A Ballymena charity worker who has just returned from a mission to migrant camps in Europe has said he was shocked by conditions.
As part of a team of volunteers, Aidan Crawford, regional president of SVP NI, visited camps in Athens, Lesbos and Dunkirk. He explains: “What we saw in these camps is unfathomable. People are in need of basics that in this day and age no one should be without. Images of Greece and France may conjure up sunny, happy holiday destinations, however, where refugees are living is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to this.
“The camps are best described as cold, dirty mud baths and any of the tents we visited were filthy as families have no way to keep the mud outside of living areas. Pallets are laid on the ground to try and provide a barrier between homes and the mud but this is futile as it just spreads everywhere. It is so bad that once-loved and cherished teddies and toys are hung on trees as the children can no longer cuddle them and keep them clean due to the never-ending mud.
“There is little food and what there is just isn’t enough for everyone. We bought supplies each day with money donated by people from Northern Ireland and the refugees were so grateful for the items. Hundreds queued for a van full of eggs and these were all handed out within 20 minutes.
“With numbers growing in each camp and the displacement of refugees from Calais’s notorious Jungle camp, there is an expectation that other camps across areas, such as Dunkirk, will see an influx of refugees, all of whom will need to be fed and sheltered.
“There are already more than 3000 refugees in the Dunkirk camp, mostly Iraqi and Syrian, and the authorities are trying to discourage more refugees from arriving here so are only letting in food, clothes and medical supplies. Jungle cough is a major problem in the Dunkirk camp and while ‘Medecins Sans Frontieres’ has a medical facility at the camp, its team is limited in what it can do.
“The winter is extremely harsh, however, the cold temperatures are doing their bit in keeping a number of diseases at bay but once the summer arrives, an explosion of illnesses may be unleashed, which will bring with it even more problems.”
As well as supplying food and clothes to the refugees, the Society is committed to ‘Shoe the Children’, collecting pairs of shoes specifically for the younger camp members whose feet are continuing to grow. The organisation is also ‘adopting’ families through a support programme as well as donating a kitchen to the new Dunkirk camp, which is nearing completion.
Aidan continues: “All of the volunteers who took part in this aid mission have been affected greatly by what they saw and the experiences they had. The refugee crisis is escalating and we want to be able to support these people, who have been displaced from their own lands through war and terror. We are appealing for people to donate money to SVP so that we can purchase and distribute supplies to families, who are living in the most desperate conditions imaginable.
“We understand times are also difficult at home here in Northern Ireland and there are many strains on household budgets, so whatever support that you can provide, whether monetary or some outgrown children’s shoes, will be much appreciated in our quest to improve the provision of basic necessities to refugees. “
To support SVP and their work with refugees, please contact the regional office on 028 9035 1561 or email firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com>.