Refugees, Le Pen & Polls

By Megan Evershed

On the first day I went to go visit the refugees, there was a dead bird desiccating on the pavement outside of their apartment building. I turned to Lili, the girl who I was volunteering with, and made a face at her.

Before getting on the bus to a part of town I had never been to before, we had been given strict instructions not to give the refugees our phone number, not to tell anyone else in the apartment complex what we were doing there, and to keep a low profile. Needless to say, I was nervous and the rotting bird corpse was not helping my peace of mind. Nonetheless, we rang the doorbell to their apartment and were buzzed through the door.

Climbing four flights of stairs, I didn’t know what to expect. I had signed up to Interagir on a whim. I had never had any experience working with social justice issues, but I felt that I needed to do something to get outside of my campus bubble. Now here I was, notebook in hand, heart in my mouth, knocking on the door.

In 2016, there were 85,244 applicants seeking asylum in France. Out of these, there were 18,555 people claiming refugee status. The majority of these refugees are from Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Syria. About 150 of those with refugee status have settled in Champagne-Ardenne. Noor and Mustafa and their two daughters are four of these refugees, and are the family who I work with.

Over the nine months I worked with them, they quickly became staple figures in my life. Noor welcomed us each week with a warm “Bienvenue,” Mustafa following with a jolly “Ça va?” As we built up a friendship with them, they became more comfortable with us. Noor would pray in the room while we were there, which Lili and I took as a profound display of trust. We would talk about laïcité in France, the upset Noor felt at having to remove her hijab to take a government photo, and the strange looks they got from neighbors.

In a country where Islamophobia and xenophobia have gripped the ongoing presidential election, the wariness Noor and Mustafa’s neighbors felt upon a Syrian family moving in next door isn’t that surprising. France has been in a state of emergency since late 2015 when the Paris attacks took place, and terrorism and immigration have been central topics in tabacs, kitchens, and cafes ever since then. Marine LePen, presidential candidate for the Front National, has made crushing terrorism a vital part of her platform. And the French are responding to her calls.

In a historical election where none of the mainstream political parties were elected to the second round, it’s safe to say she’s gotten her message through. The vote followed the death of a policeman on the Champs Elysées, who was killed by an “Isil-inspired” French national. Following the news of the attack, Le Pen called for the reinstitution of border checks and the expulsion of foreigners who are on watch lists. Many of her critics feared the attack would increase her voting percentage in the first round, which she passed with 21.7% of the vote.

In fact, she seems to be increasing her popularity. On April 27th, Presitrack recorded that Marine Le Pen would likely garner 41% of the vote in the second round, which was up one percent from just the day before. It’s plausible that with the intense atmosphere of xenophobia already bubbling in France, Le Pen’s percentages could grow before the May 7th voting date.

Of course, it’s not just France where we’ve seen presidential candidates capitalizing on fear and Islamophobia. In Trump’s America, where two travels bans have been passed and the government is attempting to fulfill the campaign promise of banning all Muslims, we need openness more than ever. I have lived in the US for ten years and became a green card holder only a few years ago. The first travel ban included a restriction on the entry of green card holders. Going to school in France, it struck me that if I came from Iran instead of the UK, I wouldn’t be allowed to go home.

More importantly, however, a family like Noor and Mustafa’s would not able to seek refuge in a country purportedly devoted to liberty and welcoming the “huddled masses.” For the sake of Noor and Mustafa, I hope we won’t see a repeat of the US presidential election. They’ve already suffered enough, and having Le Pen in the Palais Elysée would be an insult to their struggle.

The Price of Eviction

By Anton Mukhamedov

It might come as a surprise to those who are aware of the abominable living conditions at the Calais refugee camp that both the refugees and the associations of the Calais camp currently oppose the government’s plan to dismantle the slum. After all, isn’t living in a cold tent on the muddy ground, in constant fear of violence and epidemics unspeakably worse than being offered a place at a government-run centre?

