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Since the late 90s refugees have been in Calais hoping to reach safety and stability in the UK. Many have relatives across the channel and the port which sees hundreds of lorries passing through each day offers a chance to slip through draconian border controls.
In 2002 the UK government pressured the French into closing the Red Cross medical facility nearby in Sangatte (very humane) and since then the conditions for the refugees have massively deteriorated. Each year there are many deaths from illness and exposure alongside the countless people killed and maimed trying to get into lorries or crossing the high speed railway lines.
The Europe wide refugee crisis has seen the numbers in the Calais ‘Jungle’ Camp (renamed ‘Freetown’ by its occupants) swell fivefold to over 6,000 in recent months with many local NGOs fearing the worst this coming winter. The vulnerability of those in the camp was recently demonstrated when a fire started by a candle destroyed several dwellings. Luckily no one was hurt. To add to their problems the present site of the camp (where the refugees were forcibly moved to by the French authorities) has now been found to contain large amounts of highly toxic asbestos. On top of this the refugees regularly complain of mistreatment by local police with numerous accounts of beatings & being pepper sprayed.
However there has recently been a massive increase in practical solidarity missions aimed at helping the refugees survive alongside the work of some activists whom have been helping for over a decade.
Reel News joined two such actions in August/September. The first was a 100 strong Critical Mass bike ride to the camp via Dover to donate much needed transport to the refugees. The event also attracted positive media coverage to the plight of the refugees and those whom are defying the government line on helping them. Reports: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11)
The following week we joined a convoy of vehicles organised by Stand Up To Racism whom have been collecting thousands of pounds from Trade Union Branches to support NGOs in the frontline in Calais.
There are also plans to afoot to build a sustainable bread making operation at the camp alongside numerous other projects. Below are some useful links for anyone wishing to get involved.
Back in Athens and today’s slideshow features four drawings made by Afghan children whom are presently residing in a squat that has been opened by activists for refugees in an abandoned office complex. Just take a look at these images drawn by children less than ten years old and then decide for yourselves if these people deserve our protection?
The squat in question has a twitter account here: Notara 26
There will be a benefit event in London for this space next Friday, please support it by sharing this post. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1569472236661238/
We are also pleased that our film Into The Fire is being screened at this event. When we made it three years ago it was an account of how vulnerable people, who were running for their lives, were being treated upon entering Europe. We remain proud of that film but stress that the issues it raised now pale in comparison to the refugee crisis that is being experienced in Greece now. We urge everyone in London to attend and support this event in whatever way they can.
Today we visited two refugee camps on Lesvos near Mytilini both of them a very different experience. The PIKPA camp was opened by activists a while ago and contains around 140 people who receive quality food and medical care. The disabled and traumatised are cared for with a wide range of activities being organised for the children.
By comparison the Moria camp and registration centre has grown massively in a short space of time and the people there are living in stone age conditions. Yesterday the first water pipes were connected. Just two, for thousands of people. There is still no electricity, health care or sanitation as major NGOs bicker over who should provide what and when?
Most of the people are sleeping out in the open meaning that this will become a proper disaster when winter arrives. The tents that some have are totally inadequate. Most of the people are from Afghanistan with some from African and Asian countries. The Syrians whom make up the biggest group on the island are processed more efficiently in a separate facility elsewhere.
The registration process is chaotic with an enormous backlog which traps people in the camp preventing them from moving on to Athens.
REEL NEWS interviewed some truly amazing doctors and nurses (ALL volunteers, most of them from the UK) who are running a small and under resourced medical facility in the camp. They are treating everything from dehydration of babies & small children to adult victims of sexual violence. We will post details on how to donate to their work as soon as we have them.
Today news is also filtering through that one of the Paris attackers may have been processed as a refugee in Greece. This is already being used by racists and the far right, to stir up anti refugee sentiment.
Firstly the idea that groups like al Quaida or ISIL need to exploit the refugee crisis to sneak into countries that they are targeting is beyond absurd. They already have millions of dollars in resources from oil-rich Gulf States whose complicity in their evil work is ignored by western governments whom are more interested in maintaining those lucrative oil deals with their so-called ‘allies’. Those perpetuating international terrorism are surely going to have many more options at their disposal? Rather than entering government controlled processes (risking arrest if they are recognized) and putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers with a proven track record of sending their clients to the bottom of the sea.
