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The Jungle refugee camp in Calais: third world conditions on the UK's doorstep

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Friday, January 8, 2016,

 

The driving wind and cold rains of winter make the Jungle refugee camp in Calais an even more unforgivable place than it already is. On a recent Wednesday in January, men line up and wait for more than an hour to get a pair of shoes, some wearing flip flops and no socks or running shoes with the backs folded down. As the shoes are distributed a scuffle breaks out, men shouting and pushing toward the small hut where a group of volunteers are trying to regain control of the crowd.

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Trudeau touts Canada's commitment to Syrian refugees during UK visit

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Friday, November 27, 2015,

As other countries pass legislation to restrict Syrian refugees, Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed the country’s commitment to welcoming 25,000 Syrians in the next three months.

“We know we are not just resettling refugees, we are welcoming new Canadians,” Trudeau said Thursday in a speech at the Canadian High Commission in London.


He held up Canada has an example to other countries of how diversity and cultural inclusion can thrive.

“What...


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Falling in love with sunny old England

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Wednesday, August 28, 2013,



In some ways, London was more of a culture shock than South East Asia.
Instead of dodging speeding motorbikes on the tangled streets, you try to weave into the hurried crosshatch of people as they rush through the tube stations. On the tube, you try not to make eye contact, even when you're practically crammed into someone's armpit during the morning crush, and any sort of laughter or smiling elicits a strange look. 

But the city has an understated beauty which lies in its h...


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Trekking through the terraced rice paddies of Sapa

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Wednesday, August 28, 2013,



“Go with Su Su.” That’s what two different groups of travellers said to me when I was looking to doing a trek through the hill tribe villages in Sapa. They talked about her as if she was a legend. “You’ll have the time of your life,” one English guy said. “She was amazing,” said my American friend, Elizabeth. 

They passed on a number on a ripped piece of paper and I called Su Su up to arrange to meet the next day. Su Su gets most of her business like this; wo...


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Cruising through Da Lat with the Eagle

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Friday, June 14, 2013,



“I love my job, it’s my passion,” said the Eagle, as he looked out at the green and brown patches of farmland in a valley below the rolling mountains of Da Lat in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Standing beside his decades-old motorcycle, he points to a mountain in the distance, the top of which resembles a woman lying down looking at the sky, Lady of the Mountain she’s called.
 

Eagle, whose real name is Phamduy Hung, is a military vet who fought for South Vietnam ...


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Vietnam: a beautiful country torn by war

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Tuesday, June 11, 2013,



Ho Chi Minh City is loud and chaotic, a place where tourists spend more time trying not to get hit by a motorbike and turning down taxi drivers than they do taking in the sites. The War Remnants museum is quiet, as people reflect on the atrocities of the Vietnam War, which in this country is known as the American War.

The walls of the first floor are decorated with photos of global protests against the war, on such a massive scale it’s shocking.

The photos show millions ...


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Adventures of Swiss family Robinson on Koh Rong

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Sunday, May 26, 2013,



The boat crested through the waves, bobbing up and down in the driving rain. Salt water splashed our face, waking us up every time we were about to doze off. The shores of Sihanoukville shrank into the past as we approached our next destination: Koh Rong. Rugged, peaceful and sparsely populated. We were the Swiss Family Robinson, South East Asia backpacker-style. In the foursome of travellers there was Seren, the chatty Welsh girl with a bounce in her step and a new idea alwa...


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The Killing Fields and Truol Sleng prison

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Tuesday, May 21, 2013,



It was when I stood in front of the killing tree, where Khmer Rouge soldiers beat to death little babies and children, that the atrocities of the Cambodian genocide really hit me. It was like a punch in the stomach, listening via audio tape to one of the survivors explain how soldiers would kill the children by bashing their heads against the tree and then disposing of their bodies in the mass grave. The tree is now covered with colourful friendship bracelets, left by travell...


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Sun rise, Don Det

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Friday, May 17, 2013,


After my epic motorbike bail, I needed someplace to just sit and relax. Someplace where lying prone in a hammock or on a cushioned bamboo mat is the most strenuous activity of the day. Enter Don Det, in the 4,000 islands in Southern Laos. A friend told me after emerging from a harrowing bike trip through the jungles of Cambodia bruised, battered and beaten, he recovered on Don Det. Once you get here, you immediately sink into a slower routine. After a cramped and uncomforta...


