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Blind eye turned as refugees freeze, agencies say

20 January 2017


Waiting in line: migrants queue during a snowfall to receive plates of free food, outside a derelict customs warehouse in Belgrade, Serbia

Waiting in line: migrants queue during a snowfall to receive plates of free food, outside a derelict customs warehouse in Belgrade, Serbia

REFUGEES in Serbia and Greece are “freezing to death”, and in desperate need of international aid, as temperatures continue to plummet across Southern Europe, Christian Aid has warned.

The charity expressed concern last week after reports that two Iraqi men died in Bulgaria after walking through the snow for 48 hours without access to food or water. In Greece, where temperatures have reached -14°C, an Afghan refugee has also died.

“It is wholly unacceptable that refugees are freezing to death, while European leaders turn a blind eye to the suffering of people on their doorsteps,” the head of advocacy at Christian Aid, Tom Viita, said. “Across Europe, the political will to act is falling desperately short of the human need.”

Christian Aid partners in Serbia and Greece are moving refugee communities into heated buildings, and working to provide them with hot meals, water, and sanitation, and financial and legal aid.

“People need immediate protection,” Mr Viita said. “Governments and agencies need to pull together to stop people needlessly dying, and work to find effective longer-term solutions that honour everybody’s human dignity, regardless of origin.”

The Roman Catholic aid agency CAFOD is working with Caritas in Greece to provide bottled water to those living outside heated camps and buildings. “The worst conditions in Greece are in the north,” a spokeswoman for Caritas, Maristella Tsamatropoulou, said.

“People are giving refugees wood to start fires, or electric stoves. They burn anything they can to stay warm. It’s dangerous, as it could cause a fire. People cannot even drink or get a bath, because the water is frozen.”

The government in Greece is under fire for failing to improve conditions and medical care in the camps, while a supply ship of the Greek Navy, sent to Lesbos to give shelter for 500 migrants, was so poorly sanitised that many refused to climb aboard, Vatican Radio reported.

Thousands of refugees and migrants continue to risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean on boats; about 220 have been reported dead or missing in the first ten days of 2017. More than 3000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece and Italy by boat this year, the UN Refugee Agency reported.

The agency praised the Italian coastguard for rescuing about 1500 people from the Mediterranean at the weekend.

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