Secondly the mostly Afghan people we encountered in the camp today are victims of exactly the same kind of murderous extremism that was seen in Paris last night. The perpetrators want to sow fear and division to create yet more fertile recruiting ground for their warped ideology. Seeing the innocent victims of war and terrorism as the enemy is playing into the hands of the terrorists. To oppose the madness of Paris is also to stand in solidarity with refugees and build bridges with fellow victims. Rather than walls built on foundations of fear and ignorance that the likes of ISIL rely upon.
Today the boats arrived one after the other. The weather reports for this weekend do not bode well and the refugees (aided by the people traffickers) are crossing while they still can. Many are now taking an even greater risk by arriving in the dead of night. The Turkish coastguard end their half hearted attempts at stopping and confiscating the boats at around 9pm. So tonight a boat was stranded on the rocks by a local lighthouse. Fortunately a rescue boat run by volunteers was on the scene to immediately evacuate a hypothermic baby before rescuing the others. All of them Afghans, mostly Hazara people. The baby was treated at the volunteer clinic and is now doing fine.
It is worth remembering that most of the refugees, especially those from land locked countries like Afghanistan have never been on the sea before, ever. Yet they are expected to navigate these dinghies with their unreliable engines across miles of unpredictable sea, which can change from calm to stormy in a matter of minutes. Doing the crossing at night is even more dangerous.
The volunteers on the shore try to guide them in away from the rocks to places where they can land safely. Once ashore the limited transport is reserved for anyone with immediate and urgent medical needs. Today a photographer from the UK ferried a heavily pregnant Afghan woman to one of the medical facilities in his hire care.
On the beach in Eftalou hundreds of refugees waited shivering in soaked clothes for the bus to the ‘Oxi’ camp where they will be registered before heading to Athens by ferry from Mytilini which is around 70km away.
One thing that many of the refugees are not prepared for is the walk of many kilometres to the nearest aid point. The coastline where they are landing is very long and resources are stretched.
Even taking into consideration the recent economic crisis, the response of the Greek government is shameful (don’t get us started on the richer European countries…). Yesterday the government provided transport for thousands of riot police across all of Greece’s islands to confront those marching during the general strike. Yet the most vulnerable people on the planet have to walk miles while suffering from cramp, exhaustion, malnutrition and many other conditions associated with being homeless and on the move.
Today REEL NEWS visited the small fishing port of Sykamnias on the northern coast of Lesvos which has become a hub for refugee solidarity.
Rubber dinghies arrive, one after the other, along the coast as volunteers nervously line the beach to receive them. To say that they are dangerously overloaded is an understatement. They are CRIMINALLY overloaded and the people traffickers responsible for this are making a fortune from exploiting human misery and desperation. Each boat carries up to 40 people whom have paid several thousand euros each. Each boat & motor costs the trafickers less than 2,000 euros and many are being recycled off the beaches and sent back to Turkey.
Upon arrival, the refugees are greeted by a mixture of local and international volunteers. The boat people are exhausted and also traumatised in some cases. All are aware of the risks and recent tragedies. The volunteers are overworked and there is little coordination between the different groups.
However they are able to offer the refugees food, tea, dry clothes and basic medical attention before they head on to their next destination the port of Mytilini. Transport is arranged in some cases. Many of the refugees are either elderly or young. One arrival today was just 4 days old.
At present the weather is allowing the refugees to make the crossing without too much risk. The sun is shining and the sea is calm. The weather forecasts for this coming weekend are not good and all eyes are on the sea as the long overdue winter is expected to arrive soon.
For an insight into the sheer scale of the present refugee crisis look no further than the port of Mytilini on the island of Lesvos. It is just one port on the frontline of this unfolding tragedy that spans across all the borders of Europe.
Hours before the ferry was due to leave for Athens hundreds and hundreds of refugees (mostly from Syria and Afghanistan) were camped out waiting for their place in the queue.
The weather was unusually warm and mild for the time of year, a small blessing for people whom have already travelled thousands of miles through appalling conditions. It will change before long as winter begins to bite. Usually this time of year would be characterised by cold winds and torrential downpours.
We interviewed a number of people today. All were from Syria & Afghanistan and telling a similar story. They had grown tired of living in fear in their own countries and waiting for things to improve. In Syria refugees had been patiently waiting in refugee camps for a resolution to the conflict for years and had given up hope of ever seeing peace. In Afghanistan the waiting had begun in 2001 and now things were getting rapidly worse. So they had joined the exodus into Europe looking for something that resembles a future.
As we left news was coming in of another boat capsizing on its way from Turkey with those on board drowning including many children.
