Welcome, 77 artists, 40 different points of Attica welcomes you by singing Erotokritos an epic romance written at 1713 by Vitsentzos Kornaros

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Patriarch leads candlelit vigil for Syria's kidnapped bishops

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Christians in Lebanon held a candlelit vigil on Saturday for two archbishops captured in Syria in April, appealing to their kidnappers to free them and urging Syrian security forces to do more to win their release. Patriarch of Antioch John Yazigi led around 300 people in the vigil near the Lebanese city of Tripoli to call for the release of his brother, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi, and Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim. ...


Greek PM Samaras says country on track to meet bailout goals

Reuters © Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras gestures as he delivers his speech during an agreement signing with the European Investment Bank (EIB) in Athens June 12, 2013. REUTERS/John ...


Greek government left with slim majority

ERT is continuing with the announcement that the smallest party in the country has quit the coalition government . This leaves Prime Minister Antonis Samaras with a slim majority in parliament. Greeks have experienced frequent political changes in recent years and opinion is divided on the the closure ...


Kolovos snatches win for Greece

Dimitrios Kolovos scored a fine late goal to see Greece perform a stunning win over Mexico, one of the favourites for Turkey 2013, seeing the debutants kick off Group D with a 2-1 ...


Reshuffle imminent in Greece after coalition defection

ATHENS (AFP) - Greece was on Saturday poised for an cabinet reshuffle after the defection of the ruling coalition's smallest partner in a row over the closure of the state broadcaster.Talks were ongoing between cadres of conservative New Democracy and socialist Pasok, the two remaining partners of the coalition, the state-run Athens News Agency said.A meeting between conservative Prime ...


Greece beats Mexico, Australia holds Colombia to 1-1 draw in Under-20 World ...

Bleacher Report

Greece beats Mexico, Australia holds Colombia to 1-1 draw in Under-20 World ...
Washington Post
TRABZON, Turkey — Greece scored late to beat Mexico 2-1 Saturday at the start of the Under-20 World Cup, and South American champion Colombia was held 1-1 by Australia. Andreas Bouchalakis scored in the 16th minute for Greece which is making its ...
Mexico vs. Greece: Date, Time, Live Stream, TV Info, Preview for FIFA U-20 MatchBleacher Report
Greece beats Mexico in Under-20 WCupSan Antonio Express
Greece U-20 2-1 Mexico U-20: Late winner stuns El Tri in World Cup openerYahoo! Canada Sports
SuperSport -Sports Mole
all 17 news articles »


Greece beats Mexico in Under-20 WCup

TRABZON, Turkey (AP) -- Greece scored late to beat Mexico 2-1 Saturday at the start of the Under-20 World Cup, and South American champion Colombia was held 1-1 by Australia.


Political crisis, privatization gap won't derail bailout-Greek PM

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's recent government crisis and failure to meet privatization targets will not derail an international bailout, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Saturday.


Greek uncertainty leaves markets in red at end of turbulent week

Greek uncertainty leaves markets in red at end of turbulent week
Having suffered its biggest one-day fall since September 2011 on Thursday, the FTSE 100 initially recovered but later retreated to finish Friday's session down 0.7pc to 6,116.17. It marked the blue-chips' biggest weekly loss in a year, with the index ...

and more »


The Greek gods play a wacky game to decide who will rule Olympus

The Greek gods play a wacky game to decide who will rule Olympus
When Max fills out an online personality test as a goof, the worst thing he expects to get is a computer virus. He doesn't expect Hades, Greek god of the underworld, to show up in his living room—and he certainly expect Hades to be purple-skinned and ...


LOOK: The 10 Worst World Leader Gaffes

Whether it’s throwing up on the Japanese prime minister or forgetting how many states are in the union, presidents often make embarrassing mistakes and suffer...


Greek Yogurt War Rages in U.S. Food Sector

Yogurt makers in the U.S. are thinking of everything they can to show themselves as genuinely Greek, including getting famous Greek-Americans to advertise their products. Greek yogurt is a craze that's very profitable too, as competition rages. How does the food industry resemble life itself? Like this: In both life and the food industry, when something is very good, it inspires envy. And ...


Human Trafficking Flourishes In Greece

Greece remains a prime spot for human traffickers to move their cargo into the country and through it to reach other destinations for the people to be exploited into forced labor and as sex slaves, the U.S. State Department said in its annual report. "Women from Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Nigeria, and some countries in Asia are ...


Helping kids has been a lifetime priority for Greece woman

Helping kids has been a lifetime priority for Greece woman
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Carolyn Ellman, a resident at Fleming Point in Greece, talks with Yvonne Caternolo, enrichment coach at Fleming Point Retirement, while having lunch. Ellman is involved in helping to create fun activities at Fleming Point and starting a fundraiser like ...


