The newest state & constant struggle 

South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 becoming the 197th recognised state in the world and making it the newest state too, ending the longest African civil war which killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Yet the separation from Sudan has not made anything any better or any easier. The country has been in the midst of a civil war and the people of South Sudan are now suffering from severe droughts.

Conflict began in 2003 in Darfur in which two ‘liberation movements’, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement began fighting the Sudanese government, accusing them of severe mistreatment of the non-Arab population. This resulted in the government led by Omar al-Bashir carrying out ethnic cleansing against the non-Arab population. The conflict in Sudan split between the Sudanese military, police and Janjaweed (translating as man on a horse with a gun). Janjaweed was made up of certain Arab groups. on the other side were the rebel groups who were made up of non-Arab Muslim groups such as Zaghawa. It is estimated that around 70% of the Sudanese population were Arab with the remaining 30% (approx.) being Nubians (who follow Islam), Zaghawa (Beri, who also follow Islam and are semi nomadic) and Copts (Christians). In South Sudan, the majority groups are the Dinka and Nuer followed by other groups such as the Shiluk, the Toposa and Otuho. Along with conflict, disease and starvation were also large causes of death in the conflict.

An agreement was reached in 2005 which finally came into force in July 2011 giving South Sudan independence following the vote which resulted in 98.83% in favour of succession. This made the majority states in South Sudan the Dinka and Nuer followed by other groups such as the Shiluk, the Toposa and Otuho and capital declared as Juba. Due to the conflict with Arab Sudan, it is not surprising that South Sudan is made up predominantly of Christianity and Traditional Religions. South Sudan was supported by numerous local states, but more importantly, became a recognised member state of the UN and the African Union. However, the citizens of South Sudan did not receive the happy ending that they had hoped for.

To begin with, conflict broke out with Sudan again in 2012 in dispute over the oil rich Abyei region. This was quickly resolved in 2012 with the introduction of a 10km militarised zone. Abyei still remains unresolved meaning the region is effectively its ‘own entity’ without any government or structures.

Civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013 and lasted until 2015 although the country still remains rather unstable. The civil war displaced over 2 million citizens of the new nation and has left a long lasting, damaging effect on the nation. The conflict broke out due to the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit accusing his Vice President Riek Machar (and others) of trying to carry out a coup d’état. Despite Marchar denying this, he fled to join and lead the  Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – in – position (SPLM-IO). So this left Salva Kiir Mayardit from the SPLM vs. Riek Machar from the SPLM-IO. The conflict proved to be deadly with numerous massacres and atrocities occurring with both sides being guilty of taking areas and then killing all those they believed opposed them. There has also been repots of widespread abuse towards women and children including rape and burning villages to the ground and the use of child soldiers. It is estimated that over 50,00 people were killed and over 1.5 million internally displaced.

Eventually, in August 2015, Salva Kiir Mayardit signed a peace agreement due to the threat of international sanctions. Riek Machar was re-sworn in as Vice President in Juba in 2016 as a sign to enforce the peace agreement. However, this caused conflict to ignite again in July 2016 and led to Machar leaving the country and being replaced by General Taban Deng Gai.

South Sudan separated from Sudan due to ethnic conflicts and massacre by Arabs towards groups such as the Dinkas who then formed South Sudan. However, the civil war in South Sudan has also been characterised by ethnic tensions. The Dinka group aligned themselves with President Salva Kiir and the SPLM whilst those from the Nuer ethnic group aligned with the SPLM-IO and Machar. It seems that the main reason for the creation of South Sudan – to prevent conflict based on ethnic divisions – has failed and left many in the same, if not worse situations than before.

Conflict has also had a huge impact on causing mass food shortages. The civil war prevented farmers from working as many were either directly caught up in the fighting, or, were unfortunate civilians caught in the middle. In 2014, the United Nations Security Council categorised South Sudan as a humanitarian emergency and warned that a third of South Sudan’s population was affected by the food shortages. Despite the fact that over 7,000 UN peacekeepers and 6,000 security forces were deployed to the country, little seems to have changed. The UN was given the mandate of civilian protection, allowing UN troops to use force yet this too seems to have done little good. Only last month, it was reported that 100,000 people were suffering from serious famine due to the ongoing conflict and inability of farmers to maintain the agricultural economy (due to conflict). It was also reported by the UN that over 1 million people were on the verge of famine. The main state that is said to be affected is Unity – on the border with Sudan where some of the worst fighting has occurred.

So what now? South Sudan, an oil rich state, was once deemed as having a successful, prosperous future. The ethnic conflict that led to the states creation has only diversified into different ethnicities fighting each other and has not provided the stability and prosperous future that many hoped it would. Many civilians are now suffering one of the worst famines known in the world for a long time and it seems unlikely that anything will change in the near future. Millions of civilians were failed by their former state, Sudan and are continuing to be failed by their new state, South Sudan – whether it be through fighting or starvation. With limited food supplies coming in and violence threatening the transport of food goods along with the collapse of the agricultural industry, many civilians South Sudan is in desperate need of help to survive. But will the international community step up to the plate to help an African nation that is not in their national interest?

