk?

According to the EU-Turkey statement, “all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey”.

One of the main modifications brought about by Greek law has been the establishment of an extremely truncated fast-track border procedure, applicable in exceptional cases.

https://medium.com/athenslivegr/is-greece-unnecessarily-and-perhaps-unwittingly-putting-more-refugees-at-risk-893e8309cdcc


"New measures proposed by the EU further Violate Human Rights of Refugees in Greece"

Sharon Silvey   13.12.2016

Has Greece ever been under more pressure to resolve the growing challenges created by the influx of asylum seekers and migrants than during this week?

Two reports, with conflicting recommendations have been focused on Greece this week. One, in a hypercritical attempt to force Greece to resolve a situation which is undoubtedly and for the most part, caused by the EU-Turkey deal further compounded by the lack of solidarity from other EU countries to relocate people.

https://medium.com/@sharonvaleriesilvey/new-measures-proposed-by-the-eu-further-violate-human-rights-of-refugees-in-greece-bbdb849c6247#.lrqer01p1

"Life in Limbo for Refugees on the Overstretched Island of Chios."

John Owens   09.12.2016

It's been one year since the first hotspots on the Greek Islands were set up, and half a year since the EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016 came into force.

John Owens writes for RefuComm on the fragile and complicated situation for refugees trapped on the Island of Chios.

https://medium.com/@sharonvaleriesilvey/life-in-limbo-for-refugees-on-the-overstretched-island-of-chios-5cf54a7b4d63#.64c1jkl0l

"REFUGEE ROAD TRIP UPDATE PART 4- BOLOGNA ITALY - from Sam and I"

Peggy Whitfield   06.04.2017

This is one for people who like activism, occupied spaces, historical architecture and solidarity.

The city of Bologna has three nicknames; La Dotta (the learned one - so-called for its famous university; La Grassa (the fat one - its cuisine is widely considered the best in Italy), and La Rossa (the red one - a reference its left-wing politics and also the red colour of the buildings in the city). Bologna is also famous for its intellectuals - Umberto Eco was a professor emeritus at the university - and for its left-wing and working class roots. With all this in mind, it came as no surprise to us to discover one of the best run solidarity led occupied sites we have encountered in all our time in this crisis.

We had heard on the Italian grapevine that a protest had been planned in the city centre against the revocation of “emergency accomodation” for refugees and migrants. Basically, the municipality of Bologna had decided to close down the shelters opened during winter time to house people and kick them out onto the streets.

At the demonstration we meet a group of young men from central Africa. One, Musa (not his real name) was seventeen years old from Gambia. He had been in Italy for three months now, sleeping on the streets of Bologna and in the train station. He told me how his main reason for coming to Europe was to go to university; a dream he has almost given up on now since he cannot even find a safe place to sleep, never mind a job or a place in a school. He wants to learn Italian as he feels that learning the language of a country is the best way to integrate, but he is frustrated by the lack of official support to do so.

The story of Musa’s journey to Europe is harrowing. He left Gambia with his brother due to political upheaval and their inability to attend university at home. Musa spoke of the horrendous mistreatment of those traveling north through Africa. He said no man can make the journey without being beaten and no woman can make the journey without being raped. Musa himself was twice detained against his will by people smugglers, who treated him appallingly. He was lucky as he managed to escape. Many were not so fortunate. Their father was against them leaving as he thought it was too dangerous, a worry that was vindicated when Musa’s brother drowned during the crossing. Musa’s family call him every day to see how he is. They ask if he has enrolled in a school, got a job or found a home to stay in. He says he rarely answers these days as he cannot bring himself to tell his mother he is sleeping on the street.

So, alone and underage with no official papers or legal protection Musa is losing hope. He says he is not the same person he was when he left home; sometimes he simply collapses in the street and often cries. He has seen many who make the journey lose their mind and knows of several suicides amongst the refugee community here.

Downbeat after hearing this very tragic story, we spoke to one of the organisers of the protest, which several groups organised. They were members of a group called Accoglienza Degna, an association doing crucial humanitarian for migrants and refugees in Bologna. Accoglienza Degna roughly translates as “reception with dignity”, a knowing play on the word “reception” as so many of Italy’s migrant and reception centres are not fit for purpose. They told us they were based in the Làbas project which is situated on the edge of the old city of Bologna and consists of a huge collection of disused buildings in the west of the city which have been occupied. They offered to show us around later that evening.