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Mission to the Kong Lor caves; accomplished and bailed

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Thursday, May 9, 2013,


  
I had driven more than 400 kilometres that day, winding through the jungle-thick mountains, past bamboo hut villages dwarfed by jagged limestone cliffs tracing a zig zag in the blue sky. I had accomplished my goal, which was to ride a motorbike solo to the massive, 7 kilometre-long Kong Lor cave in central Laos. The grueling five-hour ride was worth it, the cave capitivated me for two hours. On the ride home, I took in the lush scenery, impressed with my own independence and sense of advent...


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Poor, beautiful, messed up Vang Vieng

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Monday, May 6, 2013,

                                                                                                                        If Vang Vieng was a student in the high school that is South East Asia , it would have gained the reputation of the stunning prom queen, full of promise and hope, whose life went off the rails after she started binge drinking. People would whisper about her while shaking their heads, wondering how such a good girl could have gone so bad. Vang Vieng was put on young traveller...


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That time I was mugged in Luang Prabang

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Tuesday, April 30, 2013,

On my first day in Laos, I was mugged.  I had flown into Luang Prabang from Bangkok on Monday afternoon and was ready to get on the backpacker trail again, seeing Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I was walking down a quiet street from my hostel, Spicy Lao, just before 10 p.m. with two other girls from the hostel. We were walking in the street because the sidewalk was pretty narrow and I was closest to the road. All of a sudden, I heard this motor bike zoom up beside me and my left...


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Help for 42 a success

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Sunday, April 28, 2013,

We’d been planning this night for a month. The efforts of volunteers from Help Without Frontiers and Colabora Birmania all came down to one night at ExPPACT Bar. Saturday night was the Help for 42 fundraiser, our grand effort to raise money for the students from 42 kilometre school who were injured in the horrific bus crash on March 11, 2013.

In the weeks leading up to the event, I can safely say Flo, Julia and I visited almost every business in Mae Sot, collecting donatio...


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Saying goodbye to Rays of Youth students

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Friday, April 26, 2013,

 

Sadly, today was my last day volunteering with Help Without Frontiers in Mae Sot. One of the highlights of my time with the organization, which delivers education programs for Burmese migrant youth, has been working with the Rays of Youth team. It’s focused on offering skilled training to migrant teenagers from Burma who are in the stages of thinking of post secondary school and their future careers. My job was to help with journalism training and English teaching. About 2...


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Songkran; the world's biggest water fight

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Thursday, April 25, 2013,


The first splash of water in the face was a shock. A bucket of ice cold water comes at me without warning, except for the excited screams of the kids yelling “farang” or foreigner, which is their signal to strike with extra gusto. By the end of the four day Songkran festival (or week-long by some calendars) the water assault feels about as natural as breathing. Because during the world’s biggest water festival, you can expect to get wet…and stay wet the entire time....


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Life in Nupo refugee camp

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Monday, April 22, 2013,


I woke up to the sounds of the refugee camp. Lying on a bamboo mat, with a mosquito net hanging from the bamboo beams of the thatched roof hut, I could hear men chopping wood, women scraping metal spatulas across iron woks where samosas and pakoras cooked in sizzling oil, children’s feet kicking up dust as they ran through the dirt lanes and dogs barking as they passed. Over it all, tinny music pumped out of a speaker from the monastery, in a harmony that made all the sound...


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Help for 42

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Sunday, March 31, 2013,

Mae Sot is a fascinating place. It’s a town in western Thailand that hugs the border with Burma and has a culture that is distinctively Burmese. The best restaurants in town are Burmese, which sell tea leaf salad, tomato salad and fragrant curries. Women in longyis swirl thanaka on their faces to protect their skin from the hot sun. And somewhere on the streets you can usually hear the ‘tak, tak, tak’ sound of boys playing cane ball.  It’s estimated up to 70 per cent of the 120,000 pe...


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Watching the sun rise and fall in Bagan

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Saturday, March 2, 2013,

 

Old Bagan revolves around sunrise and sun set. It’s when thousands of 12th century pagodas are basked in a warm orange light, providing a perfect photo opportunity for snap happy visitors. At 3:30 a.m., the streets of Nyaung Oo, the town just outside of Old Bagan which is dotted with more affordable guest houses, are pitch black and the only people awake are those just arriving off the night bus from Inle Lake. Half asleep, Paul and I revel in the novelty of loading our ba...


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South East Asia's Venice: Inle Lake

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Monday, February 25, 2013,


 

The bus from Yangon to Inle Lake was the first of many night buses around Myanmar. For reasons unknown, the buses all arrive into the town at unconscionable hours of the early morning, 3:30 a.m., 4:30 a.m., so you’re guaranteed to be sleeping on the bamboo benches in the guest house’s reception area until your room is ready several hours later. Some guest houses shut their gates overnight so even if you have a reservation you’re forced to wake up one of the g...