Mexico vs. Greece: Date, Time, Live Stream, TV Info, Preview for FIFA U-20 Match

Bleacher Report

Mexico vs. Greece: Date, Time, Live Stream, TV Info, Preview for FIFA U-20 Match
Bleacher Report
Mexico and Greece begin their treks at the 2013 Under-20 World Cup with what should be an intriguing matchup. Both countries will be looking to finish at the top of Group D. The group also includes Mali and Paraguay, so it's definitely up for grabs ...
Mexico vs. GreeceSports Mole

all 3 news articles »


Greece in cabinet reshuffle talks

Greece held talks on Saturday over an imminent cabinet reshuffle after the defection of the ruling coalition's smallest partner in a row over the closure of the state ...


Soccer-Galletti makes emotional return to Greek league

By Graham Wood ATHENS, June 22 (Reuters) - Former Argentina soccer international Luciano Galletti has made an emotional return to the Greek top flight following a three-year absence, after recovering from a kidney transplant. The 33-year-old midfielder, who won two Greek league and cup doubles with Olympiakos Piraeus from 2007-2009, has agreed to join Super League team OFI Crete on a one-year ...


Greek aid could be held back

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Aid payments to Greece may be suspended by the International Monetary Fund due to a $4 billion to $5 billion shortfall in bailout funds. The IMF board may suspend the payments from July if they cannot make up a shortfall in financing to cover Athens' debts. Eurozone ministers have been told they will have to find a way to finance the money hole which has actually shrunk since Greece was ...


Classical Sculpture GIFs: Zack Dougherty Puts A Spin On Greek Art

Classical Sculpture GIFs: Zack Dougherty Puts A Spin On Greek Art
Huffington Post
Sometimes after a long staring contest with a great piece of art, you might feel a little exhausted, maybe even start seeing things. Zack Dougherty's latest project doubles down on this idea by featuring a clever collection of manipulated, hypnotizing ...


Fewer Greeks Dutch more Saudis Filipinos inhabit Metro

Greeks are fast departing Metro Vancouver. So are Dutch, Italians, Poles and Germans.The number of Metro Vancouver residents born in these European countries is rapidly declining, according to the recently released 2011 census National Household Survey.But these national groups are quickly being replaced in greater numbers - mostly by newcomers from Asia, especially Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, ...


Greek Cherries Extremely Good this Year

The Greek cherry season is in full swing again. Just like last year Greece profits from the late Dutch and Belgian harvest because of the cold weather. ';The harvest in Greece is very good, but the cherries are small this year. Especially the Tragana – which of its itself is a small variety – hardly showed itself in the Netherlands this season. In its place there are, however, ...


The public broadcaster's closure in Greece ignites a new political crisis

The public broadcaster's closure in Greece ignites a new political crisis
Last week, conservative Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras decided to shut down the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), Greece's national public broadcaster, claiming it was necessary to plug the hole in the country's budget deficit. But the ...


Greece in reshuffle talks after coalition defection

Greece held talks on Saturday over an imminent cabinet reshuffle after the defection of the ruling coalition's smallest partner in a row over the closure of the state broadcaster.


Undercover policemen, undercover lovers

How does it feel to discover your child's father doesn't exist? Or that the man you live with has a wife and children? Four women deceived for years by undercover policemen tell their stories

A little before lunchtime on 19 September 2011, a debonair academic was preparing to give a talk in London at a thinktank overlooking the Thames. Dr Robert Lambert, a tall, well-dressed man in his late 50s, delivered an hour-long lecture about his newly published book, charting selected parts of his 26-year career in special branch. The book made no mention of the darker periods of his past. But within a few months Lambert's reputation would be in tatters.

Lambert joined the police in 1977, aged 25. Within three years, he was in special branch, and soon after he was recruited into the Special Demonstration Squad, a top-secret unit within London's Metropolitan police.

His undercover persona was Mark "Bob" Robinson, a charming, intelligent radical with a taste for danger. In 1983 – the first year of his deployment – Lambert met Charlotte, 22, at an animal rights demonstration outside Hackney town hall in east London.

"He told me that he worked as a gardener in north London," Charlotte says. "Wherever I turned, he was there trying to make himself useful, trying to get my attention." Lambert was Charlotte's first serious boyfriend, and he gave the impression of being a dedicated political activist. "He would tease me for not being committed enough," she says. "I was a vegetarian, but he encouraged me to become a vegan and he got me to become more involved in direct action."

Within a few months, the pair were an established couple among radical protesters in London. "Although Bob had a bedsit, he would stay with me. He would sometimes go off for a short while, saying he had to visit his dad with dementia in Cumbria, and sometimes he had a gardening job. Most of the time while we were together, he lived with me."

It was a double life. Lambert's father did not have dementia and did not live in Cumbria. His periods away from Charlotte were spent with his wife and children in Herefordshire. For at least five days a week, however, Lambert was with Charlotte.

One of the hardest challenges for covert officers is turning up out of the blue without friends or family to vouch for them. Acquiring a girlfriend is an easy way to fill the gap, making an undercover police officer seem like a real person. "One day, Bob wasn't there," recalls a friend of the couple. "And then he was everywhere."