We met our very friendly guides who explained the story of ex-Caserma Masini, the structure which Làbas occupies. The history of the building is as interesting as the projects that now take place there; anti-fascist patriots fighting against Mussolini were imprisoned here, one escaped but several did not and were killed within the walls. In more recent years it was a training facility for the police and military. In the cellar we came across several discarded military uniforms which we realised we had seen before in donations to refugees in Greece. For the last 20 years, the huge complex has been completely abandoned until activists occupied it four years ago. The building comprises of a veritable maze of colourfully graffitied basements, halls, stairwells, porticos, bathrooms, dormitories and offices spread out across assorted sized buildings surrounding a large courtyard.

The space is huge and although much of it still lies empty, there is still so much activity going on within the compound. Currently there are five houses worth of people living and working here on an amazing array of projects – a pizzeria, the Schiumarell Brewery, a carpentry workshop, a bicycle repair workshop, the ‘Place la Bimbi’ - a children’s play area and a community garden. We were lucky enough to turn up on a Wednesday when the space is opened to the general public for a local market with farmers selling food and drink, bookstalls, art and crafts, a bar, and a wide variety of fantastic live music. The money from selling drinks at the bar goes to fund Labas’ activities in the building. The event was well attended by Bologna’s young student population and many refugees and migrants in the city - we would definitely recommend a visit if you’re in the city during the week.

But the main project we were there to see was Accoglienza Degna. AD runs a free dormitory which currently houses 14 migrants/refugees, 13 of them men and one woman. They focus on smaller numbers so they can maintain the living standards that they do. Though with more volunteers, who knows how many people could be housed - there is certainly space within Làbas. The dormitory is open from 6 pm to 10 am as due to the building’s occupied nature, it is not normally open all day long unless there are enough volunteers to man the main gate at all times. Residents cook and clean together and as well as living quarters, AD’s section of Làbas also includes a well stocked library in many different languages, which is also used for conference space.

One of the problems with the way Italy structures its asylum centres is that people whose papers have expired - often through no fault of their own - are not allowed to stay in ‘official camps/spaces”. AD does not discriminate like this and as well as taking care of its 14 residents, it also offers a variety of other services. There are regular Italian classes which are offered two days a week at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels for both men and women and also a thrift shop where clothes, after being offered to the residents and others in need, are sold to the public at knockdown prices to help fund the project. Many of the clothes in AD’s storage were donated to victims of the earthquake in Italy last year. But perhaps most importantly, AD run a ‘Migrants’ Desk’ which is open to give help and advice about getting official documentation, health issues, job searches and more generally to help migrants with any practical issues whether they wish to move on from Bologna or begin a new life in the city.

But the future of Labas and AD is under threat. Last year, the local government who previously owned the building, sold it onto a cassa depositi e prestiti, an organisation which buys buildings and sells them onto private corporations. No one knows how long they could all be there; it could be one year, it could be ten years. This impacts on the way the building can be used. Members of AD and Labas would like to open the building for more days than just Wednesday, but it’s hard if they don’t have enough boots on the ground to ensure the security of the front gate and more importantly, enough volunteers to make sure the services offered run at a high standard. There are many rooms in good condition which could potentially be cleaned up, repaired and used to house more refugees and migrants or open up more projects for Italians and migrants alike, but uncertainty quells ambition.

One thing that is certain is the fantastic work that AD are doing to provide dignity to refugees and migrants in Bologna. The wider Làbas project is fascinating and one of the most well run ‘occupied’ buildings in all of Europe. Donations here are very well spent, which is why we gave them one. You can do to by using the following bank account to help them carry on doing what they do so well:

C/C Ya Basta Bologna, reference "Accoglienza Degna"

Banca Popolare Etica

IBAN: IT75 Z050 1802 4000 0000 0109 427

They may be in a position to take on volunteers in very near future - please contact their Facebook page for more information.

https://www.facebook.com/accoglienzadegna/?ref=br_rs

This is a fantastic project which deserves to survive and thrive - as well as supporting humanitarianism and refugee and migrant welfare, it’s also a fascinating showcase for collective entrepreneurship and social cohesion. We need more of it in the world.

If you want to donate to our trip, please do so by my PayPal peggywhitfield31@gmail.com and/or our crowdfunder

https://gogetfunding.com/refugeereliefroadtrip/


"We've Been Busy!"

Sharon Silvey   06.04.2017

Too busy to tell you about all the exciting things we are doing. 