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Myanmar Adventures: Escape to Dalah

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Thursday, February 21, 2013,

To escape the big city chaos of Yangon for a slice of country life, myself, Nacho, an NGO founder from Spain and Tommas, an Italian economist who lives in London, took a 15 minute ferry across the Yangon River to Dalah for $2 each way.

At the ferry terminal we attracted the attention of a troop of children, who looked between two and six years old, apparently watched over by the eldest girl of about 12 who sells postcards to tourists. Their faces were caked with dirt and their hands ...


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Amazing Myanmar - Delightful urban chaos in Yangon

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Tuesday, February 12, 2013,

I arrived in Myanmar apprehensive and unsure of what to expect. I had heard many stories from fellow travellers who had been there, most of whom gushed about the unfailingly hospitable people and the stunning scenery. As with most things, there’s a catch. Because this country has only recently opened to tourism and has only seen an influx in the last few years, things like booking accommodation and transportation are not easily navigated. For example, there seems to be a dearth of afforda...


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Braving the bungy; the ultimate rush in Queenstown

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Tuesday, January 29, 2013,

When I told my mom I was planning a story on adventure tourism through New Zealand, I reassured her that bungy jumping was out of the question. Why would I want to leap off a platform tied by my feet like a fish on a hook? But in Queenstown, rightly known as the adventure capital of the world, bungy jumping has a cult-like following. On the streets, backpackers sport black and yellow shirts that tell anyone with eyes that they’ve just completed the storied Nevis bungy, a 13...


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Ice explorers: the Franz Josef glacier

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Wednesday, January 23, 2013,
There’s something about walking on a 12-kilometre long glacier between the mountains of New Zealand’s Southern Alps that makes you feel very small. The helicopter that just deposited me onto this block of ice zips away dazzlingly close to the tree line and within seconds it looks the size of a bee against the landscape. I look up and waterfalls are cascading down the cliff face, feeding into the lush rainforest. 

The Franz Josef is one of hundreds of glaciers in New Zealand but it gains ...


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River Valley adventure

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Tuesday, January 22, 2013,

 

One minute we’re coasting down the Rangitikei River, taking in the lush green hills and valleys flanking the crystal clear water. The next, we’re paddling at full force as our raft plummets down a grade five rapid. The boat is nearly vertical, then submerged beneath the crashing water, and when we come up we’re gasping for breath and hungry for more.

This is white water rafting, River Valley style. River Valley Adventures is a family owned company that sends about 5,0...


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This is our Mount Doom

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Monday, January 21, 2013,

 Mount Ngauruhoe

Mission: Mount Tongariro alpine crossing, New Zealand, rated the best one day trek in New Zealand and one of the top 10 day treks in the world.

Distance: 17.78 kilometres to the 1886 metre high summit of Mount Tongariro

Hollywood movie draw: perfect views of Mount Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Difficulty: High

Bragging rights: endless.

So we’re off. After an hour bus ride from Taupo on the north Island, myself and three fellow travellers...


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Exploring Waitomo Caves

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Wednesday, January 16, 2013,

 

Just as stunning as the rolling New Zealand landscape is what lies underground. In the little town of Waitomo in the north island, the main attraction is the massive tangle of caves and underground rivers which are home to the infamous glowworms. Many companies have staked their claim on sections of the cave to offer guided tours.

The Legendary Black Water rafting company will test the limits of even the most daring traveller, especially with the five-hour Black Abyss tour...


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Skydiving the Bay of Islands

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Friday, January 11, 2013,

 

I’m falling out of a plane from 19,500 feet in the air and I’m not even screaming. I’m terrified but too terrified to scream. Plus I’ve been told that screaming while falling 200 kilometres an hour produces the dreaded flap mouth, which isn’t attractive for anyone who watches the video filming the sky dive. I was held in stunned awe of the green landscape of New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, of the 144 puzzle-piece shaped islands that scatter around the peninsula at the top of the No...


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Bangkok's refugees wait in limbo

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Sunday, October 28, 2012,

Bangkok is an exercise in constrasts. Thai people are polite, passive and respectful but on the traffic-clogged roads, they are ruthless and unforgiving, quick with the horn and unafraid to run over a pedestrian who crosses their furious path. It’s a bustling city with skyscrapers, a modern train and subway system where almost every spot deposits a crush of people into giant gleaming shopping malls several stories high. The malls are spotless and with air conditioning cooli...


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Who is listening?

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Sunday, October 14, 2012,

They stopped traffic, more than 200 people carrying banners that said “End detention now” and chanting “Free the refugees.”

