More than 41,000 refugees arriving in Europe, mostly from Syria, have been helped thanks to the generosity of Tearfund supporters.
Through five partners in Macedonia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia and Greece, we’re providing basic essentials for people who in many cases have fled with just the clothes they stand in.
Here Peter Arthern, who administers our response to the refugee crisis in Europe, reports on our work on three Greek islands, which have witnessed more than 250,000 arrivals in 2015 alone.
‘These lifejackets were abandoned by refugees arriving on the island of Chios. The day before I visited this beach, there were 1,300 new arrivals. The day before that 1,400 people arrived. And it’s been like that for months on Chios. Refugees and migrants arrive all along the coastline of the Greek islands of Chios, Samos and Kos. There is a huge illegal business smuggling people across the short sea journey from Turkey to Greece in basic inflatable boats. Smugglers were charging US$1,500 per person to make this journey when we were there, sharing a boat with about 20 others. During the summer, they were charging US$2,500 per person.
‘After the elation of making it safely to land after journeys at sea, many refugees soon succumb to exhaustion. They’ve been on such an emotional rollercoaster, not to mention the physical discomfort of their lengthy and uncertain travels. I came across this family who were waiting outside a reception centre. The children were so weary they’d simply crashed out as soon as they had sat down on the grass.
‘I saw this young man, lying sprawled on the few bags his family had brought with them. Tiredness had taken its toll. He didn’t move for ages.
‘Queuing is a fact of life if you are a refugee. All refugees have to be registered with the Greek authorities and those at the Tabakika centre are no exception ...
… and that means hours can be spent waiting to be assessed and processed. Refugees’ details and fingerprints are taken by the Greek authorities, with assistance from Frontex, the EU’s border police.
‘Many of these people have little or nothing. I’ve seen refugees arriving at registration centres carrying holdalls and bin liners with the few possessions they could muster before fleeing their homes. Tearfund is supporting refugees on Chios, but the type of distribution we’re doing here is different to many other scenarios. Most refugees in Greece are not looking to stay there, so we’re adapting our aid to their needs.
‘Our partner is providing 2,000 food parcels, 2,100 hygiene kits, 1,100 sleeping bags, as well as toilet and shower blocks. Because people only stay on the islands a day or two before continuing their journey, they don’t want items they can’t easily carry. So partners are providing basic essentials in quantities and sizes which are easily portable.
‘This is the Suda transit camp on Chios where people stay for one to two days before continuing their journeys to mainland Greece and onwards from there. Conditions are basic, as you can see with the washing on the fence, but it’s tidy. Tearfund partners are helping residents stay clean and healthy by providing hygiene items.
‘This family are Afghans from an ethnic group that’s being persecuted by the Taliban. The mother told me that her husband had suffered a breakdown since they had fled home. We have provided them, and many others like them, with hygiene goods and sleeping bags.
‘Hygiene kits, which include items such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste, are really important for refugees who might have just one pair of clothes and are staying in basic accommodation with large groups of people.
‘This is Khalid, a Syrian refugee who had fled fierce fighting in Idlib. He’d arrived on Chios with his wife and two daughters. I met him at a reception centre and after introductions, he took me away from his family to talk in broken English about what they’d been through. He didn’t want his family to see him as he started to break down as he recollected some of the awful things they had experienced: “I just want a life for my family,” he told me.
'The family paid US$6,000 to get from Turkey to Greece but their whole world had been turned upside down. Tearfund partners have provided food and hygiene help for Khalid and his family. He said he was happy with what he had received. But his appreciation was more than just about physical things. He was happy with the sentiment behind what he had been given – that people actually cared for him and his family.
‘I also visited the island of Samos. Here you can see new refugees arriving late at night being given sleeping bags by staff from one of our partners.
‘Those who arrive on the islands head for the mainland and the capital Athens. Here, Victoria Square has become a transit point for refugees looking to make their way north to the border. Ali, seen above with his children, is among them. One of our partners sends staff to meet new arrivals in the square and assess their needs. The most vulnerable receive vouchers to spend at local supermarkets on food and other basic essentials, according to their needs. Our partner aims to support 1,800 refugees in this way in Athens.
’Another partner in the city is working with local churches to provide food for refugees. Meals are cooked in churches and then distributed to holding centres, such as this taekwondo stadium housing 500-1,500 people. As this work continues over the next three months, our partner is hoping to provide 17,000 meals, 2,000 snacks, 4,000 hygiene kits and conduct children’s activities with 1,200 children.
‘Tearfund is supporting Syrian refugees in Europe and the Middle East, because we’re committed to following Jesus where the need is greatest. But the majority of our work with refugees is taking place in the Middle East itself, and these people are often facing even harsher conditions.
‘We’ve been enabling families to find accommodation, as well as supplying food, clean water, hygiene kits and shelter materials. Over the last few years, we’ve been helping the displaced cope with winter conditions, for example by providing heaters and blankets.’
‘Unlike those that have escaped to Europe, these people are much poorer and have more limited means to support their families, which makes Tearfund’s support for refugees in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan all the more vital.’