 

 

 

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The struggle for statehood: through the eyes of children

Israel-Palestine has been on and off the Western agenda for years. After the Brits (quite frankly) collosal screw up, no one has ever been quite sure what to do. It started off with some half hearted attempts by the international arena and often ended in Palestinians taking things into their own hands and losing trust not only in the west, but also in their Arab neighbours. It can therefore be no surprise that the likes of Fatah and Hamas exist and, in response, the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet things have changed since the founding of Hamas and Fatah. Things have undoubtedly got worse. One of my favourite quotes is something Amira Hass said “If Hamas grew out of the generation of the first intifada, when the young people who threw stones were met with bullets, who will grow out of the generation that experienced the repeated massacres of the last seven years?”

Life under occupation is, in my opinion, only getting worse which means resistance will only become more futile. We’ve seen two intifadas (some argue more) and the unforgettable campaigns of Operation Summer Rains and Operation Autumn Clouds in 2006,  Operation Hot Winter in 2008, the Gaza War 2008-2009, Operation Returning Echo and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012  and  then Operation Protective Edge in summer of 2011. Most of these operations/conflicts have been  in retaliation to Hamas’s actions and their infamous rocket firing. The latest violence seeing fleets of so called stabbings in the West Bank.

The biggest change: children. I have no doubt some children have always been active in movements – I know Hamas prides itself on having a junior wing. Yet many of these so called stabbings have been primarily children and young people. Why? There is little doubt that they’re getting fed up. Their childhoods are stripped from them – whether it be in the form of having their house knocked down, living without electricity or basic sanitation/infrastructure as well as many commodities in Gaza due to the blockade or the general oppression Israel imposes on them.

Children in conflict is interesting. In the west, we tend to see children as sweet and innocent who don’t know any better and who are simply just caught up in horrible situations. However, children can be used as useful tools in conflict or, can actually formulate their own opinions and anger from a young enough age if put in that sort of environment.

A combination of factors can explain the reaction of children in Palestine: education, life experiences/repression and the lack of international support. Palestine is divided geographically into two smaller entities; the Gaza Strip to West and the West Bank to the East. Experiences of Palestinians in both ‘entities’ are very different yet generally, still very negative. Life in Gaza is undoubtedly worse in many ways due to the blockade yet the West Bank sees settlement building. I’m going to attempt to talk about reasons why young people are losing hope and taking actions into their own hands in both areas.

Lets start with Gaza; a cut off Palestinian entity. Settlements were removed from Gaza in 2005 with complete disengagement being the policy of Ariel Sharon. This meant Gaza became the Palestinian only entity of Palestine. In 2007, Israel and Egypt initiated the blockade of Gaza (by land, sea and air). This blockade occurred when Hamas took power over the Gaza Strip following the formation of the Palestinian Authority by Hamas and Fatah. Fatah took control of the West Bank. Now Israel and Egypt believed that the blockade was necessary as they didn’t think that Hamas would provide adequate security. This can be seen as the beginning of the ‘matrix of control’. This blockade has meant that for the last 10 years, there has been a serious shortage of medical supplies, building supplies and fuel.

The main electricity station in Gaza was bombed by the IDF in 2014 during the 51 day war meaning that power supplies in Gaza are often limited. Its argued that Hamas was storing tanks/weapons etc. at the power plant and that is why the IDF bombed it. Over the past few months, there has been widespread protests in Gaza due to many suffering 12 hour blackouts due to limited supplies of electricity. Gaza has had to rely on donation from Qatar and Turkey in order to get their power plant up and running again.

Furthermore, there is a serious lack of clean water. It is estimated by Oxfam that around 90% of the water in Palestine is not safe to drink. Due to the blockade, there is limited ways to make this water safe and sewage/sanitation has also become a large issue. As you can see, one thing leads into another. Its a vicious cycle – you probably then get sick but of course, the medical supplies needed are also banned in the blockade. Gaza’s economy has also fallen apart – it exports flowers and dates yet is allowed to do little else. Again, the blockade prevents a decent, self sufficient economy from flourishing. Is this matrix of control starting to seem real now?

So then maybe education is the way out? Of course, its incredibly hard to get out of Gaza full stop. The free movement of people is just as much blockaded as goods. You can’t really get in or out. The education system probably won’t allow that anyway. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine provides a significant amount of the schooling in Gaza. There are over 250 schools yet they serve almost a quarter of a million students. Often, schools have to run double shift – one in the morning for one lot of students and another in the afternoon for another lot. The lack of materials for education is very much evident and there is significant issues with propaganda in Palestinian school books – especially those provided by the Palestinian Authority (PA).  There simply isn’t enough classrooms or materials to educate the children of Gaza.

This is no surprise considering there are an estimated 2 million people in Gaza of which half of them are children. Gaza is only 12km in width at its widest point and is becoming one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The UN have declared that by 2020, its going to be unliveable.