Soon, Lambert was throwing himself into political activity, becoming involved in squatting, free festivals and anti-nuclear weapon camps. He became interested in a small, radical environmental group called London Greenpeace, which bore no relation to the larger campaign with the same name. It was the next step towards what had become the main objective of his mission – penetrating the intensely secretive hardcore wing of the animal rights movement, the Animal Liberation Front.

Lambert set about befriending campaigners suspected of being in the ALF. One was called Geoff Sheppard. Just as he had done with Charlotte, Lambert made Sheppard feel the pair had a special connection: they were locked together in the struggle. "I believed in him, and I liked him. I thought he was a friend of mine," Sheppard says. According to him, Lambert even produced a well-known ALF leaflet from the era that summed up the group's philosophy.

Sheppard recalls the moment in 1987 when a trio of ALF activists concocted a plan to set fire to three branches of Debenhams in an attempt to force the department store to abandon its fur products. His testimony about the attack on Debenhams – and the part he alleges Lambert played – was highlighted in a parliamentary speech by Green MP Caroline Lucas in June 2012. Lucas told the house that Sheppard had said in his testimony: "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Bob Lambert placed the incendiary device at the Debenhams store in Harrow."

Lambert has consistently denied planting the device in the Harrow store, which cost the company an estimated £340,000, but takes credit for jailing Sheppard and Andrew Clarke, the other ALF activist who would ultimately be convicted of the attack. For another quarter of a century, despite years in jail, Sheppard never once considered that his friend Bob Robinson had betrayed him.

Two years before the arson attacks, in the autumn of 1985, Bob Lambert had been standing in a hospital holding his newborn son. In a nearby bed, Charlotte lay recovering. "Bob was there by my side through the 14 hours of labour," Charlotte says. "He seemed to be besotted with the baby. He was a great dad and I had no reason to believe that our son was not his first. I didn't realise then that he was already married with two other children."

Lambert was not the first SDS officer to father a child in the field. At least one other child had already been born to a member of the squad in the early 1980s. Rather than receive any reprimand, that SDS officer was later promoted to a senior post in the squad. But, on the whole, fathering children was not what police spies were supposed to do. It made life complicated.

Because Lambert and Charlotte were unmarried, they were required to sign the birth register together. But Lambert let Charlotte down on the handful of occasions when they made appointments to visit the registrar's office, so Charlotte was forced to register her son under her own name. In hindsight, Lambert's refusal to sign the document looks odd; but at the time it appeared in keeping with the beliefs of a radical activist who eschewed any connection to the state.

It was not an unwelcome pregnancy, however. Charlotte wanted the baby and she got the impression that Lambert felt the same. Initially, he took the child on father-and-son outings and spent most of his spare time with his new family.

But in 1987, at the height of his infiltration of the ALF, Lambert became more distant. One of the perceived strains on their relationship was lack of money. Friends of Charlotte recall how she was initially happy to take the greater responsibility for earning money, allowing Lambert to dedicate his time to politics. But it became a source of friction. Another was that, 18 months after the birth of his son, Lambert was complaining that Charlotte was neglecting their sex life. Charlotte believes that Lambert deliberately provoked her and started wearing her down. "With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see how he orchestrated the breakdown of our relationship."

Charlotte was one of four sexual relationships Lambert had while undercover. A second was little more than a one-night stand, and a third lasted some months. His fourth was curious, because it was not with an overtly political campaigner, but with a woman whom Lambert believed could lend his undercover identity further credibility.

Karen met Lambert at a party in north London in May 1987, around the time his relationship with Charlotte was falling apart. Karen was a 24-year-old who had come to the capital to find work, and was intrigued by Lambert. "I thought I had found my Mr Right. He was very charming and I thought I could take him to meet my parents," she says. Karen was aware that Lambert had a young son from a previous relationship, and he occasionally brought the boy along when he saw her. But on the whole he came across as a free spirit with a politically rebellious streak.

There was a time during the summer of 1987 when Lambert was spending at least one day of the week with his wife and two children in the suburbs, and the rest with either Karen or Charlotte, with whom he was still sleeping. There was a reason for Lambert to maintain ties with both women. Every SDS officer needed a plausible excuse to drop everything and disappear – and it was important that there were people close enough to them to vouch for their vanishing act.

Following the arrests of Sheppard and Clarke, Lambert told Karen, Charlotte and other friends that he could be next in line to be picked up. Over the last few months of 1988, he and Karen discussed what to do. It appeared obvious that he had to make himself scarce for a few years.

"I was heartbroken," she says. "Even when he left, I could not imagine that it had finished, because we loved each other so much. I wanted to go on the run with him." In early 1989, Karen received a long letter from Lambert postmarked Valencia, Spain, saying he was not coming back but raising the possibility that she could join him there. It was the cruellest of false hopes, but Lambert knew it would make his disappearance seem more genuine.