 See here!

https://www.facebook.com/notes/refucomm/weve-been-busy/420271118324696

 


"REFUGEE ROAD TRIP UPDATE - with Sam part 2"

Peggy Whitfield   02.04.2017

Container Queens especially, please read :)

The story of our brief time in Milan begins as so many of these volunteer tales do; a flurry of messages between friends, acquaintances, friends of friends until you finally make contact with the person that can tell your everything you need to know. And more often than not, this person turns out to be a former refugee. In this case, the lovely Riad, who was to take us around the
Hub Project in Milan - even though he should have been tucking into a celebratory pizza for passing his driving test first time. Riad arrived in Italy three years ago and is one of the few Syrians we met who arrived by plane with a visa. He’s now settled in Milan and has a killer Italian accent and great command of the language, as well as being fluent in English and Arabic; basically the perfect guy to show us around.

The Hub is what it sounds like; a welcoming place, of non-judgment, where refugees in Milan can meet, socialise and access the things that they need, whether they have papers and are trying to settle in the city, or are continuing their journey elsewhere. The Hub is situated on the outskirts of the city underneath crumbling, but elegant railway arches. But the greyness of the environs belies the warmth of the people who work and volunteer here.

The Hub is made up of an interlinking series of large rooms underneath the arches. There is a large warehouse here - anyone who says that Italians are disorganised should come and look at how clothing, shampoo and toys are arranged here; it’s one of the most well-run warehouses we have ever set eyes on. Then there is a ticketed clothing distribution point, where refugees can collect the clothing that they need, whether the sun is shining or it’s wet and grey and drizzling.

There is another room with a children’s play area, a cafe serving amazing Italian coffee and snacks, along with a medical area with a well stocked pharmacy and friendly Arabic speaking doctors, as well as a small IT lab with several computers where people can access the internet. There is also a restaurant area where refugees are served hot, delicious and nutritious food, with good music and a really great ambience. Many refugees volunteer here as well as locals - we really liked hanging out there.

But perhaps the most impressive space at the Hub is the sleeping quarters. Behind the main public arches is a sleeping area which offers shelter to up to 400 hundred people, for up to ten days at a time, regardless of what their legal status is. On the grey and cold and wet day that we visited, we realised what a lifeline this was for people who may but shut out of more official structures for various reasons.


The Hub is run by Progetto Arca, an Italian organisation which operates in several Italian cities, helping refugees and poor and homeless members of the Italian community - it doesn’tdiscriminate, it just helps those who need it. Riad is part of a group of volunteers called SOSERM who support the Hub as well as various other projects in the city. Their main duties in this project are to provide tea and snacks, as well as gap filling where needed. They also often payfor monthly travel passes for refugees choosing to settle in Milan, so they can access the services they need, without having to dip into the 75 euro monthly stipend issued by the government.


Sam and I both felt that this is the type of project that should be replicated across Europe - we were really, really impressed with the simplicity of what the Hub was trying to achieve, but the skill that it was executed with and what a massive impact it had on so many people’s lives.

Bravo!

We were also made to feel so welcome and we met lots of interesting people and activists who work their socks off to make the project successful, but also took the time to give us helpful information about fantastic projects in other Italian cities. We really want to thank everyone we met for helping us so much, being so friendly and plying us with fantastic coffee!

One thing that struck us - and this is something that would continue to come to our minds elsewhere in Italy - is how the project was entirely reliant on Italian support, whether donations of goods or money. The only ‘foreign’ shipments the Hub gets are from Switzerland. We couldn’t help but feel that there are lots of people further afield in Europe who would be happy to support
great projects like this.

If you want to volunteer or make a donation to SOS ERM, please contact their FB page https://www.facebook.com/soserm/


If you want to donate to Progetto Arca, please do so through their website - Italian only! https://www.progettoarca.org/

But volunteers and staff were keen to tell us that they really need more clothing donations, specifically they are always short of men’s clothing - size S/M - and men’s socks and underwear. They have the space and capacity to receive large deliveries, so where are all our containe people at? Contact me if you can help in this way, the aid really will be well-managed and go to a
good home
:)

So we reluctantly said “Ciao” from Milan and move onwards into the rain of the Italian lakes. We made a donation to SOS ERM to help them pay for travel costs for refugees in Milan, so thank you to everyone who has donated for making that possible. We have some great projects lined up to visit and we need your continued support to help us help them!

You can donate here! https://gogetfunding.com/refugeereliefroadtrip/

Grazie mille!


"REFUGEE ROAD TRIP UPDATE - with Sam part 3"

Peggy Whitfield   02.04.2017

 Let us tell you about the parable of Don Justo. It’s one of the best ones, we promise.

This is a story about the power of faith. Even though we don’t believe. We live in times where the core of the major Abrahamic religions are being abused and misused to prop up tyranny, to justify war crimes and to excuse terror and death. It’s easy to forget that every single day, humble men and women of faith practise what they preach. And Don Justo is one of these people.