So, you have poor access to water, electricity, food, materials and education and the economy is almost non existent. You’re stuck in a densely populated area that you can’t get out of. What could make it worse? Conflict, of course. Israel and Hamas do not exactly have a good relationship – Hamas fires rockets or kidnaps someone or Israel drops some bombs or demolishes some houses – whatever it is, something bad always happens. So these children grow up with pretty much nothing, in an area that is quickly becoming unliveable with absolutely no way out and then every few years they get bombed. And people wonder where the anger comes from?

Now, lets switch over to the West Bank. The biggest problem for Palestinians here is a) Jerusalem, b) Settlements and C) the wall/fence/barrier. Jerusalem is highly contested – both Israel and Palestine lay claim to the city due to the location of the Al Aqsa mosque and the Temple Mount compound. Neither Israel or Palestine will give up control of the area yet Israel keeps pushing the boundaries with building settlements and laying claims of Jerusalem as their capital (it currently sits as Tel Aviv).

Israel’s power and global support (mainly from the USA) means that they are in a stronger position than Palestine (Fatah in the West Bank) and can therefore, get away with more things. This is also linked to settlement building. It has been estimated that there are over 700,000 Israeli settlements of which 400,000 of those are in the West Bank (exc. Jerusalem). This is further allowing Israel to create a matrix of control as they are building settlements in places which isolate Palestinian villages and towns and building Israeli only infrastructure to connect them, cutting off Palestinians and Palestine. This has had a dramatic effect on Palestinians and especially children. Many children now have to walk through Israeli settlements to get to school or to go out and there have been numerous stories of these children being attacked by settlers. At one point, it was event reported that the IDF were having to escort Palestinian children to school.

There’s also demolitions. These are often linked to the building of settlements. At the end of 2016, it was reported that the demolition of Palestinian houses in the West Bank had risen by 25%. Imagine that – one day, you come home from school and your house is gone. It’s been bulldozed by the Israeli government.

Then theres the wall/fence/barrier. Its always been known as the wall yet it’s not always a wall. At some parts its a wall, at others its a fence and again at others its just a barrier. Israel claimed they built it for security – to prevent suicide bombings. Regardless, the aim is to create a separation between Israel and Palestine. Yet the wall actually crosses Palestinian land at points and is over 700km long. This has cut many Palestinians off from society. Again, it has cut some children off from accessing their schools. The UN reported that it limited some peoples access to water. Charities such as the Palestinian Red Crescent Society have said that it has also impacted many children and women’s access to medical supplies. The barrier has been declared illegal by the UN – as have the settlements – yet no one seems to really care. The Palestinians yet again, let down.

Although there is no blockade in the West Bank, the education system still suffers in the same way. The settlements and wall/fence/barrier has made it incredibly difficult for many to access education and there is a shortage of teachers. The lack of support for infrastructure has also made it incredibly hard for young people to have the access to a good education.

2016 was the deadliest year for the past decade to be a child living in the West Bank. The IDF killed over 30 children in various towns and villages in raids, protests and attacks.

So why are young people in Palestine and especially in the West Bank so angry? Really? I mean, as if everything above isn’t enough. I will never condone violence – a lot of the time its innocent civilians caught in the middle (especially in this conflict). But I understand why they are angry. I understand why young people are sadly feeling the need to take things into their own hands. The international community has failed the children of Palestine and the international community continues to do so. These are children who are left without a good education system, without basic supplies to live, with constant (physical) barriers in their life and almost no hope of escaping it.

This statement will never leave me. And we should never allow children to resort to the desperation of this thinking.

“I hope God kills the Israelis when we grow up. We are going to kill them. May God kill all of them. Every last one.” – Summer, age 12, Gaza

“We prevent hate by educating others” 

I am obsessed with reading. I have probably learnt most of the things I know through reading. In a world where naivety and hatred are prominent, I believe education is vitally important in changing opinions and making people think and reading is a great place to start.  A few of my friends have recently asked for book recommendations, so here we go.

I am an avid reader of political non-fiction books as well as political fiction books. Not everything I read has to be true but it has to be thought provoking. So, below are some of my favourite books from the past year or so and the reasons why.

  1. The Lightless Sky, Gulwali Passarlay 

The quickest I’ve read a book in a long time. This book is a MUST read if you care about refugees, children or just humanity in general. It puts all the horrors refugees and asylum seekers face on their journey to Europe in stone. Its everything you sort of knew but didn’t think you could face, yet you have to. Not only does it talk about the brutality and unfortunate necessity of human smugglers, it faces friendship and heartbreak perfectly. My favourite thing about this book is its so real and every word in it is relatable for far too many people around the world. Also, Gulwali is from Afghanistan – a place that I hold constantly in my thoughts. It explains why (young) people have to leave the country – a state declared technically safe these days – and how parents must make the hardest decision of their lives. It places the perfect disconnect between ‘East’ and ‘West’ and highlights the sheer difference in culture between Afghanistan and Europe. The honesty in this book deserves an award in itself.

