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Diseases and desperation: winter threat for refugees

20 November 2015

world vision

Out on the borders: refugees in Serbia lie “lifelessly on the ground”

Out on the borders: refugees in Serbia lie “lifelessly on the ground”

THE Christian relief agency World Vision UK has warned that the humanitarian crisis in Europe will escalate if European Union leaders do not fulfil their “legal obligations” to protect incoming refugees from the winter.

Its comments came after EU leaders met in Valletta, last week to discuss solutions to the mounting refugee crisis in Europe, as thousands of families continued to risk their lives crossing the seas to escape war-torn homelands. The talks were planned after 800 died in a migrant boat that sank off the coast of Libya, in April. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, stood in for David Cameron, who was in London to welcome his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.

The senior humanitarian adviser at World Vision UK, Johan Eldebo, said that there was “no evidence” that the rate at which refugees were entering Europe was slowing down, despite the threat of worsening weather.

Speaking after a visit to the border town of Sid, in Serbia, last week, he said that Europe was “ill-prepared” to deal with the crisis. “The harsh weather conditions are likely to exacerbate the suffering of the people travelling through the Balkans, and may result in further loss of life if adequate measures are not taken urgently at the very top level,” he said.

Also last week in Serbia — some 400 miles south of Sid, in the border town of Presevo — chaos broke out after thousands of refugees were forced to queue for EU registration papers, many of whom pushed through barriers and clambered over fences.

The field co-ordinator for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Seda Kuzucu, told the International Business Times that, in two days, there had been “around 9000 to 10000 new arrivals”, mostly through the border with Macedonia. UNHRC predicts 5000 arrivals a day on European shores between now and February.

The media officer for World Vision, Brenda Yu, who witnessed 1000 refugees board the first train from Sid to Croatia last week, said that the situation was “deteriorating rapidly” on the ground. “I’ve seen families and children lying lifelessly on the ground with nothing but their thin winter jacket,” she said.

In refugee camps in the Balkans, temperatures are falling to as low as -9°C at night. World Vision said that with no heating, hypothermia, pneumonia, and other “opportunistic” diseases were the main threat, amid the “growing desperation” of the refugees.

This year an estimated 760,000 refugees have arrived in Europe, the majority from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, and North Africa. More than 3400 people have lost their lives, or been reported missing, after taking unofficial and dangerous routes to reach Europe.

In light of the attacks in Paris last Friday — and recent attacks in Beirut, Iraq, Ankara, and Egypt — the UK, the United States, Russia, France, Iran, and Saudi Arabia agreed in Vienna last Saturday on a 1 January deadline to begin talks towards a ceasefire in May.


'Set an extra table place' THE Church of Scotland is suggesting that Christians set an extra place at the table this Christmas, and donate the cost of the extra serving to help feed Syrian refugee families in the camps.

The campaign A Place at the Table, now in its third year, is for a £20 donation for every place set, to remember and help feed refugees who are struggling with harsh weather in makeshift camps, having fled war-torn Syria for Europe.

The Convener of the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council, the Revd Iain Cunningham, said that the gesture was a “simple and constructive” way to help the growing humanitarian crisis to abate, and encourage those who had otherwise felt “powerless” to help.

The campaign has, in the past two years, raised about £80,000, which has gone to the Church of Scotland’s partner, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, to help to “feed, shelter, and support families” who have been displaced in Syria, or have been forced to flee their homeland to escape the conflicts.

To donate, go to https://mydonate.bt.com/events/cofsplaceatthetable/214970 

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