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Case Study Refugees Welcome

Refugees welcome?

9 September 2015

A few months ago (April 2015) we explored the issue of ‘migrants lost at sea’. As more and more people are fleeing war and persecution (September 2015) the issue has become much more pressing, at least for countries in Europe (for countries in North Africa and the Middle East it has been a pressing issue for a long time).

So we feel it’s now time to present more useful links, teaching ideas and suggestions for ways to take action.

You could start off a lesson by watching, listening to, or singing this song, ‘Refuge’ (music and lyrics by Howard Goodall) which reflects on what it’s like to be an outsider, and to offer help and safety.

What’s happening?

According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, so far this year over 300,000 people have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean, and over 2,600 have died in the attempt.

The heart-rending photo of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a beach in Turkey after he had drowned, featured in many news stories around the globe. It brought home the real trauma that people are having to go through in their efforts to find safety.

On 7 September 2015, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. France is taking 24,000 refugees over the next two years; in Germany some 18,000 people arrived over this past weekend alone (source: BBC News).

One idea for a Citizenship lesson could be for students to consider what influenced the UK government to change their policy on taking in refugees from Syria. Was it the photo of Aylan Kurdi or campaigns on social media such as #refugeeswelcome and the petition for more support to refugees, or pressure from other European states?

Where have people come from, and why?

BBC News:EU Migration: Crisis in graphics shows in numbers, charts and maps where people have come from, which countries they are arriving in, and which countries provide asylum.

These two ‘factpod’ clips by Hans Rosling explain the barriers people face in applying for asylum before they travel, and which countries currently host the most refugees from Syria:

UNHCR:Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response – Mediterranean useful maps and data showing the current situation.

For primary-aged pupils, CBBC Newsround has quite a few news articles for children around the issue:

What’s happening in Syria? This provides information about why people are trying to leave Syria and includes clips of children talking about their lives since the war began.

There is also a short film clip: Why are migrants risking their lives to reach Europe? and another series of clips: Why do child migrants want to come to the UK?

How to describe them: migrants, refugees, people?

“This is a primarily refugee crisis, not only a migration phenomenon.”
(UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres)

“The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.”
(A note on terminology, from the BBC website)

UNHCR:‘Refugee’ or ‘migrant’? Which is right?

Al Jazeera:When it comes to refugees, terminology matters

BBC:The battle over the words used to describe migrants

Channel4 (Lindsey Hilsum):Migrants or refugees: what’s the right word?

Guardian:We deride them as ‘migrants’. Why not call them people?

Perhaps you could discuss in class the words that have been used, and what these words mean. Not just ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’, but describing groups of humans as ‘swarms’ or ‘floods’, or comparing them to insects or vermin. Why do people use these words? What impact does it have? Students could explore ways in which specific groups of people have been ‘dehumanised’ through use of language, for example in Nazi Germany or during the genocide in Rwanda.

Refugees in Britain’s history

Britain has previously been a country welcoming to refugees, as the links below will show. How many students or teachers in your class or school have refugees – or migrants – in their ancestry?

Buzzfeed:7 moments in history when the UK welcomed refugees – from the Huguenots in the 16th-18th centuries to the Kosovan refugees in the 1990s.

International Business Times:A reminder of Britain’s long history of welcoming refugees – some excellent photos of refugees coming to Britain from 1922 to the present day.

Facing History And Ourselves has written a blog, Echoes of the Past: The Current Refugee Crisis in Europe which compares today’s treatment of refugees with similar times before, during and after World War II and offers up some questions to consider in class.

What is life like in a refugee camp?

Refugee Republic is an amazingly detailed interactive website that lets you explore life in Domuz Camp, a Syrian refugee camp in northern Iraq, home to around 64,000 predominantly Kurdish Syrian refugees. It includes lots of photos, sound recordings and life stories.

How would you feel if war came to your home?

Save The Children recently ran an awareness-raising campaign called What if Surrey were Syria? They used hidden cameras to record how the public reacted to a series of events unimaginable in the UK but sadly commonplace in Syria. Standard services were temporarily cut off, leaving Surrey residents under the illusion that they had no access to food, school and medical care.

The YouTube clip Hidden Cameras Capture Horror shows people’s reactions, and in Hidden Cameras: Behind the scenes, people reflect on how they reacted, and empathise with people caught up in war.

What’s it like to flee your home?

The following links may help make refugees’ desperate journeys a bit more ‘real’ for students:

Guardian:Passport, lifejacket, lemons – what Syrian refugees pack for the crossing to Europe

Quartz:What Syrian refugees carry in their bags as they leave their lives behind

Vice:We asked some refugees for the stories behind their smartphone backgrounds

New York Times Magazine:Desperate Crossing – a hard-hitting, interactive piece of photo-journalism following a boatload of refugees rescued in the Mediterranean.