The book also mentions my favourite subject – the bureaucracy of systems in the UK. The immigration system, age assessments and dealing with social services, accessing education and, mental health. The biggest mistake people make is realising that just because someone is ‘safe’ now they’re in the UK, doesn’t mean they can miraculously forget everything they’ve seen.

Gulwali is a true inspiration. He’s pretty much the same age as me and I can’t even comprehend going through what he went through and achieving everything he has achieved.

There is one sentence in this book that will sit with me forever: “By sending me away, she definitely saved her son, but she also lost him”. 

Seriously, go read this book. NOW.

2.  The Last Kestrel, Gill McGivering

This book is most certainly a thought provoker – especially for the western centric thinkers. This fiction book based on non-fiction set in Afghanistan is about a journalist called Ellen Thomas whose Afghan Pashto translator, Jalil is suddenly murdered and she is determined to find out why. The book finds itself in the midst of three sides; NATO (British) forces, the Taliban and an innocent Afghan family. The book perfectly voices two different view points to the conflict and the NATO forces. Now, I thought it was going to be a stereotypical western book about Afghanistan. But the ending shocks you. It makes you think – well it certainly made me think – of the Afghan war in a completely different way. It puts a perfect spin on the possibilities of lies and indoctrination, of western propaganda. It represents a mothers revenge that, given events, seems only natural. And I loved every second of it.

3. Mornings in Jenin, Susan Abdulhawa 

I love anything Palestinian and this book was no different. This book kicked the life out of me on more than one occasion. Although it is ‘fiction’ , its technically fact. The book discusses the 1948 Nakba  from a very real, human perspective, making the whole situation almost unimaginable. The book follows a girl Amal, who has two younger brothers – one of whom gets snatched by an Israeli soldier. This brother, grows up thinking he is Israeli until he has an intense run in with his twin brother at a checkpoint. Amal ends up as a refugee from the 1967 war, leaving the Jenin refugee camp that she called home behind and ending up in a girls orphanage in Jerusalem. Susan’s writing is incredible at creating images – I could, and still can, physically see the refugee camp and the orphanage. Amal, eventually moves to America – where she becomes Amy – and lives a completely different life. This book leaves me speechless. It is so so important and so real for so many – it faces losing an identity in so many, multifaceted ways its hard to comprehend.

4. The Blue Between Sky and Water, Susan Abdulhawa 

I said that the last book hit me hard, this one hits you harder. Its pretty brutal from the start as it talks of a families run for survival in 1948 from their village of Beit Daras for a refugee camp in southern Gaza. It vividly describes rape at the hands of Israeli soldiers and the differences between the experiences of the Baraka family depending on their age and awareness. The book starts off following the family who fled to the refugee camp in Gaza before introducing Nur, a Palestinian American who ends up in Gaza to visit her family. This book has one significant difference to any others – its ‘magical’ element in the form of 10 year old Khaled who is the blue between sky and water as you hear his voice before he is born and then when he is dead. Khaled is the spiritual element that ties this book together. This book has constant surprises – it’s s complex, you just have to read it and find out for yourself. I promise you, you won’t regret a thing about it.

Susan Abdulhawa is without a doubt one of my favourite authors of all time. Her ability to bring things to life, spur the imagination and inspire you are things I have never found in another author.

5. Burnt Shadows, Kamila Shamsie

I was incredibly confused by the blurb of this book yet it intrigued me to read it. Starting in Nagasaki, this book then goes to India, Turkey, Pakistan, New York and Afghanistan. How? Go read it and you’ll find out. This book follows various people (all of whom are intertwined in some way or another) on their journey in search of identity and belonging. Its hard to say too much about it without giving anything away. Identity and belonging is incredibly important in todays world with many refusing to accept ‘foreigners’, ‘immigrants’ or ‘refugees’ yet this book frames it so slyly yet prominently as not to hit you straight on. If you want find out about how a child, living in Pakistan that is half Japanese and half Indian ends up in Afghanistan pretending to be a Hazara in a Mujaheddin Pashto training camp, you have to read it.

6. The Orphan Masters Son, Adam Johnson 

Probably the weirdest book I’ve read in the last few years. I was drawn to it as its set in North Korea and Adam Johnson has actually been to North Korea. The book is about a North Korean intelligence officer onboard a fishing ship and everything about it makes it seem like a biography. The book follows Jun Do who grows up in an orphanage yet believes he is the son of the orphan master. The book has a strong theme of propaganda – theres a lot of government discussion – and deceit as well as identity and brutality and politics in North Korea. Yet its also very bizarre. Jun Do somehow ends up working his way up the military and ends up on a trip to America. Jun Do ends up in America because (I’m not quite sure how) he ends up impersonating the famous leader (in terms of the book) Commander Ga, a military hero and then sets up the escape from North Korea of Commander Ga’s family – the famous singer, Sun Moon and her family. Again, this book is written in such a way that you can imagine being there. How an orphan masters apparent son ends up going through all this – who knows. Its such a strange read yet pure brilliance.

