CAFOD scales up work on Greek islands as thousands more refugees arrive daily

Exhausted arrivals in Lesvos

From Independent Catholic News:

With up to 4,000 refugees arriving every day on the island of Lesvos alone, CAFOD is working with Caritas Greece to provide food, water, emergency supplies and safe sanitation to those most in need.

CAFOD has committed £80,000 to support the Caritas response to the refugee crisis in Greece, particularly focusing on Rhodes, Lesvos and crowded border crossings into Macedonia. The agency has deployed specialist humanitarian staff to coordinate the response and to set up water and sanitation projects to help prevent the spread of disease.

Patrick Nicholson, Director of Communications at Caritas Internationalis, is on the island of Lesvos. He said: “It’s a dramatic situation. Thousands of people are arriving here daily. By the beach at dawn, we met Syrian families with small children and a woman who was eight months pregnant, all cold, wet, exhausted and bewildered. Their first reaction as they reached dry land was to burst into tears. Then they looked round to check that they’d all survived.

“They are an exhausted mass of humanity looking for safety. They say they had no choice to leave: they would either die in Syria or die at sea. Right now, the port is awash with Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis, all looking to leave. Conditions are basic but improving. Caritas volunteers have been able to give people sleeping mats and bags. There’s also a sense of jubilation… People hope that the worst is behind them.”

On the island of Chios, Evelina Manola, a Caritas Greece aid worker, describes conditions for refugees as “inhumane”. Hundreds of people are sleeping in a park by the port, hoping to travel onwards to mainland Europe. She said: “It’s really hard for the people in the park, especially for the women. There are only two small toilets. There isn’t enough clean water. They sleep out in the open. Some families have the mats that we gave them. Others are sleeping on cardboard boxes or just the floor, without anything. It’s really sad… What we’re doing is a help. It might just be a drop in the ocean, but it’s still a drop.”

Many of the refugees are determined to travel north, often with the aim of reaching Germany or Sweden. As well as working in Greece, CAFOD is supporting Caritas Serbia in providing food, drinking water, medical help, legal support and shelter to refugees as they make their way across the country.

Abdalkarim Zahra, 26, left Syria because he didn’t want to fight, and paid people smugglers to take him across the Mediterranean on an overcrowded rubber dinghy. Over the last few days, he has been staying in Kanjiža, a Serbian town 3.5 kilometers away from the Hungarian border.

He had not heard of Caritas or CAFOD before arriving in Europe, but is grateful for the support he has received. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s good to know that something like this exists… In these aid camps for the first time after so many exhausting weeks, I felt I was treated as a human.”

More than 467,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration – more than double the number who made the journey in the whole of 2014.

CAFOD is accepting donations to support its response to the crisis at http://www.cafod.org.uk/Give/Refugee-Crisis-Appeal

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