But despite their efforts, one still got that sense that no one was listening. Or at least those in power.

The Refugee Action Coalition’s rally in downtown Sydney on Sunday was by all accounts a success. Vocal volunteers canvassed people on the street to sign a petition against offshore processing, the government’s latest strategy as part...


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The diversity of Dandenong

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Thursday, October 4, 2012,

Dandenong is a living portrait of the vibrancy refugees can bring to an area.

About 20 years ago the land-locked city located 36 kilometres southeast of Melbourne, was tired and dilapidated. Storefronts were vacant and it was difficult to rent or sell a home.

But a wave of refugees have settled in Dandenong in the last decade, making it the most culturally diverse area in Victoria and Melbourne’s only recognized Afghan precinct.  

When I spent the afternoon in Dandenon...


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A policy of "go back to where you came from."

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Monday, September 24, 2012,

Australia's Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is painting the return of 16 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka as a victory in the fight against human smugglers who sell spots on rusty boats. The men arrived in Australia after the August 13 decision to reinstate offshore processing on Nauru, and decided to return to their home country rather than wait in tents on the remote Pacific Island for an indefinite amount of time as their refugee claims are assessed.

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Both the Nauru transfers...


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A circle of friends

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Sunday, September 16, 2012,
The families at Inverbrackie call Sunday "party day." It's the day that volunteers from the Hills Circle of Friends come through the minimum security gates of this detention centre in the Adelaide Hills, bearing food, toys and clothes for the families living in detention. Circle of Friends coordinator Maggie McMahon invited me to join her enthusiastic group. After having my visitor request approved by Serco, the private company that manages the detention centres, I was fortunate enough to sha...
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Return to the Pacific Solution

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Friday, September 14, 2012,
The first planeload of 30 asylum seekers arrived on Nauru early Friday morning, but not the last, as the Australian immigration minister indicated women and children could also be sent to the remote Pacific island as a deterrent to human smugglers. The Australian government is fulfilling its promise to reinstate offshore processing, a policy instigated by the Howard government in 2001 which saw boat migrants sent to Nauru and Manus Island before they could be processed in Australia. The polic...
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This place is a prison

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Monday, September 10, 2012,
On Sunday I visited the Fremantle Prison, a fascinating relic of Australia's history as an island for convicts. It was the first British convicts in Western Australia who in the 1850s built their own jail — The one metre by two metre cells with rusty buckets instead of toilets; The solitary confinement rooms where misbehaved prisoners were locked in complete darkness for 23 hours a day; And they built the gallows where 43 men and one woman were hanged. Eventually the cells would be doubled ...
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Detention centre in the jungle

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Thursday, September 6, 2012,
Christmas Island is like no place on earth. The plane descends into the jungle, finding a small strip of runway next to an airport so small it looks more like a gas station. The thick, humid air engulfs me and I quickly shed a layer of clothing. I jump in my rental four wheel drive and start exploring. The landscape looks like a cross between Jurassic Park and Fern Gully, both places I thought were entirely fictional up until now. A few wrong turns here and there (the map given to me by the c...
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The detention centre on the hill

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Sunday, September 2, 2012,
The Yongah Hill Detention Centre appears suddenly amidst the farmland and bush of the Avon Valley, located just outside of the town of Northam, about 80 kilometres east of Perth in Western Australia. Beyond the electric fence of the imposing steel and concrete structure are 521 asylum seekers who have travelled to Australia by boat. The men, most Hazara, Tamils or from Bangladesh, have been transferred here from remote Christmas Island, the first processing centre for boat migrants. The anti-...
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A tragic day in Australia

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Thursday, August 30, 2012,
The day I arrived in Australia, the top item on every news station, radio program and newspaper was the desperate search for a boat loaded with asylum seekers that had sunk off the coast of Java, after leaving from Indonesia. As of Friday morning, only 55 people had been rescued from the ocean, out of the 150 men, women and children believed to be on the boat. The boat made the first distress call on Wednesday morning. The Indonesian search and rescue authority, Basarnas, initially responded ...
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Divergent views in a Vancouver bar

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Wednesday, August 29, 2012,
I learned just how divisive is the migrant ships issue in Australia before I even arrived in the country. I was in a bar in Vancouver, the Speakeasy on Granville, busy with travellers and regulars on a Sunday night. While waiting for my friend to arrive, I started to chat with a pair of backpackers. One was from Brisbane, the other an Italian who had spent a year in Australia and a year in New Zealand, which resulted in a very peculiar and unplaceable accent. They asked why I was going to Aus...
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