Earlier, he had been having similar discussions with Charlotte. "He promised he would never abandon his son, and said that as soon as it was safe, I could bring our baby to Spain to see him." Charlotte, too, received a letter from Lambert from Spain. It was the last she, her son or Karen ever heard from "Bob Robinson".

Eventually, Charlotte began a relationship with another man and married him, but after just five years her husband died. Her son, then eight, had now effectively lost two fathers. Distraught, Charlotte became desperate to find Lambert, believing he could help their boy. She enlisted the help of social services and the Child Support Agency, but time and again official records drew a blank. It was as if Bob Robinson didn't exist.

At that time, Lambert was just a few miles away, behind a desk at Scotland Yard. He eventually left the police in 2007, after managing dozens of undercover officers. It was with some astonishment that fellow officers then watched him assume a public profile as an academic. He took on postings at St Andrews and Exeter universities, and became a regular fixture on the speakers' circuit. He even appeared on television.

In the end, it was veteran activists from the now-defunct London Greenpeace who realised, in 2011, that Bob Robinson was not a fugitive still hiding in Spain, but an academic touring lecture theatres in Britain. There followed a series of revelations about Lambert's secret past, including, in June 2012, a Daily Mail piece about the Debenhams arson attacks.

Thursday 14 June had been an ordinary day for Charlotte. "I came home from work at about 4pm. I made a pot of coffee and, because the weather was good, I took the Daily Mail and the coffee out to the garden. As I flicked through the paper, I saw the picture of Bob Robinson in the 80s – it was 'my' Bob, my son's dad. I had not had news of him for approximately 24 years and there was his face staring back at me. I went into shock. I felt as if I couldn't breathe and I started shaking."

Charlotte spent the next day trying to track down Lambert. She knew he was now an academic at St Andrews. "I called the university and was put through to a woman in his office." Ten minutes later, the phone rang. "It was Bob," she says. "This was the first time I had heard his voice for 24 years, but I recognised it. It was very emotional. I remember asking him, 'Why me?' " She says Lambert sounded emotional, but failed to fill the gaps. "He could not answer my questions," she says. "I could no longer believe a word he said."

The trauma of discovering Lambert was a police spy led to months of psychiatric treatment. Friends say Charlotte has not been the same since. She is constantly on edge and has had suicidal thoughts. "I feel so confused and hurt by what has happened," she says. "I don't understand what I am supposed to have done that I was chosen by the state to be treated like this. I was no threat to national security. And what was my child – collateral damage?"

Lambert's deceptions of Charlotte, Karen and his son were not the only skeletons in his closet. His time undercover had coincided with the epic legal battle known as McLibel. The case involved a tiny environmental group that produced a roughly typed leaflet castigating the world's biggest hamburger chain, McDonald's. Instead of ignoring what was little more than a pinprick in its reputation, McDonald's executives decided to exploit England's notorious defamation laws and sue the activists for libel. They presumed the campaigners would bow to their demands, withdraw the leaflet and say sorry. Against all expectations, two stood their ground and took on the corporate power in what turned out to be England's longest ever civil court case.

The group behind the McLibel leaflet was London Greenpeace. And one of those responsible for writing the offending leaflet had been Bob Lambert.

The police officer was not the sole author of the leaflet but, according to several key members of the group at the time, he co-wrote it. "He was really proud of it," one of Lambert's friends recalls. "It was like his baby – he carried it around with him." Paul Gravett, an activist in the group, says that while several people had input into the leaflet, Lambert was "one of the most prominent people in the group at the time". Lambert even confided in his then girlfriend, Karen, that he was behind the leaflet, although he appeared more reluctant to admit as much around others. "He did not want people to know he had co-written it," she says. "He did not want to draw attention to himself."

Lambert was not the only SDS spy to infiltrate London Greenpeace. As his deployment came to an end, senior officers at the SDS decided to send a second operative into the tiny group. The spy they chose was John Dines, who went undercover with the alias John Barker and struck up a relationship with Helen Steel, one of the two campaigners who stood up to McDonald's.

Dines started courting Steel in 1990. "He said he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me," she says. "In a short space of time I fell absolutely madly in love with him in a way I had never fallen in love with anyone before or since. He said he wanted us to have kids. He used to say he had once seen an elderly Greek couple sitting on a veranda gazing into the sunset, and that he pictured us growing old like that." By the summer of 1991, as part of an exit strategy, Dines began exhibiting symptoms of a breakdown. "He kept talking about how he had nobody left apart from me," Steel says. "His parents had both died. He had no brothers and sisters. The only woman he had ever loved before me, a woman called Debbie, had left him. He said he was convinced I was going to do the same."

In March 1992 Dines left for South Africa, saying he could not handle things any more. After that, Steel received two letters with South African postmarks. Then her boyfriend vanished altogether: "I was sick with worry that he might kill himself." Steel contacted the British consulate in South Africa and eventually hired a private investigator, who could find no trace of her partner.