On the first of October, a demonstration mainly directed against the plan to clear the area and redistribute all of the current refugees within the French regions took place. After a visit from several presidential candidates who—of course—shared the stratagems which would have surely allowed them to fix the situation, it was François Hollande’s turn to come to Calais and confirm the imminent eviction.

To provide some context, the camp or, as it is often referred to, “the Jungle,” is home to about 10,000 migrants and asylum seekers according to the latest census. At least a thousand of them are unaccompanied children, often suffering from severe trauma at a place where too few (and sometimes no) qualified specialists are available. It is an inhospitable place, where people regularly disappear, some die on roads while trying to catch a lorry going to England, and where you are daily woken up by teargas. It is also a self-managing small town and community, where cafés, restaurants, and churches of different faiths have been constructed from scratch by refugees and volunteers.

The overwhelming presence of strangers in a place, which—for lack of anything better—still serves as a home to many, produces a strong illusion of visibility and coverage from all sides. Meanwhile, the divergent opinions formed by the citizens of Calais, regular volunteers, occasional journalists, and politicians paint a contradictory picture. The constantly present divisions of the French riot police only adds to this image.

We avoid the frustrating reality of the “refugee crisis” by believing that any general approach, preconceived notion of a solution, or an attempt at objectivity is simply inapplicable when dealing with the deeply personal reality of those indefinitely residing in a refugee camp or at an official accommodation centre. The eviction will obviously not be perceived in the same way by those who are seeking to rejoin a close relative in the UK and who will instead be forced to apply for French asylum with little chance of integration, by the lucky few minors brought to the UK under the program initiated by Lord Dubs, or by those accustomed to the idea of staying in France.

Ultimately, however, little is known as to who will benefit and who will find themselves a victim of human trafficking post-eviction if they don’t find themselves a place on one of the buses ordered by the state.

A Council of Europe report, issued on October 14th, indicates that far from enough is being done to prepare alternative accommodation for every resident of the camp or to assure the safe transport of every unaccompanied minor to the UK. To add insult to injury, the UK officials haven’t yet shown any interest in abandoning the controversial construction of a wall meant to separate the Jungle from the closest road, thus preventing anyone from the camp to access the vehicles in direction towards England.

In the midst of the controversy, it is clear that though the “refugee” label does not offer a portrait, certain experiences will contribute to forging a common identity amongst survivors of yet another traumatic experience. The Jungle did not have to come into existence and after more than a year of hard work from refugees and associations, it still remained uninhabitable and one of the biggest humanitarian urgencies until it was burned down.

Still, the bitter irony of this—having to flee the destruction at home in order to find yourself faced with forced eviction once again—is something that can only add on to the general toll of being a refugee and a vision which will hardly be washed away by either rain or teargas.

SOS Méditerranée: bilan d’une année d’activité

By Emma Jean

En 2015, 15 075 migrants ont été portés disparus ou retrouvés morts sur la route de l’exil. Les associations multiplient les plans d’action. Mais que fait l’Europe ?

Jeudi 15 septembre. Positive Economy Forum. Sophie Beau présente le bilan de SOS Méditerrannée. La directrice et co-fondatrice de l’association qui vient en aide aux migrants, aligne les chiffres catastrophiques. 6187 personnes ont été recueillies depuis le premier sauvetage de l’Aquarius, le 7 mars dernier.

Dès l’hiver 2014-2015, à la fin de l’opération Mare Nostrum, Sophie Beau, épaulée par Klaus Vogel, a fait appel au devoir d’assistance et d’humanité de tout citoyen européen. 77 000 euros, dix sauveteurs et médecins, doivent être mobilisés pour chaque opération.  Porter secours à ces réfugiées sur l’axe situé entre la Lybie et l’Italie est un devoir, ce dernier étant devenu le plus meurtrier du monde.

Les états membres de l’UE encore trop hésitants :

            « Nous savons bien que les Etats, nos dirigeants politiques n’accomplissent pas ce mandat d’assistance qui devrait être le leur. » déplore Sophie Beau. « Et pourtant, nous pensions que d’autres citoyens étaient indignés comme nous. Nous pensions que cette immobilisme n’était pas dû à de l’indifférence mais plutôt à un réel sentiment d’impuissance. »

Justifier la non-réactivité des Etats s’avère plus difficile. Henri Labayle, dirigeant de la CDRE – laboratoire de recherches spécialisé en matières de droits fondamentaux et d’immigration, dénonce l’inconsistance et l’inactivité de l’Union Européenne « Rien ne change. Les minutes de silence au sein des institutions européennes ne se comptent plus face à la litanie des morts et des disparus en Méditerranée. » 

L’action politique serait pourtant nécessaire. SOS Méditerranée a besoin de soutien. L’Union Européenne doit mettre en place des mesures collectives et durables. Des moyens économiques ont été mobilisés grâce à un élan de solidarité citoyenne. Le combat doit désormais être mené à l’échelle européenne. Créer un système de sauvetage puis de réception des migrants harmonieux et commun entre les 28 états-membres permettrait de faciliter et de fluidifier ce flux.

Et après le sauvetage ?

            La deuxième mission essentielle de SOS Méditerranée est de protéger et d’accompagner les migrants, une fois arrivés en Italie. Il est cependant difficile de déterminer l’avenir de ces réfugiés au sein de l’Union Européenne.

Chatty Dawn, anthropologiste, explique qu’un « malentendu culturel » est à l’origine de l’inadéquation entre les besoins des migrants, et les solutions qui leur sont proposées.Le stéréotype dépeignant des migrants sans éducation ou qualifications ne permet pas de répondre efficacement à leurs attentes. La grande majorité d’entre eux est éduquée et ne souhaite donc pas se retrouver dans des camps. Les migrants préfèrent s’installer « volontairement » (« self-settlement ») et bénéficier d’aides financières, pour pouvoir développer un projet personnel par la suite.

Pour répondre efficacement à la crise des migrants,  prendre en compte le contexte du Moyen-Orient est nécessaire ; de même, coordonnons l’action d’associations telles que SOS Méditerranée, et de l’UE. Ce serait la meilleure solution pour assurer l’avenir de ces derniers.

Not the Change we want, but the Change we Need

By Joanna Lancashire

Amidst growing media and public concern relating to the plight of refugees, ranging in media rhetoric from the tentative ‘refugee question’ to a now unavoidable political crisis for developed governments; the UN Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the role of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) are rising to the forefront as a central issue of debate. Over fifty years after its inception in 1951 as a response to a horrifically overlooked crisis, the convention has ceased to be a unifying instrument for policy crafting, and is instead being viewed as a relic of a bygone age, unequipped to deal with a drastically different situation. As the cornerstone for advising government action on refugees, the UNHCR competencies should be questioned and scrutinized in its competencies as an international  regulatory authority to the standards of any good government, and from no where more than within the United Nations itself.

Following the events of the Second World War and a burst of collective guilt from Western governments for their deplorable actions concerning the plight of refugees fleeing the destruction of Europe and its atrocities, the Convention and Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) sought to find a unifying touchstone of policy decisions., Considering the, score of an approximate ten million European refugees, such a step was imperative. Present policy decisions are faced with avery new situation, even if one considers only the estimated thirteen million refugees alone (in 2014) and not even addressing the highly disputed numbers concerning asylum seekers, internally displaced/stateless person and the ever popular “irregular migrant.”

The first and most obvious problem arises with an examination of the Convention’s understandably broad definition of a refugee. Article I specifies a refugee as a person who “ owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable…or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; … not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence….is unable to.. or unwilling to return to it.”  The main issue is the definition’s conflictual nature with regard to the rest of the content of the Convention, skimming over the obvious ambiguity of ‘well founded’ in the age of widespread multidimensional conflicts,. Regarding the issue of nationality, the historical context clearly provided the reasoning behind the definition: “unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country..not having nationality… outside of his former habitual residence.” The focus on nationality and country of origin is a direct result of witnessing the atrocities of displaced groups across Europe, as a product of experiences of direct forced migration resulting from the Second World War; and in the emerging years past strong pro-nationalistic sentiments.

The burden for applying and determining the above definition is placed necessarily upon the institutions of the state. In light of the context from which most refugees find themselves fleeing, it is obviously not logical to place them in a circumstance of ‘false until proven real.’ The burden of proof is necessarily low. Today’s refugee crisis deals with an onslaught of challenges, not the least of which is the issue of distinguishability. Is it now necessary, considering the present global climate, to distinguish between those who have left for economic security and those who are fleeing violence? How can we determine this, and should they be treated differently? These are questions not addressed by a refugee convention crafted during an age in which displaced persons were almost always both. The terminology and provisions of the convention provide primarily only to those who have already reached their destination, and does little to account for the mass groups of internally displaced persons our world is now faced withThe convention equally fails to acknowledge a shift in paradigm pertaining to both migrational ability and classification. At the time of its creation, the idea of a refugee returning was improbable at best. In the present age, where boundaries of conflict are both permeable and constantly shifting; and peace is relative, the ideas of the Convention reflect an attitude tailored toward the single solution of permanent asylum, an outdated idea. The convention fails to acknowledge new political consequences: the expense in terms of resources, and more importantly, the backlash of the electorate faced by states to facilitate action on refugees. Nor does the binding power of the convention provide a framework to assist or reprimand states should they fail in their conventional obligations.

The lack of substantive legal binding power of the UNHCR and UN documentation in general is a well recognized one, but becomes of particular concern given the humanitarian crisis now faced in real time. The idea of determining refugee status in the age of recognized human rights under multiple legal treaties is essentially moot, a consequence  of the developments in human rights law. The idea that there could be a plausible reason for which to force someone return someone to their home country under fear of persecution or death is extremely limited under multiple treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights, The Declaration itself, the Geneva Convention and the International Covenants on both Civil and Political Rights and Socio-Economic Rights,

Despite the supposably unifying power of the Convention and the Declaration itself, the idea of “collective responsibility”, is little more than flippant idealism.  Is it feasible for an outdated and ineffectually enforced document to be the main touchstone for regional and global cooperation when dealing with, in many cases, multiple fronts of conflict and conflicting regional values? The crisis of refugees is greater than a collective moral responsibility; it is a case of political pragmatism. An issue that is only likely to worsen, it should not be looked upon as a case of simple statistics. Often overlooked is the fact that the convention deals with the daily reality of real people – and change to the convention it is a political choice that needs to be made on the foundation of a unifying document that is in keeping with both the attitudes and the issues now faced by global governance. Substance reflects principle – the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees is not simply the ugly stepsister to the UN Declaration on Human Rights. If the United Nations Protocol is to be a legally binding, enforceable document, it should be subject to the same scrutiny as any law. There is principle, and there is practicality.

For the 1951 Convention, the age of practicality has come and gone. Any new order must ensure principles for which it once stood are not lost as well. The 1951 and 1967 protocols may be the only legal instruments relating specifically to the treatment of refugees, but that doesn’t mean they should be.

Previously published in A Different View, International Association of Political Science Students


United Nations Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (1951,1967)


The Trap of Sentimentality

By Justas Kidykas

The heads of the European Union, especially Germany, are continuing to pressure Central-Eastern European countries including Lithuania to accept and shelter more refugees and migrants arriving from the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. The local governments are wedged into the corner by Brussels and politely ordered not to complain, while at the same time, Brussels does nothing itself to prevent an uncontrollable flow of migrants to wide-open Europe. Far-right movements can now staunchly stand for the protection of their ethnic purity, while the liberal left plays with human emotions and calls for European solidarity towards the incoming immigrants. Yet one must understand that solidarity and sentimentality will not solve this humanitarian crisis.

Nobody neglects that these migrants from Africa or the Middle East are fleeing horrible conditions in their home countries. Nobody would reject that these unfortunate migrants should be provided with safe and secure haven. Yet, nobody can assure that these or other migrants have the human right to purchase the status of a refugee at their preferred country. Civilians who are running away from the horror at home but refuse to be refugees in countries like Greece or Italy immediately lose the status of refugee, and become economic migrants who disobey the rule of law. However, this does not mean that we should vilify them; but simply realize and recognize that sovereign states have neither moral nor legal responsibility to admit these migrants. Our world is not without borders.

Yet the core of the problem lies not with Europe’s response to the humanitarian crisis, but with the European Union’s actions before. Yes, when we consider the stories of real war refugees, it is the utmost necessity to not only show compassion with our thoughts and words, but also by our actions. We must comprehend their personal tragedies and have the political will to help them back at home. As Anne Applebaum has insisted, the turmoil in Syria and Libya is not just their domestic problem but also the result of the fiasco of EU foreign policy. The strongest European countries were not too eager about global US leadership; but at the same time were refusing to take responsibility through economic and military means. In this case, this turmoil evinces the reality of the crisis of the European Union as a quasi-political establishment, which dreams of reaching Fukuyama’s end of history. Europeans had decided that they could live without effective security and foreign policies; that they can naively resign from global power games; and that it will be sufficient enough to have a sham defense budget; and that whenever there is a trouble somewhere, they can express their huge concern while remaining far away from all geopolitical realities.

Is the European Union really ready to accept as many people as will come from further parts of Africa and Asia? If not, when and how will we draw the line? Why it has not been drawn yet? What are we waiting for? For now, we do not have any clear answers, but what is most alarming is that the essential questions are being raised very heavily and reluctantly. Moreover, when a rational search for solution is attempted, the public sphere roars in condemnation: when the small boy drowns in the sea, how can we be rational, now taken to mean callous and insensitive, and think about politics and safety? Serious discussion about migration to Europe and its causes and solutions is being drowned by the slush of societal sentimentality. Political correctness is not the solution for this humanitarian crisis. Politicians and the whole European Union must rely on their intelligence and self-command in order to achieve rational and practical solution for both Europe and our neighbors.

« Crise des migrants » : Vue des villes françaises…

Clara Fouilland

La photographie de gens massés sur un quai en Allemagne tenant une bannière « Refugees Welcome » – bien qu’il s’agisse d’un zoom médiatique qui profite aussi à l’image du gouvernement allemand – pose une question : en France, peut-on envoyer nous aussi un signal de bienvenue aux migrants ?

La France a pris l’engagement d’accueillir 24 000 réfugiés d’ici deux ans, qui s’ajoute à celui déjà pris cet été d’accueillir plus de six milliers de personnes – Syriens, Érythréens et Irakiens. Jusqu’ici, on a plutôt tendance à considérer cela comme un fardeau, n’est–ce pas ?

Le préfet Kléber Arhoul, coordinateur national, a été chargé d’organiser l’accueil des migrants dans les villes et collectivités locales qui ont répondu à l’appel du Ministre de l’Intérieur. Un « revirement » annoncé de la politique française d’immigration qui repose pour l’instant sur la base du volontariat. Autour des mots « accueil des migrants » en France, qu’est-ce qui gravite dans nos têtes ?

Urgence, précarité, longueur de la demande du droit d’asile auprès de l’Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et des Apatrides (OFRPA) ou de la Cour Nationale du Droit d’Asile (CNDA), ainsi que les images de l’inquiétant nombre de migrants massés dans des camps de fortune au milieu de la capitale. Je vous propose de vous défaire pour un moment de cette représentation et de comprendre ce qui se passe à l’échelle locale.

Les demandeurs d’asile, avant d’obtenir leur statut de réfugiés, peuvent être pris en charge au sein de Centres d’Accueil des Demandeurs d’Asile (CADA). Celui de Reims est géré par la Croix-Rouge Française mais des entreprises de logements sociaux, des associations ainsi que de grandes structures (France Terre d’Asile, Adoma, etc.) peuvent également en être gestionnaires. Les structures offrent dans la mesure de leurs places disponibles un hébergement, un suivi administratif, un suivi social et une aide financière et alimentaire. Les demandeurs d’asile y sont placés par l’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration (OFII) ou arrivent par leurs propres moyens, choisis ou subis, jusqu’aux portes des centres. En moyenne, le parcours dure près de 18 mois pour ceux qui obtiennent le statut de réfugié auprès de l’OFPRA avec, comme on le sait, de grandes disparités – pour un Syrien ou un Irakien, la procédure est beaucoup plus courte (parfois quelques mois) qu’un Albanais (plusieurs années). La réforme de fin juillet 2015 prévoit l’accélération de la procédure (5 semaines en accéléré, 5 mois en procédure normale). Lorsque les demandes sont refusées, les personnes peuvent encore bénéficier de l’assistance de centres d’urgences – mais plus d’un réel suivi. Le parcours administratif de ces personnes est long, parfois subi, parfois acharné.

Alors, oui, il y a des décisions qui se prennent pour accueillir plus et -un peu- plus vite. Aucun gouvernement n’a rendu la procédure de demande d’asile facile. En attendant, il demeure que pour ceux qui dorment depuis plusieurs semaines devant les mairies et dans les parcs de la capitale, le « revirement » n’a pas vraiment eu lieu.

Les campements de migrants à Paris paraissent hors-normes, principalement parce qu’ils concentrent la précarité et la rendent visible du fait du manque de place. A Reims, aussi, il y a des demandeurs d’asile à gérer; simplement, l’espace disponible est supérieur à celui de Paris, ce qui leur offre plus d’intimité.

Alors, quel signal retenir des dernières semaines ? Que les mentalités changent sur la perception de l’identité des réfugiés. La spontanéité des réactions de solidarité envers les migrants depuis le début de l’été est toujours rassurante et le taux de réponses positives de l’OFRPA pourrait s’améliorer dans un futur proche.

La société française ne manque pas de ressources pour accueillir. Une personne salariée de CADA estime qu’au niveau local, mis à part le fait que leur installation dans des locaux est parfois gênante, les demandeurs d’asile ne rencontrent pas d’hostilité. Plus que cela, nous aurions aussi et sûrement beaucoup à gagner à ouvrir nos portes, nos associations, nos universités à de jeunes migrants afin qu’ils commencent mais aussi poursuivent des projets dans leur pays d’accueil. Un signal positif pourrait ainsi être envoyé à la communauté des réfugiés.

Il reste des problèmes à régler au niveau local; de l’ajustement des effectifs des CADA décidé par l’Etat aux variations du nombre de personnes accueillies, par exemple. Ces plateformes d’accueil de demandeurs d’asile ne sont que des lieux de passage, destinés à aider les personnes à rebondir, quelles que soient leurs intentions – et peut-on leur souhaiter autre chose que d’arriver à rentrer chez eux ?

Parlons concrètement. Il faut arriver à faire comprendre que non, le travail n’est pas insurmontable, mais qu’on avance petit à petit pour mieux faire. La société française n’en sera pas dénaturée, contrairement à ce que peuvent laisser penser nos préjugés. Pour parler d’un futur proche et qui nous concerne à Reims, la mairie de Reims s’est portée volontaire le 12 septembre lors de la réunion avec le Ministre de l’Intérieur Bernard Cazeneuve pour préparer un plan national à la suite de l’engagement pris pour les deux années à venir. La particularité de Reims, c’est qu’il y existe des logements sociaux vacants. Il va falloir suivre de près quels seront les nouveaux dispositifs prévus pour ne pas surcharger davantage les centres existants. « Êtes-vous prêts à accueillir ? » (Manu Chao, lors de son concert le 12 septembre à la Fête de l’Humanité)