Today Reel News stopped in Victoria sq, Athens to speak some of the hundreds of Afghan refugees camped there on their way to Western Europe. Most were physically and mentally exhausted having been deprived of sleep since their perilous journey across the sea from Turkey.
They had left their homeland for a wide range of reasons.
Most were families fleeing a deteriorating security situation. In particular they were from the eastern provinces like Nangarhar which border Pakistan. Where a 3-way war is developing between the government, the Taliban and new insurgent groups whom have declared allegiance to the Islamic State and similar affiliates across the border.
Many were University educated young men from middle class backgrounds who saw no hope of getting a job or starting any kind of career in a country that is fast becoming a failed state.
Also there were a disproportionately high number of families from the minority Hazara tribe whom have long been persecuted in Afghanistan and see the situation getting steadily worse for their people.
The ages of the people ranged from the oldest grand parents to the youngest babies. Most expressed a desire to reach Germany, Sweden or Switzerland. All saw these as countries with strong economies where they could work hard and build a future for their families. Yet again exploding the racist myth that refugees are coming to Europe intent on living off benefits. Most have no clue what a benefits system even is.
We also interviewed Ahmad Abdi who was distributing much needed milk and baby food, which had been bought with money raised by the Athens Somali community. He said: “I was once myself a refugee. I have now have children of my own and could not stand by and do nothing. We are pleased to be helping our brothers and sisters in their time of need. But shouldn’t the UN be doing this?”
Veterans for Peace march to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, wearing hoodies bearing the Harry Patch quote, “War is organised murder”, and carrying a banner saying “Never Again”.
The police reneged on an agreement to allow VFP to lay a wreath of white poppies (to remind us that the vast majority of people killed in wars are civilians), but they completed their act with dignity – despite being made to wait while nazis and holocaust deniers from the National Front were allowed to march to the Cenotaph at the same time.
On Wednesday October 7, the Pitchford Enquiry into undercover policing began at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) has brought together a number of groups and individuals who have been granted “core participant” status in the enquiry, who are all speaking with one voice: they want the truth about undercover policing in Britain and will not accept a whitewash.
It’s probably too much to expect justice from one arm of the state investigating another arm of the state, but at least a lot of the people who have been violated by the disgusting practises of undercover cops might find out the truth. In the 6 minute video above, a number of activists detail their own experiences of being spied on.
Watch a talk from core participant Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group giving more detail:
and from Helen Steele, one of 8 women involved in a case against the police who had relationships with men they subsequently found out were undercover cops:
Reel News will be following the enquiry throughout – keep checking back here, or like our Facebook page, for the latest developments.
Lambeth Council has agreed to demolish Cressingham Gardens Estate, despite 86% of residents voting against the option, and their OWN reports saying the option was not viable, that it would raise rents and mortgage payments and that it would do nothing to address Lambeth’s housing waiting list.
The estate is virtually crime free, with a strong and supportive community amongst tenants, leaseholders and freeholders that should be being held up as an example of a model estate, not being torn down to make money out of “regeneration”. Now many people face the prospect of not being able to afford to stay in London.
The events in this video, including extensive coverage of the council meeting where the decision to demolish was taken without even bothering to vote, shows just how rotten the new Labour project had become.
Help the residents save their homes
The decision from a Labour council is so disgraceful that the residents have been granted leave to challenge the decision in the High Court – but they need to raise £10,000 to do it. They’ve launched a crowdfunding appeal, so please click here to donate what you can, even if it’s only £1– as one tenant says, “Lambeth Council are just ruining people’s lives.”
THURSDAY OCTOBER 8, 7:30PM
181 STOKE NEWINGTON CHURCH ST. N16 0UI
Our regular North London night on the second Thursday of every month – join us for films, drinks, chats and discussion – FREE!
THIS MONTH: THE REFUGEE CRISIS
On a recent trip to Hamburg in northern Germany, REEL NEWS witnessed first hand the brilliant response from ordinary German people and activists to the unfolding European refugee crisis. GUY SMALLMAN will be doing a talk and showing photographs of events in Hamburg, and also about the recent solidarity trips to Calais.
On the day that Blacklisting construction firms again find themselves in court for illegal conspiracy, we’ll be showing films of two major disputes involving blacklisting – in TEESSIDE, where trade unions are denied access to the site of a huge construction project and workers on the blacklist are denied jobs, and in LIVERPOOL, where notorious blacklisters Carillion have been granted the £4.7 billion Royal Liverpool Hospital project – despite still refusing to employ blacklisted workers.