He arrived in Lake Como, Italy, six years ago from Cameroon and one of the first things he did was open up his church and buildings to the men, women and children who had braved the watery graveyard of the Mediterranean to search for refuge in Europe. Whatever their legal status, nationality, religion, sexuality or backstory, it didn’t - and doesn’t - matter. Don Justo offers refuge. We had heard about his project several months ago and it topped our list of projects to visit on our trip.

We arrived on a foggy, grey day and were welcomed by Desi and Georgia, mother and daughter from Como who have been volunteering with Don Justo’s project for a long time. We were immediately struck by how peaceful and welcoming the project felt. We also felt like we were in a London tube carriage - so many nationalities! Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Syria, Morocco, Italy, Peru and countless other far-flung places are represented here.

People under the care of Don Justo are very well looked after. Everyone who arrives here or is referred is interviewed by a volunteer so they can help refugees in the best way possible. Minors are referred elsewhere and victims of sex trafficking are offered a place of refuge with another specialised project - both groups are sadly commonplace. There is space for 70 people to sleep within the walls of Don Justo’s property and everyone here is helped to access the medical care that they need. Rarely for this kind of project, legal support is offered - both of us wish that NGOs and volunteers paid more attention to this area as it can often be life-changing. Whatever stage of the process a person is at, they can be referred to get the advice that they need.

But support here is also practical - clothes and wash products are distributed and snacks are provided - other restaurants in Como provide meals during the day. But every evening, local volunteers, residents and refugees cook together to prepare a meal for anyone who wants to join them. It’s a very Italian opportunity to communicate, socialise and learn over eating really good food. We don’t think that we have ever sat down with so many different nationalities in our lives - we learned about Neil Armstrong’s love of ceviche from a Peruvian, the joys of whiskey from a Bangladeshi, how to dress from an Italian and how to ride a camel correctly from some Moroccans. And this was all before coffee!

One thing that struck us was how well integrated residents seemed - such good Italian! Some residents of the project have found employment and Don Justo helps them pay the rent for the first year, to make the transition easier. Integration is helped by the fact that Italians from across the country sit down and eat dinner with Don Justo and the residents every night. It’s really valuable and a lesson that other countries and projects would do well to learn from.

All of this is in sharp contrast with the Red Cross ‘camp’ less than a kilometre down the road. Volunteers or locals are forbidden entry, but people who have been inside say that containers made for four are now crammed with up to eight people. There are no activities or facilities in the camp and if the authorities know that residents of the camp wish to leave to attend activities elsewhere in Como, they are forbidden from leaving. Instead of making life better for people there, the Swiss Red Cross, the prefecture and Caritas are just in an ongoing battle over who has overall control and the residents suffer. The camp has been open for a mere six months but, like many official structures, seems to be failing before it even begins.

An outsider may think that a project like Don Justo is running would be well received. Alas, this isn’t necessarily the case. Even though Como is a very rich place, because last summer refugees were sleeping out in the railway station, many powerful locals just want to wish away the ‘problem’ of refugees passing through or living in their town. Don Justo’s project is entirely run on donations and needs help. More recently, the fascist Italian Northern League party has been making problems for Don Justo and the residents. Their most recent attempt to try and shut them down came from Como’s first and only health and safety inspection of the community kitchen. They passed with flying colours, but this certainly won’t be the last time they try.

Both of us feel this is one of the best projects we have come across during our time working in this crisis and Don Justo and his volunteers need all the help and support they can get. We made a substantial donation and we would love it if you or anyone you know would do the same. More coverage and volunteers could help raise European consciousness about what Don Justo is achieving here. Financial donations would help to safeguard their future - as any Italian will tell you, utility bills are astronomical here and a big proportion of donations goes to paying for essentials such as heat, water and light. Please make a donation and if you are friendly with any church groups, please encourage them to help on a more ongoing basis. If you would like to make a donation to Don Justo, then please contact Sam or I for IBAN details.

Local volunteers fully expect the numbers of people travelling through Como, especially minors, to rise during the summer months - last summer around 500 people were camped out in appalling conditions in the railway station. With this in mind, local volunteers are planning on opening a shelter for minors in the next month or so. If you would like to donate to this cause or obtain more information, please contact me and I can put you in touch with one of the organisers, the lovely Ale Galli, who was our Como guide and is an all round lovely human being and excellent volunteer.

We are really reluctant to leave Como, even though there has been torrential rain since we arrived, but it’s time to hit the road again and find out more about the incredibly work that Italians are doing to help their newest and most vulnerable arrivals.

Ciao for now, and if you want to donate to our crowdfunder to help us help great projects continue their fantastic work across Europe, you can do so here :) https://gogetfunding.com/refugeereliefroadtrip/