In fact, Dines had returned to a desk job in Scotland Yard. But he left the police in 1994 and was given a pension to compensate for ill health. He later returned to New Zealand, where he had claimed to have spent some of his teenage years.

In her search for clues to his whereabouts, one of the first things Steel did was locate a copy of what she believed was her boyfriend's birth certificate. The document confirmed the details he had given her: he was born in Derby in January 1960. It was another 18 months before Steel decided to inspect the national death records. She was astonished to find the real John Barker had died of leukaemia as a child. "It sent a chill down my spine," she says. "When I got the certificate itself, it was so clear. The same person. The same parents. The same address. But he had died as an eight-year-old boy."

The discovery turned Steel's world upside down. "It was like a bereavement, but it wasn't something I could talk to people about. Now, suddenly, he didn't exist. This was a man I had known for five years, with whom I had lived for two years. How could I trust anybody again? All the photographs I've got, all the memories I've got are of a nameless stranger. What do you do with that?"

Clues led Steel to a public archive in New Zealand and it was there, in 2002, that she found a document that linked Dines with Debbie, the woman he had married more than a decade before he and Steel met. Back in London, she ordered the couple's wedding certificate. She immediately recognised her boyfriend's handwriting. "What hit me like a ton of bricks is that he listed his occupation as a police officer," she says. "When I read that, I felt utterly sick and really violated. It ripped me apart, basically, just reading that."

Steel now knew that Dines was a policeman when he got married in 1977. But there was still a possibility he'd given up his job before becoming an activist. She shared the evidence with friends and family. Some cautioned her against concluding Dines had been a police spy. "I remember my dad and others said, 'You're being paranoid – that would never happen in this country.' "

In 2002, when the SDS feared that Steel was getting close to Dines in New Zealand, they took a remarkable decision. At considerable cost to the British taxpayer, they decided to uproot and relocate their former spy to another country.

Helen Steel had not been the only woman searching for an invisible man. Laura, an environmental activist, met Jim Boyling towards the end of his undercover deployment as "Jim Sutton", a former hunt saboteur now active in the protest group Reclaim The Streets. This was in the summer of 1999, when they attended an RTS meeting in London. They moved in together, but the romance was almost overwhelming. "In the beginning I nearly broke it off because it felt too strong," Laura says. There was only one moment when she questioned the background of the man she thought was her soulmate. It was the briefest flicker of doubt. "It was the way he was cleaning his walking boots. I suddenly thought, 'Who the hell is in my kitchen?' and then I came to and suddenly he was Jim again."

Then, in May 2000, "out of the blue, he told me that he had to leave me". After he left, Laura began looking into his background. She was worried he might be at risk in some way. She discovered from official records that he was not adopted, as he had said, and neither was he born on the day he claimed. An email led her to believe he was working in a vineyard in South Africa. In the summer of 2001, she spent three months searching for him there. She returned to London, but with nowhere to live. "I used all my savings trying to find him and I was very thin, down to 6 stone 12lb. I stayed for a while in a backpackers' hostel on Gray's Inn Road and on a stranger's sofa."

She eventually tracked Boyling down to Kingston in Surrey, where he made a confession of sorts. He admitted he had been a police spy and disclosed his real name, but claimed that his experience undercover had changed him. He told her he was very much in love with her and wanted to continue the relationship.

Laura says Boyling repeatedly promised her that he would leave the police and start a new life. Within two weeks of their meeting, she became pregnant with his child. They eventually married and moved out of London, now with two children. Laura says she hoped that marriage would bring him stability and the courage to leave the police, but Boyling became "increasingly controlling, erratic and abusive". In February 2007, she entered a women's refuge, after receiving help from the same organisation for more than eight months.

Laura desperately wanted to contact her old friends in the environmental groups, but she had no way of knowing whom she could trust. If her own boyfriend turned out to be a police officer, how could she know who was a real protester and who was an informer?

"You don't expect the one person you trust most in the world not to exist," she says. "I don't think the Metropolitan police consider us at all… You are a head to be trodden on on the way up the ladder of credibility."

For his part, Boyling insists he "never behaved abusively" towards Laura. He says they were "no longer together as a couple" when she went to the refuge. He adds: "Notwithstanding our separation, I have always tried to support her. I have always supported the children financially and continue to do so. Despite everything, I don't wish to be critical of Laura, who has always been a loving mother to our children. Life has been difficult enough."

Two years after her divorce, when still seeking help for the trauma of the relationship, Laura plucked up the courage to contact one of her activist friends: Helen Steel. When they met, Laura told Steel that Boyling had been a spy. She also revealed that he claimed he felt sorry for Steel, as she had been spied on by three undercover officers – himself, Lambert and John Dines.