The abandoned 

The Western world seem to have gained themselves a pretty decent list of people that they have abandoned. From Afghanistan, to Eritrea, to Syria, to Yemen, we are continuing to let innocent human beings down. My biggest bug bear is the fact that there are numerous atrocities occurring worldwide that are worthy of everyday news attention but they don’t get it due to fear of the audiences becoming bored or not being able to handle the truth. But why should this be the case?

The most recent situation that gets me more than others, is the situation in Syria. In December 2016, the news went through its latest phase with the country where it focused on the children of Syria – especially Aleppo – and the evacuations occurring there as the government quickly tightened its grip, regaining the Eastern parts of the city that had previously been the rebel stronghold. Yet this fad quickly came and went. So what now? Lets be frank. We in the west need to toughen up a bit. By toughen up, I mean we should read things we don’t necessarily like, we should watch things that might make us cry. Why? Because it shows humanity – humans in war zones, political crises or poverty stricken situations – it shows the truth. Once you become emotionally invested to some extent, you simply cannot let yourself walk away. You feel this responsibility or this compassion to help.

I’m not going to pretend that we’re all diplomats who can negotiate peace, or doctors who can go and help in hospitals – but we have voices don’t we? We all spend so much time on the internet, on social media – we can shout about it, we can sign petitions. We can even get off our asses and go out in the streets and shout about it. Tell our governments to make a difference, to make peoples lives count.

I’ve heard it a lot recently – most upsettingly from a Syrian boy. We were talking about Daraa, about Assad, ISIS and the horrors of the civil war. And he asked me, “why do people not care if we live or die? Is our blood cheap? Is Syrian blood cheaper than Western blood?”

Perhaps we can do something. We can at least try to make our voices heard. Make our voices the voice of those the world cannot hear or refuses to hear.

“Welcome to the land of the free”

The UK has, for some reason, a reputation of being accepting of refugees and asylum seekers. From many conversations I have had, young people often set their sites on The UK for that very reason. Yet, from my experience, and probably now from theirs, this unfortunately doesn’t seem to be true. 

Let’s roll it back….

So you’ve just jumped off a lorry (or you’ve been found by the driver, whose called the police). You’re somewhere in the UK. If you’re lucky, it was in a town or a city. If you’re unlucky, you’re on the side of a motorway. So from here, the chances are you’ve either been taken to a police station or a detention centre or, you’ve walked into a police station/ the Home Office (Croydon) to say who you are and why’re you’re here (if you have an interpreter and they actually managed to get you the right language or you already speak English, they’ll understand you). You are classified as an in country applicant – someone who claims asylum after arrival rather than a port application which is someone who claims asylum at the port of entry (i.e airport). The difference is, port of entry is legal. In country is not. The beginning part of this process can be quite blurry. Lots of people, lots of questions, not a lot of human emotion. You’re just another number.

You’ll be interviewed (known as screening interview), asked where you’re from, why you’re here etc. and be issued with a Home Office ID card. This ID card can be contentious – it’ll have your date of birth (which as I’ll discuss below, can be debated) and it’ll have your nationality – which is also debatable. One of the most common situations I have heard is among Pashto Afghans where they are taken for Pakistani. There can also be other issues for Kurds and Middle Easterns. This debate can go back and forth for a while – you might have to speak to a language specialist or try to prove where you’re from with legal documents (which can be difficult or impossible to gain). But you can’t claim asylum in the UK until you have a Home Office ID although you can continue to debate the age and nationality you have been given. Once you’ve had this discussion – whether you have been issued with a Home Office ID card or there are still areas for debate, you will be placed in housing.

Where you end up will depend on one thing – whether the authorities believe you or not. So to begin with, they could question your age. Many young people come from countries where they’ve never had passports, didn’t have the opportunity to bring their passport or it was destroyed (either by a smuggler or back home for another reason). It seems to be common practice for teenage boys from the Middle East or Asia to have their age disputed due to the fact that, quite simply we look different. Middle Eastern men and Asian men can sometimes be hairier. Not only that but a lot of the time, the horrors that young people experience on their journey to the UK undoubtedly ages them mentally. Many children see things and experience things no child should ever have to see. So, you get aged assessed. This is done with the local social services to wherever you’ve ended up in the UK and the ‘appropriate adults’. They might look at your physical appearance, ask you some questions. Yet at the end of the day, its all very subjective. Anyway, so they’ll either decide you’re the age you say you are, a different age but still under 18 or that you’re 18 or over. But hey, you probably have two birthdays now…. 1st January – Home Office Birthday!

So if you’re deemed to be under 18, you’ll be looked after by the local social services. Depending on how old you are – under 16 and you’ll be looked after by a foster carer, over 16 and you could find yourself in semi-independent living accommodation. Semi-independent is a bit like student halls except you have a key worker there who is responsible for helping you become independent. And then the waiting game begins….

