- It is the responsibility of the country (not the individual) to assess an asylum claim in the first EU country that they come to. If that person wants to reach another country for whatever reason, that is their choice.
- An asylum seeker is someone who is having their claim processed. They are in the system.
- A refugee is someone who has successfully claimed asylum
- A migrant is anyone not in their home country. I am a migrant in Serbia right now.
- 'People on the move' is the term we use here. We try and avoid the terms that have legal connotations so I tend to talk about 'my friends' and 'the guys'.
- A push back from any country is illegal. That means that when the UK coastguard nudges boats in the Channel away from England and towards France, this is illegal. Just as the border guards of Croatia, Romania and Hungary are all acting illegally when they force people back into Serbia - whether violence is used or not.
- Human rights apply to all people at all times. No level of violence is acceptable.
A big problem that I have found is that people on the move don’t actually know how to get legal advice. A lot of people I’ve met think that they may have a legal route to join family but they don’t know how to find out about it, let alone how to apply. Right now I have friends in Serbia with family in the U.K. They have a pretty good case for reunification but didn’t know where or how to access information or help. Imagine trying to fill in complicated government forms in your second or third language that ask very sensitive questions about your recent traumas.
Here in Serbia I am fortunate to be working with Klikaktiv. They are a group of lawyers, social workers and translators who are able to offer advice about Serbian laws, wider European regulations and also provide support for us international volunteers. They rely on us here in the field to find people that need advice and to direct them to the right places. Each case is complicated, involving several countries and very sad and difficult stories. During the pandemic, there has been a strong military and police presence everywhere. Klikaktiv have also been able to help with how we should behave in these situations.
Similarly, my friend in France was being detained after the clearances in Calais. He had access to legal advice but doesn’t understand the French paper he has been given. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to not know what is happening to you. It’s also the case that papers and decisions are not carried out. A friend I have was in Germany going through the system and received a deportation notice, without knowing that Germany doesn't currently deport anyone to Sudan. It’s the case in the UK that asylum claims are often refused the first time and then granted on appeal, likely with the hope that some people will be scared off or not have access to advice or resources to challenge the decision.
The hardest thing about trying to find legal advice for people here, is that most often the answer is “there’s nothing we can do.” Even for the funny, clever teenage boys living in the forest who have family in Western European countries. The law makes it incredibly difficult to help people. This leaves my friends risking their lives on the top of freight trains or in refrigerated trucks. They get so regularly beaten by Croatian border guards that they think nothing of it. We also get told about chain pushbacks - Austria deport to Slovenia, who deport to Croatia, who deport to Serbia. Imagine getting as far as Austria, a safe European country, and then getting illegally deported back over several countries!
Because they are so terrible.
Because I don’t want to throw around the stories of my friends.
Because I know it is difficult for people at home to relate to.
But if by reading this you feel you want to do something, then reading and sharing information is very important. My organisation, No Name Kitchen, is part of the Border Violence Monitoring Network. We collect reports of illegal activities in order that it can be known what happens here and so we can stand in solidarity with those who have been wronged. Please will you read this report, which was collected and written by my friend Stef. Making Border Violence Reports involves an indepth interview that needs to be conducted sensitively and Stef does an amazing job at listening to story after story of terrible situations. Share this post, say something about how it makes you feel to hear these stories. Tell just one friend and we can spread the message.
And if you still want to do more, you can donate to No Name Kitchen and you can write to your MP about how you feel about the situation.
Comments and suggestions are always welcome, especially as it can feel quite isolating here.