Steel had been waiting more than 18 years for confirmation. "Although it was massively painful, there was a sense of relief that I finally knew the truth. I didn't have to keep wondering," she says. For nearly two decades, Steel hoped that, despite his betrayal, Dines might have genuinely loved her. It was only recently that she decided his love was also fake. "I got out all the old letters that he sent me and read them again, with the knowledge that he was an undercover police officer and that his parents were still alive," she says. "What had once seemed like heart-wrenching stories in these letters, disclosures that made me really worried about his wellbeing, were completely false. That is manipulation. It is abuse."

Some names have been changed.

• This is an edited extract from Undercover: The True Story Of Britain's Secret Police, by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans, published by Guardian Faber Books at £12.99. To order a copy for £8.49, including free UK mainland p&p, go to © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



Asylum seekers: nowhere boys

Around 1,200 children arrived in Britain seeking asylum last year – often alone, and after long, harrowing journeys hidden in freezers or under lorries. We find out what happened next

Several times a month, social workers in Kent are called to the port at Dover to collect a child who has turned up, usually hidden in the back of a lorry, to embark on a new life in Britain. Last year they collected an eight-year-old boy from Vietnam, hidden in a box in the back of a white Transit van. From time to time, UK Border Agency staff have fished children out of the water at Ramsgate. Usually, the children are in their teens and are pulled from the undercarriages of articulated lorries or found concealed behind crates in the refrigerated compartments designed to transport fresh produce. Sometimes they have cut through the lorry's canvas coverings with a knife and slipped beneath them.

A few weeks ago, a boy arrived with a broken hip, caused by falling from a lorry. "Their physical state depends on how clever or lucky they are," says the Kent council official responsible for unaccompanied migrant children (who asked not to be named). "Some arrive in a very poor state, with broken legs and arms. The majority are very, very tired and dishevelled." Last year, 130 of these children arrived in Kent, aged between eight and 18, exhausted by long journeys from some of the world's poorest and most conflict-scarred nations, including 25 from Afghanistan, 15 from Iran, 10 from Eritrea, 10 from Vietnam.

The younger boys, and girls of all ages, are immediately found foster carers. Almost none of the children have documents, so determining their age is a complex process; but those boys who seem to be a bit older (15 or above) are sent to a converted old people's home that has been made into a hostel for unaccompanied asylum seekers.

This is a peculiar refuge: sparsely furnished bedrooms, along dimly lit corridors painted in faded 1970s institutional colours. The children remain here until their age is confirmed, their health checked, their asylum requests investigated and their educational needs assessed. They are given a few sessions about British life and culture – with a heavy focus on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases – but much of the time they are left to their own devices, allowed to wander into the nearby town or sit in the centre's shabby common room, congregating into huddles of boys with shared languages.

Two days spent at the centre reveal the extraordinary difficulties they experienced on their journeys, and the huge challenge their arrival poses for officials in Kent, charged with caring for children who have been sent across the world in search of a better or safer life.

These are some of the most vulnerable young people in Britain, but on the whole we are not brilliant at looking after them, as a parliamentary report concluded last week. Around 1,200 children sought asylum here last year; hundreds more were detained at the border during spot checks by UK Border Agency staff (who use carbon dioxide sensors to check whether people have been breathing in the back of lorries). UKBA staff cannot check every lorry; many more children make their way into the country undetected, making it impossible to put an accurate figure on the total number: staff say those who arrive at the Kent children's home represent "just the tip of the iceberg". Those who are stopped on the border are often treated with suspicion, subjected to intensive questioning by border officials, and find that there is an inappropriate "culture of disbelief" towards their accounts, the recent parliamentary report notes.

Kent has more of these children than any other authority in Britain, because it is where so many of the big ports are located, and the county is under pressure to improve the care they are given. Support workers are on hand from 8am to 10pm, trying to help them adjust to their new environment. "They have been on the road for such a long time, getting into all sorts of difficulties with people, that there is a sense of relief at having a roof over their heads, a place that is warm and safe," the Kent official says. "But they quickly move on to the next worry: what is going to happen to me now? The relief is momentary. I don't see any of them jumping for joy."

Photographs on the common room wall show images of staff trying to lift the children's spirits – making snowmen in the yard (a novelty for some of the children, who have never seen snow before) and playing football – but the atmosphere remains subdued. Until their English improves, and unless they share a first language, they are restricted to halting conversations along the lines of "Man United good?" "Yes." In the communal dining area, most eat in silence on the days I visit.

Many of the children have been trafficked – willingly or less so. Others may have been enticed from orphanages (particularly in Vietnam) with promises of a better life. A large proportion subsequently go missing, returning to their traffickers, who come to collect them or arrange to meet them in the nearby town. The hostel staff do not have the right to lock up the children and nor are they always able to remove mobile phones; so they find it hard to prevent children leaving if they want to. Last year 44 went missing, from either foster care or the home.

One by one, a handful of boys describe their journey here, sitting awkwardly in one of the home's conference rooms, each talking with the assistance of an interpreter. They recount confused stories of travelling through countries and cultures unfamiliar to them, taking extraordinary risks with such frequency that they become unremarkable.

