Donald Trump managed to draw attention towards the refugee crisis last week during a rally in Florida, when he seemingly mentioned a non-existent Swedish terrorist attack, later defending the comment as a reference to a Fox News report on violence supposedly caused by refugees in Sweden. Despite the questionable nature of these claims, it does reveal rising anti-refugee sentiments in several countries, mirrored in both governmental policy and refugee treatment. This discriminatory stance, coupled with widespread reports of inadequate conditions of refugee camps around the globe, paints a disturbing picture of life as a refugee in the current social climate. Tightening of immigrating laws, closure of camps and abuse of power has led to refugee camps rife with violence, overcrowding, and inhumane living conditions, with some governmental actions regarding these camps prompting investigation.
Authorities’ neglect of refugee camps in several countries has led to the camps being dominated by traffickers and smugglers, putting refugees – especially the women and children – in a vulnerable position. This has been the case in Dunkirk, where up to 2000 refugees are currently residing. A volunteer at the camp commented, “Sexual assault, violence and rape are all far too common. Minors are assaulted and women are raped and forced to pay for smuggling with their bodies.” She continued, “Although the showers are meant to be locked at night, particularly dangerous individuals in the camp have keys and are able to take the women to the showers in the night to force themselves on them.”
Due to the UK Home Office limiting intake of child refugees in France last December and the closure of the Calais camp in October, these people are forced to remain in Dunkirk. The Government controversially provided no reason for rejecting some children’s asylum.
On 10 February this year the “Dubs Scheme” ended prematurely, after giving asylum to only 350 lone children from European refugee camps; 10% of the number outlined in the amendment to the Immigration Act which Lord Dubs forced upon the Government. The scheme’s termination has been criticised by both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Tory MPs and is currently under legal proceedings due to the irrationality and inhumanity of its early closure. The decision is also being reviewed by the Home Office, potentially after reports that 400 unaccompanied children had returned to the Calais Jungle (the closed Calais camp) in the past few weeks. If the decision is not revoked, children would be vulnerable to trafficking, especially in their desperation to escape the camps which fail to provide basic necessities of living including food, security and support, according to documents on child assessment in French accommodation centres by the organization Social Workers Without Borders. In July 2016, six sexual assault allegations were investigated in England’s own migrant and refugee detention centre, Yarl’s Wood, alongside reports released that the staff were “not adequately trained”.
The UK government is not alone in being scrutinised over their response to the refugee crisis. Despite Greece having received £268 million through the UN’s 2016 Inter-Agency Appeal – global humanitarian funding for hundreds of organisations offering assistance – camps in Greece still fail to reach an adequate standard of living with limited water, electricity, and sewer-bogged tents. Despite welcoming fleeing Syrians in summer 2015, Greece closed their borders to refugees a few months later. In March 2016, a deal between the EU and Turkey saw Europe similarly shut off their borders, decreeing that people would be sent back to Turkey if their asylum claims were rejected. And despite the EU granted 90 million euros to help Greece cater for the winter months, refugees must endure the cold temperatures living in thin summer tents with no proper heating. Greece’s economic problems along with unclear orders from the government are being blamed. “There’s no ownership of the crisis & the Greek government has failed to identify the gaps it wants NGOs to fill” Sian Rowbotham from Norwegian Church Aid commented.
Yet conditions in Greece’s camps may not be down to the incompetence or neglect by authorities. Overcrowding has led to camps filled at almost four times their capacity. And, due to the EU-Turkey asylum deal last March, camps initially intended for short-term use are now holding migrants for months whilst detained. One air worker blames the EU, stating, “the rest of the EU wants to outsource its moral responsibility”. This seems especially pertinent as Germany recently announced plans to send refugees there back to Greece.
These issues are not confined to Europe. The Kenyan government repatriated 200,000 Somali refugees earlier this month after closing the Dadaab camp; denouncing it as a base for launching terrorist attacks in Kenya. A Kenyan court ruling since dubbed the closure unconstitutional and discriminatory, raising hopes that the government will reverse its actions. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also been called to examine Australian inhumanity within camps on Pacific island’s Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus. The submission to the ICC details an epidemic of self-harm within these camps; one man died from self-immolation in April 2016, and one woman suffered 70 per cent burns to her body from a similar act days later. Reports leaked last year also counted 7 child sexual assaults and 59 physical assaults.
Dr Ioannis Kalpouzos, law lecturer at City University London, declared, “We are witnessing the normalisation of crimes committed against the world’s most vulnerable population – refugees.”