On a recent trip to Hamburg in northern Germany REEL NEWS witnessed first hand the brilliant response from ordinary German people and activists to the unfolding European refugee crisis.
In the main rail station activists have set up a permanent reception area for refugees arriving by train. They are given food, tea and advice on how to claim asylum or travel onto further destinations if they wish. Meanwhile the city’s main conference centre is presently hosting 1,200 refugees with the adjoining exhibition space being used to sort tons and tons of clothes, tents and toys donated by local people and businesses.
It is a considerable task. At weekends a car or van arrives with donations every 30 seconds. Each day 6-700 volunteers come through the building to help process the numerous items. Sanitary packs are made up for women and children. Clothing and toys are safety checked then bagged up for either immediate distribution or to be sent elsewhere in Northern Germany. Such is the scale of generosity in this one city that they are now exporting aid to other areas.
As volunteers leave the building after their shifts, they stick their nametags to the corridor around the exit. In just a few days the area has become literally wallpapered with the names of those taking part in the relief effort. A visual testament to the scale of this one aid operation.
Meanwhile activists are also responding in solidarity with deteriorating situation for Kurdish people both in Turkey where a bombing campaign by the government has recently begun. Also in Europe, where small Kurdish communities are being threatened. By both repressive anti terror laws (the PKK is falsely branded a terror group), and also from local Turkish nationalists.
On Friday September 11th local antifascists staged an impressive show of force against in solidarity with both German Kurds, recently arrived Kurdish refugees and those fighting for autonomy. Particularly in the Rojava rejoin of Northern Syria where Kurdish forces are reclaiming territory taken by the murderous islamist ISIL group.
The protest marched through the city led by Kurdish groups and finished with speeches and music outside the local detention centre. Flares and fireworks were let off on the roof of an occupied social centre on the route of the march. Anti fascists are clearly making the link between the current situation in Turkey and the activities of far right Turkish nationalist groups like the Grey Wolves who had a protest planned for Hamburg the following Sunday.
Then on Saturday September 12th Hamburg became a police state as a modest 2,800 riot cops were drafted in from all over the country along with 10 water cannons and a helicopter. The reason? A threatened march by German neo Nazis. The police had argued that the march should be banned as they did not have the resources to control the backlash from local people. A feeble excuse, given the size of the police operation.
For those residents wishing to oppose the Nazis without actually having to look at them a non-confrontational protest was organised in a square addressed by the mayor and other politicians.
Meanwhile local antifascists, trade unions and leftist groups organised a march starting from the main station where Nazis defying the ban were expected to arrive. The police estimated the total attendance of both protests to be at over 20k.
As the march from the station began Antifa called their activists into the station as a train carrying a small group of boneheads was spotted arriving. Concerned that the Nazis trapped in the carriage might be overheating; the anti fascists took immediate steps to improve the ventilation of the carriage with those conveniently sized rocks that lie around railway lines in abundance. Riot cops were briefly prevented from getting to the platform in question as more anti fascists linked arms to obstruct their passage. The Nazis remained trapped on their train, any plans of marching in Hamburg destroyed by militant action.
Then around 45 minutes later a second group of fascists arrived. This time they managed to leave the station as the march had left. But within about 2 minutes they were running for their lives back inside as reports from spotters reached the demo.
Protected by a ring of many riot cops the Nazis (most of whom looked like a cross between hipsters & metal fans) started doing that usual thing that the far right specialise in. I.E. acting all tough and doing their utmost to provoke the increasing numbers of anti fascists, while enjoying the protection of the state. Before long, it was raining cobblestones on the police lines whom brought in water cannons for protection.
The fascist were then informed by their protectors that they would be searched ID’d and then removed from the city for their own protection. By now hundreds of Antifa and other activists were had them surrounded and more cops were brought in to keep them at bay.
Antifascists jeered at the Nazis as they were searched and corralled. Not exactly shining examples of Aryan perfection that they claim to be the ‘masterace’ whined that they were being victimised while dodging flying bottles and masonry. All in all it was a very bad day for National Socialism as those of them who accepted the ban on their event in Hamburg were also attacked and prevented from marching in Bremen.
Here at REEL NEWS we are very far from naïve about the real reasons for the supposed generosity of Angela Merkal towards refugees. Not least the economic incentives for recruiting grateful workers from desperate situations. However a weekend in Hamburg has done much to boost our faith in the ability of ordinary people and activists to organise in solidarity with refugees and against the moronic racists who are trying to exploit this crisis for their own purposes. Nice one Hamburg!