You could be living in any area, with any sort of people. Some people might hate you. You’re a foreigner, you’re an immigrant, you’re here to claim their benefits. You’re not welcome here. You can however apply to go to college. Oh, and you get taken on a big clothes shop (which means more than 1 pair of clothes!). Best case scenario, you’ll be living with nice people – some people who speak your language maybe -, you’ll be in the local college or school learning English or if your English is already good, perhaps even starting your GCSEs! Your social worker and/or solicitor (that will have been given to you by the government through legal aid unless you have the money yourself for a private one) will have hooked you up with some clubs and other classes. If its not going to so well, you could be living with people who don’t speak your language, your age dispute could mean you’re not at school/college and your social worker/solicitor either doesn’t care to help you with extra curricular stuff or, more likely, doesn’t have the time to help.

The support network you have can make or break you. Simple as.

Before your substantive interview with the Home Office, you’ll be expected to sit down with your solicitor and write a statement of evidence. In between this and the long interview, you’ll be expected to report to the Home Office or a designated government office (so the government knows you’re still in the country).  Finally, the day comes round when its your long interview – if you’re under 12 you don’t have to do this) with the Home Office. Your time to tell your story and explain why you are claiming asylum. You’ll be given an interpreter – hopefully the right language/dialect – and your solicitor or social worker will have hopefully gone with you. And now you have to talk. You have to tell a cold-fronted stranger exactly why you’re in this country. You have to drag up all the horrors you ran away from. Every thing you tried so hard to escape. Everything you tried to bury. But careful, if you forget a fact, it’ll come back and bite you. You don’t feel welcome. You feel that they’re trying to catch you out. They’re trying to find a reason to say no.

It’s over. You’re exhausted – emotionally and physically. Back to the waiting game.

Now, fingers crossed – if you’re age assessment was correct, your nationality was correct and your from one of the countries on the Home Office list (or you suffered something so bad you honestly can’t go back), then congrats! You’ve got refugee status or humanitarian protection. Refugee status is based on the UN Convention relating to the status of refugees (1951) and it lasts for 5 years subject to review. Humanitarian protection is provided when an individual doesn’t meet the UN Convention criteria but it is still too dangerous to return to the country of origin and it also lasts 5 years.  Thats it. Your life is now perfect (despite the fact you miss your family, you’re mentally scarred and everything is disorientating).

If you were granted Refugee Status of Humanitarian Protection, chances are, your nationality was figured out correctly (meaning they agree you’re from where you say you are. I say this because from my experience, thats how its gone). However, if your age was disputed and you’re still disputing it, the battle may continue. You might suggest X-rays or checking teeth  – or perhaps you’re lucky enough to go to your country embassy and get documents (if its not the government you’ve run away from…).

The other option for you, as someone the government has agreed is under 18, is Discretionary Leave to Remain. This is when the Home Office doesn’t believe you require Refugee Status or Humanitarian Protection. This is also known as UASC Leave (Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Leave). This is granted for either 3 years or until you are 17 1/2 years old, which ever is shorter. This is basically a rejection yet due to laws, the UK has a responsibility to look after children – so you can stay until you’re 18.

If you were age assessed as over 18 and refused, then bam. Nothing.

However, with UASC leave (if it is longer than 12 months) and refusals you can appeal…..

Asylum decisions are meant to be resolved within 35 days but it can take longer. Once a decision has been made, your legal representative and local authority will be informed. So, lets say, its bad news. You’ve been granted UASC leave. Yet you’re fleeing real persecution. You can’t go back there. Ever. So you’re going to appeal. The appeal system is a two tier tribunal system. If your claim is refused and you have a right of appeal, you’ll got to the Immigration and Asylum Chamber. If the appeal is refused, you can ask for permission to go to the Upper Tribunal. If this is still refused…. you can attempt to challenge the Court of Appeal. You only have 10 days to do this.

If none of this works…. you’re appeals rights exhausted. Too many people end up in this situation. Your options here become limited. You either find new evidence and ask a solicitor if you can put in a fresh claim, you wait it out until you’re 17 1/2 and see what happens or you go underground. This makes your life limbo. You’re only a teenager – as if being a teenager isn’t hard enough – and now you’re in complete limbo. You know that when you’re 18, you could be detained and sent back to the danger you fled and there is nothing you can do about it. You could have fled Albanian blood feuds or sex traffickers, you could have fled the Taliban or ISIS in Afghanistan or you could have fled ISIS/violence in Iraq. You could also be returning to that violence. The nightmares you’ve been having, the flashbacks…. could all become reality again. They didn’t want you here. You’re an immigrant, you’re not British. You’re not welcome here.

Regardless of the outcome, there are numerous other battles that young refugees/asylum seekers face in the UK.  Mental health affects young refugees/asylum seekers dramatically. The chances are, none of us can even try to comprehend the horrors. Young people suffer from being withdrawn, not being able to trust others and having constant flashbacks and nightmares of the things they have experienced. They may also feel isolated – English is a new language, England is a new culture. It isn’t an easy thing to get your head around. For young people from conservative countries, Britain is most definitely a shock. And undoubtedly, you’ll miss your family. What is your mum doing right now? How about your brother? Maybe you’ll be able to track them down (you’ve started the Family Tracing process) but theres no guarantee. Maybe it’ll be bad news.

Maybe. 

You continue, trying to live your life. Trying to build yourself a life in the UK. You read the news – they want to cut immigration. You see on FaceBook – ‘refugees aren’t welcome here’. You’ve never felt more alone. The government doesn’t want you here, the people don’t want you here. All you see is hatred.The concept that the United Kingdom is the land of the free appears in front of you as a lie. Whether you’ve been granted refugee status or you were refused, you still do not feel welcome.

This is the reality for many young people I have met. A lot of hatred is easily bred throughout social media and throughout the news. Be the change. Join the protests – tell them, refugees are welcome here. Give up your time, sign a petition. Let them know, they are welcome. Please sign the petition to campaign against the government back tracking on the Dubs amendment http://www.citizensuk.org/dubs_petition. 

Please note, nothing in this blog post is intended as legal advice. It is illegal in the UK for an unqualified individual to give immigration advice. This is simply a scenario based on a range of experiences I have been told about. There are other situations that can happen – this is not an exhaustive scenario. 

“I am human” 

A couple of days ago, I finally got round to going to see Dear Home Office – a play that has been on my mind and agenda for a long time. I know it’s only February but it was without a doubt the best thing I have done this year. Unfortunately, they performed their final show on Wednesday night but they already have plans for a second one in the Spring. Not only was it incredible to see young asylum seekers and refugees on the stage acting, speaking in a language that for most, does not come natural to them, it was incredible and so important to hear their stories. It is the first step towards defeating this narrow minded attitude we see far too often and my only wish would be for more people to see it. I probably have quite a reputation among many for my strong opinions and my lack of respect for individuals who simply do not like foreigners and have the ‘we must help people at home attitude’ before we help others. There is not a bone in my body that will let me agree with that. Let me tell you why.

Globally, there are over 60 million displaced individuals who have been forced to leave their homes due to war/violence, political, religious, ethnic or sexual persecution. It is estimated that over half of these people are children. Now, I do not believe that adults have less of a right to flee or seek asylum and live a life free of fear and persecution but I, as I’m sure many would agree, cannot and will not accept that any child should have to live a life in fear with the threat of persecution. Children are often used as pawns in political games, held ransom or exploited in various ways in conflicts or political situations globally and are therefore, often forced to flee. Many young people are sent away alone by their families. This is not an easy decision for anyone to make and I can assure you that many children do not want to leave their families but often parents want their children to have a better life and therefore send them away (using all or most the money they have been able to save) in hope of a better life in Europe.

Due to the current attitudes of western governments (and many eastern countries too), the only route is usually an ‘illegal’ route and therefore requires people smugglers. People smugglers are the pits of society. I will not hold back in calling them vulgar, ungodly beings who simply exploit vulnerable, scared individuals and treat them as commodities to get as much money out of the families of those travelling as possible. But unfortunately, due to the closed boarders and impossibility of legal entry for those travelling without documents and visas, smugglers are left as the only option. The fact that anyone actually makes it to their final destination in Europe is alone a miracle. Many of these journeys are done squeezed into tiny spaces in vehicles where there is no room to breathe or, on foot where the terrain is so rough you could quite simply fall off a cliff. And that doesn’t take into consideration the lack of food, water and sanitisation along the way. For many, its often normal to go days without any food and with minimal water – if not longer.

As if that isn’t bad enough, certain countries have reputations for shooting at ‘migrants’ making the journeys across borders. Sometimes this could be the police (Iran and Bulgaria are both known for this), whilst in other places, it could be mafia groups (such as in Turkey) who also often try to kidnap asylum seekers on their journey and hold them for ransom. Often, individuals end up in prison – beaten and starved – some are released as guards are bribed, some are released only if they pay for their return, escorted journeys. All of this is only made possible by countries desires to prevent asylum seekers and refugees seeking safety in a ‘safe’ way. Safe passages are simply not provided.

So you’ve been through all this, manage to somehow keep going (or repeat the journey you’ve made) and you’ve reached Turkey or, if you’re coming from Africa, you’ve reached Libya. You’re ready to get to Europe – to Greece or to Italy. How do you get there? A rubber dingy full of far too many people in a life jacket that is a fake that you our your family have paid more than an arm and a leg for. We have all seen on the news the tragedies that can happen on this journey. Many do not make it. Images of Aylan Kurdi drowning on the beach horrified all those with a heart. Yet since then, nothing has changed. Thousands of people have been drowning in the sea every year and nothing has changed. Do we think their blood is cheap? That because thousands of people are being murdered in the countries they came from, what does it matter if a few more die on the way to escape? I’ve said it before – the international postcode lottery is all that decides where we are. It could be me, it could be you.