An Iranian boy, Mohammed – who, like everyone interviewed here, asked that his real name should not be printed, and who says he is 14 – describes how his uncle paid for him to be taken from Iran after his brother was arrested. He doesn't know how much his uncle paid, nor precisely what route he took, although the interpreter says it usually goes through Turkey and Greece, taking more than three months, with 10-day breaks from time to time, staying in houses along the way and surviving mainly on biscuits.

At Calais, Mohammed was grouped with about eight other young people and hidden in a lorry, late at night. "The traffickers used ladders to get us in through the roof; the driver didn't know we were in there. They were transporting fruit and drink," he says.

They were put in the fridge compartment of the articulated truck. "We didn't speak in the lorry. The agent told us not to speak to each other. The truck was too cold, even though we were wearing winter clothes. I had gloves and a hat, but the fridge freezer was on. I wanted to get out."

Mohammed looks as if he hasn't yet begun to shave, and fiddles with a key looped around his finger as he talks. There is a wobbly vulnerability around his mouth as he describes his journey.

After a while, the cold made him disoriented. "I didn't understand where I was. I was dizzy and didn't understand what I was doing." When the lorry came to a stop somewhere outside Dover, they climbed back out of a vent in the roof and began walking along the road until they were spotted and arrested.

"I had no idea about England. I didn't even know that I had arrived in this country. I had to ask the policemen where I was." He hasn't yet called his mother to tell her he has arrived safely. "Our telephone is monitored. I am afraid of calling her. I don't want to do it. Let me see what happens."

Staff have laminated maps of the world that they show the children to help establish where they have come from and where they are. Often, they have not heard of England or Britain, but know the name London. Some, like Mohammed, are reasonably well-educated; if he is allowed to stay in Britain, he hopes to study further and wants to become a science teacher. Others come from refugee camps where they have had very little schooling, or have spent their childhood working as goatherds in rural parts of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Osman, 17, left Eritrea after his father was arrested. He was also helped by an uncle, who took him by plane to France and directed him to the "jungle" in Calais – the migrant camp where people wait as they make repeated attempts to stow away on trucks to Britain. "Sometimes you get into a lorry at 1am and stay until 5am, then the driver will hear noises and tell us to get out. I tried many times to get on a lorry," he says, in the jerky, stilted narrative of translation, dotted with pauses as he confers with the interpreter in Tigrinya. "There are people who can help you to open a fridge. We went in a fridge; there were five of us in there. There was no space in that lorry – we were all standing, there was no way we could sit down. I don't know what was in the cartons – maybe apples. The motor from the fridge was above our heads; it was so dark you could not see anything. The fridge came on with the motor of the car. I was frightened. I was afraid I might die. It was the most terrifying experience of my life."

Staff are always astonished at the number of young people who travel in lorry freezers. "They bang on the doors if they can't cope with the temperatures," a senior social worker says. "The vast majority of lorry drivers are not aware – they become aware only when they hear the banging on the doors, and they can hear that only if the engine is switched off. The children are putting themselves into real danger. They know that, but they're desperate."

UKBA officials opened up the lorry in a spot check at the port, and the five people were taken out. Osman was dispatched to the children's home because he was under 18. "My uncle told me this would be a safer country," he says.

A second Mohammed, who is 16 or 17, from Algeria, describes how he clung to the bottom of a lorry as it drove from the lorry park near Calais. "I hid between two wheels underneath," he says. "You sit underneath the lorry, you stretch out and you hold on with two hands. You need to hold on like that for 20 minutes, once the engine starts, then you hold on only for as long as it takes to get the lorry on to the train or boat." He describes another spot where it is possible to hide on most lorries: "A tiny platform above the wheel arch where the spare tyre is; you get backache – you can't move once you are in position. They do sometimes check, but they can't see you." He is surprised at my ignorance about hiding places on trucks, says "all people know this", and laughs.

He was caught when the lorry left the boat. "The police came and shone a torch at us. They searched me, asked where I was from. I was really scared they would return me. " Instead, they sent him to the home, where he is waiting until his case is decided.

"Now I am here, I have nowhere to go," he says. "I don't feel young, since I left home: this journey, the difficulty of sleeping rough, cold, snow. I don't feel welcome here. I haven't spoken to anyone, I just have that feeling. I don't know people. I don't speak English." He looks as if he knows how to look after himself, but has unhappy, troubled eyes. He is worried about his future. "What shall I tell you? It is on and off. Sometimes I feel OK, sometimes I don't."

Thomas, from Eritrea, travelled to France via Yemen; a trafficking agent packed him into a metal box, used as a store for tools, underneath a lorry. "The agent took out everything that was inside the box, got rid of it all and put me inside," he says. "I was locked inside this box, with no air inside. I started to suffocate, could not breathe, so I knocked on the door and knocked until the driver came." By that time he was in Britain and was arrested by the police.