BBC:Syrian Journey: Choose your own escape route – an interactive journey to explore the dilemmas refugees face. Includes links to survivors’ stories.

British Red Cross:Over, Under, Sideways, Down – an online ‘graphic novel’ telling the story of Ebrahim who left Iran as a teenage refugee.

DocAcademy:Moving to Mars – documentary film about how two Burmese refugee families manage when they move out of a refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border to a new life in Sheffield. Includes Key Stage 3 lesson plans.

Take action

As well as learning more about the issue of refugee crisis, you and your pupils might want to consider what action you can take on the issue.

Taking action, and then reviewing the effects of the action, is also a great way to learn, and can help pupils to consider what agency they have as individuals and groups on global issues.

Below are suggestions for a range of actions – if you can think of others, why not tell everyone about them in the comments box below?

– A symbolic action:

Refugee Action:Help send #2000flowers – posting flower photos via social media in memory of 2,000 refugees who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean this year, and calling on the British and European governments to protect those forced to flee.

– Petitions / Writing to your MP:

Refugee Action:Let’s give refugees another way to safety – petition calling for increased resettlement places and action on tackling the root causes of the refugee crisis through diplomacy and aid.

Amnesty International: Safe passage to protection in the EU – petition to EU leaders (delivered July 2015).

You can find contact details for your local MP by inputting your postcode at: www.theyworkforyou.com.

– Practical help / donations:

Project Paddington encourages schoolchildren to donate a teddy bear to a refugee child, as well as sponsorship money which will buy other essential items for refugees. Read more here: Facebook campaign delivers bear essentials for refugee children (ITV News).

Guardian:Refugee crisis – what you can do to help

Pri:How to help Syrian refugees? These 6 groups you may not know are doing important work

– If you have – or expect to have – refugees in your school:

Headteacher Update:Supporting refugees in your school community

You could consider joining Schools of Sanctuary

– Raising awareness:

Although this issue is at the front of many people’s minds, how much do students and your school community really know? Students could create a display, write an article for a school newsletter or blog for your school website to share facts and stories about refugees and what they are doing to help.

Further teaching resources

You could browse through the resources in our database on the topic of migration and refugees. Or check out our earlier page on this issue, Migrants lost at sea for additional links and images.

The Refugee Week website carries a good range of videos, stories and classroom resources.

The UNHCR website has section with Educational Resources for Teachers.

British Council:Syria: Third Space uses work by Syrian artists to explore conflict. And Living together: refugee is a teaching pack exploring refugee issues.

CAFOD: Refugee Crisis in Europe – fact sheet, presentation, Q&A and other resources for schools and youth groups.

Geographical Association:Teaching about refugees and migration – a range of ideas and resources

Oxfam:Background information and activities for schools on Syria

Letterbox Library has a list of books that explore refugee and migration issues.

Development Education Centre South Yorkshire (DECSY) has produced a list of story books relating to refugees (Word docx) – these can be used as P4C stimulus or just generally.

The Morningside Center:Teachable Instant: Refugee Crisis – a perspective from the US.

The photos used to illustrate this piece are by Franz Ferdinand Photography on Flickr.com and show volunteers ready to welcome refugees from Syria in Frankfurt/Main, Germany on 5 September 2015. See more in the album ‘Train of Hope’.

Thanks to Isobel Mitchell and other GLP-e National Leads for help in compiling this page!

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By Debora MacKenzie

A PICTURE really is worth a thousand words. For more than a year, world news has reported desperate refugees, most from war-torn Syria, dying in their attempts to reach Europe. Most governments refused to let them in.

That changed last week with the photo of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, dead on a beach in Turkey after a boat taking his family to Greece capsized. Now Europeans are demanding more help for asylum seekers. EU governments had agreed to resettle only 32,000 across Europe; on Monday 14 September they will debate upping that to 160,000.

Already this year 362,000 illegal migrants have arrived in Europe and thousands continue to pour in, says the International Organisation for Migration. An estimated 80 per cent are refugees from violence; Europe is legally obliged to give them asylum.

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Yet Europe – and the rest of the world – are giving precious little. Researchers who study human migration say countries offer two reasons: fear that letting in some refugees will encourage more, and that migrants will be an economic burden. Yet the evidence shows both beliefs are false.

The EU’s asylum laws were designed in the 1990s to handle small numbers of people. They don’t necessarily require people to stay in the first country they arrive at – where the fingerprints of refugees are held in the EU’s Eurodac database, says Madeline Garlick of the Migration Policy Institute Europe. But countries apply that rule, she says, because it is an administratively easy way to grant refugee status.

That means thousands of people have accumulated in squalid camps in Greece, Italy and Hungary. A 2001 directive empowers the EU to bypass this system and admit asylum seekers rapidly in cases of “mass influx”. In July, EU member states used it to agree a voluntary plan to relocate 32,000 people stranded in Italy and Greece, roughly according to the receiving country’s size, GDP, unemployment rate, and how many refugees it has already.

Apart from that, the EU has never used its emergency plan, says Garlick, because “member states fear this will be a pull factor for other people from the same country”. Observers say this is why the UK refuses migrants who have already entered Europe – it would encourage more to come. “No existing sound research substantiates the political claim that giving people asylum in Europe stimulates more flow,” says Alexander Betts, head of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. “Nearly all refugees want to go home. They don’t sit in refugee camps calculating where they can get the best benefits.”

“Nearly all refugees want to go home. They don’t sit in camps calculating where the best benefits are”

“There is no evidence of a pull factor,” agrees Ian Goldin, head of the Oxford Martin School on global challenges. “If you halved the risk of death, would that make more come? Desperate people don’t make that calculation.”

Any pull is insignificant compared to push – such as the ever-increasing hardship in Middle-Eastern refugee camps, Goldin says.

One EU country seems unfazed: Germany says it can take 800,000 asylum seekers this year. It counts on immigrants to replenish its ageing workforce and the EU’s emergency asylum rules say resettled refugees can legally work. Germany had 200,000 more deaths than births in 2012, more than compensated by 391,000 immigrants. In contrast, UK prime minister David Cameron bowed to public pressure and this week said the country would take just 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

Even without a worker shortage, migrants needn’t be a burden. On 4 September the World Bank, the UN’s International Labour Organization and the OECD club of rich countries issued a report concluding that “in most countries migrants pay more in taxes and social contributions than they receive.”

In a study last year, researchers at University College London found both European and non-European immigrants to the UK more than pay their way. Non-Europeans living in the UK since 1995 brought £35 billion worth of education with them. Those who arrived between 2000 and 2011 were less likely than native Brits to be on state benefits, and no more likely to live in social housing. Unlike natives, they contributed a net £5 billion in taxes during that period.

That is partly because most migrants are young and need relatively little in the way of benefits. Their economic impact approaches that of natives as they age and assimilate. But the positive effect can be substantial: Carlos Vargas-Silva of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford reported this year that letting in 260,000 immigrants a year could halve the UK’s public debt 50 years from now. “There are more than a dozen good studies now that point to a net positive effect of migrants on the economy,” says Goldin.

“A dozen good studies now point to a net positive effect of migrants on the economy”

“Most data shows the economic impact is generally positive,” agrees Betts, especially when immigrants are well educated, as most Syrians are. “Unlike ordinary migrants, refugees didn’t choose to come,” says Betts, potentially making their impact slightly different.. But that means they will go home if they can, or if not, adapt like other migrants.

“There can be local negative effects on jobs, but that can be managed,” says Betts. For example minimum wages can stop immigrants undercutting locals.

Some studies show migrants create jobs for locals, says Mathias Czaika of the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford. “An influx of migrants can depress wages, but mostly for other migrants, and only 1 to 3 per cent. Mostly the impact on wages or jobs is neutral or positive.”

Germany has no doubts. “Every euro we spend on training migrants is a euro to avoid a shortage of skilled labour,” German state governments declared last week. Otherwise, they say, they would have to spend more on benefits, as the labour shortage hurts industry and jobs.

So why do doors stay shut elsewhere? The reasons, say the researchers, are not economic, but fear of the cultural impact of foreigners. In August, for example, Slovakia said it would take only Christian Syrians.

But Europe will have to learn how to deal with cultural differences, and get its asylum rules in order, because more refugees are coming. The situation for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon is worsening, so more may be forced to look elsewhere, says Betts. “They and other countries with large numbers of refugees, like Kenya, need more help, or the entire refugee regime will collapse.”

Climate triggered the crisis in Syria, so the world must brace itself for more climate refugees in the years to come.

Read more: “Refugee crisis: Why one boy’s tragedy created a wave of empathy”

Smartphone lifeline

Read more:Click here to read more about how technology is helping refugees

Smartphones have become the new vital survival tool for many who have left Syria. Some say they relied on their phone’s GPS to navigate the thousands of kilometres into Europe.

For example, The International Rescue Committee (IRC) documented one man’s trip from Aleppo in Syria to Hamburg, Germany, as he travelled by ferry, train, taxi, and foot. Throughout the two-month journey, he said, GPS helped guide the way.

In addition, Facebook groups offer critical advice for those thinking of fleeing or already on the road. Some groups help connect traffickers with their clientele. Those travelling on their own can look up how-to guides written by others who’ve made it. One refugee showed a reporter at Public Radio International a video explaining, step-by-step, how to get across the Serbian-Hungarian border. Others post real-time updates about what areas are safe to travel through – where water is safe to drink, for example.

Last week, when one group boarded a train that appeared to be bound for the Austrian border but then stopped in the town of Bicske, those with phones posted warnings to those still waiting in Budapest.

“It’s imperative that the people in the midst of it have access to communication so they can tell their story of what’s happening,” says Kate Coyer, director of the Civil Society and Technology Project at Central European University in Budapest.

Meanwhile, social networks like WhatsApp also provide a critical link to family members left behind. Aviva Rutkin

Citizen support

For the Syrian refugees at Budapest station, charging a phone can be tricky. There’s one outlet in the train station, another in the nearby migration aid offices, a few power lines offered up by satellite news trucks on the scene. Local businesses are a gamble – some have started charging high prices for the privilege of plugging a phone in.

So since last week, Kate Coyer of the Civil Society and Technology Project at Central European University in Budapest and her colleagues have been plugging power strips into the area’s few available public outlets, so more people can use them.

For internet, the group turns volunteers into walking Wi-Fi beacons. For about $100, you can pick up ready to use Wi-Fi hotspot and prepaid SIM cards, pop it all into someone’s backpack, and send them out into the crowd. The networks last for about 6 hours on one charge, and can support around a dozen users at a time.

Online, other concerned citizens have found ways to help. The blog Refugees Welcome Pad compiles useful information including health brochures, asylum laws and missing persons reports. It’s now enlisting helpers online to translate documents into Arabic and Farsi.

Another site, also named Refugees Welcome, bills itself as “Airbnb for refugees”. There, German citizens willing to share their homes or sponsor a month’s worth of rent can connect with people who need somewhere to stay.

The creators of the site are now working with volunteers from around the world, including the UK, to set up similar services in their home countries. Iceland residents launched their own initiative to offer homes or services last week: a Facebook group named “Syria is calling”.

One man, who fled Syria for Turkey, even launched an app for fellow refugees. Gherbetna offers step-by-step help with government forms and maintains a list of job ads and friendly businesses. On a forum, the newly arrived can post more specific requests for help. Aviva Rutkin

The toll of travelling

Read more:Click here to read more about refugee health

Treat body and mind (Image: Hermann Bredehorst/Polaris/eyevine)

The refugees’ arduous journeys to Europe follow years of upheaval and compromised healthcare. So Europe’s health services will be treating a complex combination of physical and psychological problems as the new arrivals settle in.

Diarrhoea, gastrointestinal problems and respiratory infections can be common, and children who have been unable to get all their vaccinations may be vulnerable to diseases like measles.

But refugees also suffer a range of chronic, non-communicable conditions. A UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) study from 2013 found that Syrians arriving at camps outside their country’s borders had high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.

On top of all this, people who’ve had to squat in cramped conditions during their journey may find it difficult to walk once they reach their destination.

“They also suffer skin problems such as sunburn and exposure to salt if they’ve travelled by sea,” says Sharuna Verghis, co-founder and director of the Health Equity Initiative, a charity based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Mental trauma

Of those arriving in Europe from war zones, many have already endured years of physical and mental trauma. “This means they’re already carrying a considerable burden in terms of mental health issues,” says Verghis.

This can include panic attacks and mood disorders, she says, and can be exacerbated by uncertainties over a person’s legal status once they reach a safer country. The UNHCR study found that 21.6 per cent of Syrians in a refugee camp in Jordan had generalised anxiety disorders, while 8.5 per cent had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Health workers are advised to take into account the mental health of the refugees they treat. People who have experienced serious, persistent worries about their safety may be suffering from nightmares and flashbacks, and may find it hard to trust those trying to help them.

Safe, supportive environments will be needed to provide the best possible care. Women who have suffered sexual violence may be reluctant to tell doctors about their experiences and medical needs for fear of stigmatisation.

Verghis says identifying exceptionally vulnerable people, including those who are disabled or have been tortured, should be a priority. But first, she says, basic facilities must be provided for refugees while their needs are being assessed in their new countries – toilets and food, as well as sanitary towels for women, and diapers for babies. Andy Coghlan

This article will appear in print under the headline “Refugees welcome: the numbers add up”

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