So lets say you survive. You managed to hold onto that boat for dear life, you didn’t fall in and your fake life jacket didn’t let you drown. You’ve reached the shores of Europe. Now what? Trains and buses have sometimes been routes – sometimes even paid for by authorities in a hope that these people won’t settle in their country – I mean who would want such resilient, often smart foreigners anyway hey? So you battle your way through Europe, either by foot, by car, by bus or train. But where is your destination? With the rise of right wing populism, the recent Brexit vote and such a fear of ‘terrorism’ from refugees, where do you go? So many people are so scared of you – I mean they’ve never met you – but you’re foreign and you’re probably Muslim or from a majority Muslim country (which is obviously the same to them). Your smuggler has got you to mainland Europe, each time you get a country further, your smuggler gets more money from your family back home or from you (potentially you’ll have had to do some god-awful work for months in order to pay them along the way) so they’re going to take you to the UK. Yep, the furthest possible place they can think of in Europe. Thats lots of money for them. What a great idea! You don’t know a lot about England – perhaps the football teams, they play cricket and they speak English.

You reach Calais. Theres thousands of others waiting there too. Your told you have to wait to jump on the back of a lorry. You have no idea how long you could be waiting. You thought your wait in Turkey, in Greece was long – those months waiting, scared, nervous to finish your journey. You’re so close. Yet so far. You could be stuck here for a year, maybe longer. Finally, you get the call to go. The latest smuggling agent has found you a lorry to jump on. Its a giant freezer. It could kill you but its the only chance you have.

The next day, you wake up. You’re almost frozen but you’ve done it. You’re in the UK. Next step….. The bureaucratic asylum system. You become a number, your name, your age, your story – does anyone care?

But you are human. Just like me, just like anyone.

On Wednesday 8th February, the British government further let down young unaccompanied asylum seekers as it back tracked on its promise to take in thousands of refugees under the Dubs agreement. The actual figure appears to be around the 350 mark.To stand against government back tracks on helping young refugees and asylum seekers, please sign the following petition http://www.citizensuk.org/dubs_petition

To see information on Dear Home Office: @WeArePhosphoros 

Dear Donald….

Donald Trump is someone I’m sure we would all rather not have to talk about. I for one wish I did not have to waste my time thinking about the man, let alone let him bring me to writing about him. But it has become unavoidable. It’s time to face the man at the forefront of post-truthism. The concept of a Mexican Wall was bad enough, his so called ‘pro-life’ anti-abortion stance was bad enough. Yet for me, the final straw was his treatment of nationals from those seven particular countries. That sir, was one step too far.

As a proactive campaigner for refugees rights (and as someone who works weekly with refugees and asylum seekers), Donald Trump’s proclamation of banning the entry of anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia is an utter disgrace and outrage. Not only is it completely pointless when we come to America’s favourite subject – terrorism, its damn right obnoxious and heartless. So lets take a step back. ‘Terrorists’ that America seems to constantly be so scared about (despite the fact that you’re probably more likely to get shot by your toddler with the gun you casually keep in your house) have tended to be from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Surprise, surprise they’re not on the list. Of course, we must prevent ‘Islamic Terror’ unless they’re from a country that we’re so reliant on being friends with (I mean oil, hello). Therefore, for Trump to claim this ban to be because of so-called ‘terrorist’ threats is absurd. Yes Islamic State are real but over 90% of the people who have been killed by them are Muslim. In Syria or Iraq. You know, the ones who want to flee to safety?

Second of all, conflict, terror or human rights abuses significantly affect all the states that Trump has taken issue with. Syria and Yemen are both in the midsts of deadly civil wars that appear to have no end in sight. Sudan has experienced political turmoil for as long as can be remembered with past genocides, sectarian issues and human rights abuses. Somalia – after escaping war, has seen itself divulged into a fight against Al Shabab (an offshoot of Al Qaeda). And Libya. Libya, Libya. After overthrowing Qaddafi, has seen itself in civil war as well as fighting off an offshoot of Islamic State. Last of all, Iran. Iran might not have an issue with civil war but the human rights abuses are unreal. Kurds, women, Sunnis, Bahai. You name it.

All because they’re Muslim? Some might be Christian, Jewish, Bahai. Is that even relevant?

So now lets get real. There are millions of people displaced globally right now. Estimates put half of them as children. Yet ‘the land of the free’ calls them ‘terrorists’, or people who are not worthy of being safe or free from oppression. Yet Donald Trump gets up on his high horse proclaiming that he is ‘pro-life’. PRO WHOS LIFE? You don’t care about the millions of people across the globe, persecuted, shot down, struggling to get by. Many of them who have seen their only families die behind their own eyes. Families who send their kids for safety in hope of giving them the future they could never have.

But we will not be silent. The world will not sit back and watch one vulgar human being treat humanity like this. We will not rest until justice is served. We must not rest until humanity is free and these borders that are nothing short of social constructions are destroyed. We are all human beings. We are all one. This is not about politics, this is about humanity. And anyone who cares about humanity will shout until there is no need to shout anymore.