Sometimes it is clear that the children are very young. An American social worker recently collected an Afghan boy she believes is around 12 from Dover. "He was extremely tired. He fell asleep as soon as he was in my car – that was quite precious," she remembers. A brief interview at the dock was done with a telephone interpreter, with officials and the boy leaning over a phone switched to loudspeaker. Initially they asked only essential questions: do you need to see a doctor? Do you have any allergies? UKBA guidelines make it clear that the children must be allowed to sleep, eat and wash before they are questioned at length. It emerged later that the boy's father had been killed by the Taliban and that his mother and maternal uncle had arranged for him to leave. He was wearing several layers of clothes when he arrived, but beneath them he was clearly malnourished. "He put on quite a bit of weight in the first few weeks of foster care," the social worker says.

Often, the younger children are more cheerful about their experiences, another social worker says. He recently collected two boys picked up at the dock – a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old, both from Afghanistan, who had travelled here hiding behind the triangular windbreaker that sits above the driver's cabin on an articulated truck. "The 10-year-old thought it was a great adventure; when I spoke to the 15-year-old, he said he was very worried that the child would fall off the roof, that he was going to lose him on the way over."

Many of the children seem quite resilient initially, the social worker says. "Sometimes they are fine for the first week or so, just physically exhausted. The adrenaline is so high from never being able to trust anyone on the journey; they only break down later, letting down their guard when they understand that these carers are nice people. A lot of the young people, particularly the Afghans, have witnessed their families being killed, have had difficult journeys to the UK, have seen people who are too ill to travel being left by the roadside to die."

A doctor at the practice that looks after the children's home residents says scabies is a common problem, from sharing clothes and sleeping rough. Many are underweight from surviving on one meal a day. "I see young men with terribly painful injuries from their journey," the doctor says. "Many of these young people haven't had any medical care throughout their life." Their uncertain asylum status makes many of them very anxious.

Establishing the age of the young people is important, because it helps determine whether they will be given leave to remain or whether they will be removed from the country. Social workers compile an age assessment, based on conversations about their background and judgments about their emotional and cognitive development. Staff say they suspect that some young people would like to be classified as younger than they are because that means they are able to remain longer in the immigration system; by law, the Home Office cannot forcibly remove under-18s who claim asylum. But the parliamentary report into the care of migrant children expresses concern that "funding pressures could be incentivising local authorities to assess children either as adults, or as older than would otherwise be the case", because of the huge costs involved – last year, in Kent alone, £14m was spent caring for these children.

Social workers consider how they interact with their peers, whether they are reserved or shy, whether they have shaved hundreds of times before or if they have never used a razor. They look at whether children are still growing physically during the time they are at the centre. Dental x-rays can be used.

"Some young people are very confident when they arrive, can go out into the community, can get their hair cut, can use English currency, socialise. Others would be very much more dependent on their peers," a social worker says, explaining that this may be an indication of age, or simply of fluency in English. The age assessment process remains fairly unscientific.

Staff are struggling to reduce the number of children who disappear again almost immediately. Usually, these are the children whom they suspect may have been trafficked, and whose trafficking agents have arranged for them to travel separately into the country to avoid exposing the agents to unnecessary risk. Often they have given the children detailed instructions on how to make contact with them once they have cleared the border.

Those children who have been trafficked tend not to claim asylum, because they prefer to steer clear of the immigration system. "If you don't, you are more under the radar, there is less detailed information about you," says the Kent official who heads the team responsible for migrant children. "The problem with identifying trafficked children is that it is not always something you can immediately see. We wouldn't know on day one, but we might have suspicions by day four."

Children who arrive with a mobile phone are more likely to have been trafficked. "How do you know if they are trafficked? They will ask if they can go out, how far is the town, how do I go on the mobile network; they will be trying to use other people's phones," the official says. They may go out and return with new clothes. Children who are thought to be trafficking victims are put in bedrooms near the reception, so their movements can be monitored, though staff are not allowed to lock them up.

"We are working with teenagers, and teenagers have got legs," the official says. "They will vote with their feet. We detest it when anyone goes missing. It is every social worker's nightmare. We're working with a system where we can't lock them up. That's just a fact. They will go if that's their plan. They're not babies any more. We do what we can to ensure national alerts are put out."

Children from Vietnam are more likely to have been trafficked – for work in restaurants and cannabis farms, and for sexual exploitation – and will often know that their families have paid large sums of money for them to be brought to the UK to work. Often they disappear within 24 hours, before staff have had a chance to alert the police that they are possible victims of trafficking. "They or someone in their family is in a lot of debt; there is more fear about how they are going to pay off those debts," the male social worker says. "The trafficker will know their families back home and has a very, very powerful hold over them. While we can support the young people here, we can't support their families back home."

Occasionally, the young people will leave thank you notes, apologising for leaving. A recent note from one Vietnamese boy told staff: "I don't want to go, but I have to go." © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds