Guest Blog – A Refugee Just Like You or Me by Angela Gorman

Labour Party

 

 

Angela Gorman sings in a choir in South London. One of her fellow choir members talked to Angela about the work they were doing in Greece to help migrants. Inspired by her friends’ work with Kos Solidarity http://www.kos-solidarity.com/ Angela took a week’s annual leave to go and help. I am proud to have the opportunity to publish Angela’s observations on her life changing week. Here is her blog:

 

I felt that I needed to write about my recent life changing experience. I spent one week ( that felt like a month) volunteering for Kos Solidarity on the Greek island of Kos, very close to the Turkish coast.

I will never forget seeing people of all ages, arriving at our volunteer station near the harbour at night, shivering and in shock, with only the street lights to help us to see them and let them breathe out when they realised we were there to help. We gave them dry clothes, blankets, water and biscuits. There were children to help change to dry clothes, because the parents hands were too cold to work properly. There was wet hair to dry, cuts to tend to and little by way of rest places, only the concrete curb on which we would lay a blanket, if we had them to spare.

Because of another charitable effort, we were able to place most families in a local hotel, and if they were without means, that would be free of charge with free meals for a couple of days. So I got to meet several families and help them in different ways.

The Syrian father Hassan, travelling only with his 3yr old daughter. I noticed that she was very shy, and unlike the other children, she would not make eye contact for long, and would not smile. I’m not trained in counselling anyone, let alone children that have come from a warzone. It was so sad to see her like that. Hassan told me she missed her mother and brothers who were back in Syria, and that she couldn’t sleep well. Thankfully, the next day when I led a walking convoy of around 20 adults and 10 children from the hotel to the old town square for a clown show, they both came along. During the show, we both saw his daughter smile, a big genuine smile. And in his broken English, Hassan told me that was her first smile in 8 weeks.

An Iranian couple and their daughter were so grateful for my help, they invited me to join them for a bit of food. We ‘talked’ using google translate, about their lives. He an Electrician and she a Beautician with a degree in architecture! They had to leave their home, car, jobs because the husband was a Christian, and was at risk of being hung. How odd that the enormity of this knowledge was then contrasted by playing some Michael Jackson videos on YouTube and seeing their faces light up as they’d never seen these and rarely heard the music. The wife danced with me….there was joy in the room ! I’ll be keeping in touch with them.

I helped another couple by taking their sickly baby to the local hospital one evening, when the tent with MSF Doctors was no longer open. The hospital of an evening in Kos town was severely understaffed, with one Doctor seeing her way through the crowed corridor of patients. Eventually, with some insistence, I got them to assess the baby and all ended up fine. Again, a very polite and unassuming family, just wanting safety and a better future for themselves.

There was a young man from Syria, staring out over the sea one day. I asked if he was ok to discover he spoke English well. He had left Syria to live in Lebanon 5 years earlier and told me all his family were in Syria but he could not return. I knew this meant he would be killed if he did. Perhaps he had been active in opposition to Assad ? He missed his family terribly. I found myself trying to give him reassurance that he could build a good life and that his family would be proud of him.

Every refugee I met had the same human emotions as you and me, hopes and fears, joy and pain. But they had seen and felt so much horror and pain, and were grateful to be alive and safe.

How long can this continue where heartless people smugglers are profiting from this desperation to leave war zones and oppression ? How many people like you and me should die or suffer unnecessarily?

Boats

Discarded dinghies in Kos harbour which have up to 60 people crammed into them by smugglers.

 

Children

Refugee children have some moments of joy watching volunteer clowns from Sweden.

Tents Donated tents line the edge of Kos Harbour to house refugees.

 

Angela Gorman blogs at https://gormanangela1.wordpress.com/ where you can find more photographs

Details of the charity Angela worked with Kos Solidarity can be found here http://www.kos-solidarity.com/

 

European Parliament calls for a humanitarian conference on the Syrian refugee crisis

Labour Party

The EU should convene a humanitarian conference aimed at helping Syria’s neighbouring countries to cope with the still-growing influx of refugees. The European Parliament passed a resolution yesterday urging the EU to continue providing humanitarian aid and support to refugees and to guarantee them safe entry and access to fair asylum procedures in the EU.

The humanitarian conference on the Syrian refugee crisis should explore ways to help refugee host countries in the region (in particular Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq) to cope with still-growing refugee populations and to keep their borders open to all Syrian refugees. Thousands of Syrians flee to neighbouring countries every day and the UN forecasts that 3.5 million refugees will have left Syria by the end of 2013. Besides humanitarian aid, the conference should also focus on strengthening the EU’s role and involvement in diplomatic efforts to help end the conflict in Syria.

Speaking for the European Commission in the debate, Commissioner Barnier agreed to the organisation of such a conference. With the European Parliament and the European Commission in agreement, the proposed action should become a reality. 

The European Parliament called on the EU, as the largest humanitarian aid donor in the Syrian crisis, to “continue its generous funding” to meet the needs of the Syrian people, including safe entry for refugees and solidarity with EU countries under pressure. Member states should explore all existing EU laws and procedures to provide a safe entry into the EU to temporarily admit Syrians fleeing their country. MEPs welcomed the general consensus among EU member states that Syrian nationals should not be returned.

The Parliament maintained that refugees should have “access to fair and efficient asylum procedures” in the EU, and reiterated the need for more solidarity among member states with those facing particular pressure to receive refugees.

Parliament, however, pointed out that “member states are required to come to the assistance of migrants at sea”, and called on those which have failed to abide by their international obligations to stop turning back boats with migrants on board.

EU countries are encouraged to make full use of money to be made available from the Asylum and Migration Fund and the Preparatory Action to “Enable the resettlement of refugees during emergency situations”.

The resolution encouraged EU countries “to address acute needs through resettlement”, in addition to existing national quotas and through humanitarian admission.

MEPs also made it clear that the possible influx of refugees into EU member states required “responsible measures“, say MEPs and called on the EU Commission together with member states to work on contingency planning, including the possibility of applying the Temporary Protection Directive, “if and when conditions demand it”. Under this 2001 directive, which so far has never been triggered, refugees would be granted a residence permit for the entire duration of the protection period, as well as access to employment and accommodation.

Labour MEPs call for an end to the conflict in Syria

Labour Party

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Ashton, told the European Parliament earlier today that Europe should be working towards a political solution to the conflict in Syria. During a key debate on the situation there, she advocated getting rid of the chemical weapons and ending the terrible conflict. 

Although acknowledging that the threat of military intervention had achieved some results, Cathy Ashton made it quite clear that this was not the path to walk down now.

Richard Howitt MEP, Labour’s Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament joined the debate saying, “The events of the last 24 hours mean we are not debating the provenance of chemical weapons but the provenance of their disposal.

“The credibility of the Russian offer will now depend on the validity of the decommissioning process. For me that means it being undertaken within a United Nations framework and in the context of a UN resolution which enables the international community to coalesce towards ending all crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.”

Readers of this blog will recall the Labour Party concluded that David Cameron had failed to make the case for military action. Yes, of course, lessons had to be learnt from Iraq. However, this week’s events in Syria demonstrate the foolishness of prematurely ending the work of the weapons inspectors.

Richard has also made it clear that decommissioning must happen and happen properly.  All crimes against humanity must end and the work of the weapons inspectors must continue. The prospect of military action stopped necessary humanitarian assistance but Baroness Ashton has now made it clear that she regards it as very important to continue with EU aid.

Our ambition must remain to prevent chemical attacks but at one and the same time to secure peace. I fully support this and hope that the conflict in Syria will be resolved quickly and judiciously.