Last week finally saw toilet and showering facilities installed at the main site outside the emergency centre in Grande-Synthe. This victory came as a result of months of hard work from La Cimade, L'Auberge des Migrants, PSM and several other grassroots organisations and individuals.
I have to write this. I doubt many will read it or that anyone cares. But I feel sick to the pit of my stomach. Please if you are reading this and you work in any kind of official role that bares any relationship to anything around migration, please please please think about the words on this page. I feel absolutely heartbroken.
Ever since I left Syria, I wanted to learn, I wanted to educate myself. I knew education was, and still is, the most important thing when it comes to change our situation. That is why I always dreamed of going to the best university. During our escape from Syria, I finished my last year of high school in Turkey, but I left just before the final exams.
In the last year together we have clothed, fed, sheltered, educated, legally supported, translated for, provided phone credit, hygiene items, activities and much much more to touch the lives of thousands of people in need,. By giving grants and emergency funding to an incredible 150 aid projects - 95 in Greece, 47 in France, 5 in the Balkans and 3 here in the UK.
Today is WORLD REFUGEE DAY and 1 in every 108 people are displaced. People with power will tell you - loudly and aggressively - that migration is bad. That offering to resettle people is wrong. They’ll say migration threatens security and values. But we say that it’s greed and power that’s driving the wars and persecution that displaces good people. Normal, everyday people refusing to join in the violence. They’re displaced because they HOPE to live in PEACE.
I had the pleasure of meeting the very wonderful Chrissie and Gerard of SOS Chai who are busy in the Caen/Ouistreham area of northern France. Here they’re working with locals and international volunteers to bring good food, a warm welcome, respect and a lot of care and compassion to the few hundred mostly African kids surviving homeless in the area as unsupported asylum seekers.
Day 3 and time to visit the old and new Collective Aid warehouses where stock includes industrial kitchen equipment, ready to be mobilised quickly if numbers on the streets increase (as has happened before), tents, sleeping bags and blankets, clothes and more. Not to mention two pallets of 3XL waterproofs!
We hereby inform you that as of 22 May 2019, Aid Brigade has ceased all activities until further notice. This means the community centre is closed and there is no of food distribution, NFI provision, legal referral, first aid, psychological support, safeguarding and protection of vulnerable groups to refugees in Sarajevo.
Day 1 from Zeleznik just outside Belgrade in Serbia and my first impressions are of a pretty place, friendly, with the happiest of street dogs, and surprisingly warm weather. Being a Sunday, and a generally quieter time for daytime activities in respect of Ramadan, Clark Schofield, Director at Collective Aid and I took the opportunity to catch up over a morning coffee.
Two-year old Mawda, whose family we closely supported, shot by Belgian police during a car chase in the night of 16-17 May last year. We think of her parents and brother, who were treated deplorably by Belgian authorities in the aftermath of Mawda’s death. With the investigation not advancing, they are forced to continue, tirelessly, to demand justice.
This Ramadan we are proud to be supporting our partners, Refugee Biriyani & Bananas, with a grant of £1000 towards a very special Ramadan Appeal for the 1500 men, women and children living in the isolated Vial Refugee Camp on the island of Chios in Greece.
Surely if the men in camp didn’t want or need what we’re giving out, they wouldn’t use their valuable energy climbing to the top of the camp to get it? They wouldn’t join yet another line, when they already spend so much of their lives in one - for food, for asylum, for everything.
Standing outside in a dusty clearing following a simple and fair registration process so that more than 1,000 men can receive much-needed aid of t-shirt, trousers, underwear, socks and a jumper. This is our first day of distribution at the Vathy Refugee Camp on the Greek island of Samos where people are living in appalling conditions, without even the most basic services.
Day 4 (Saturday) on the island of Chios and we were working with the fabulous teams from Refugee Biriyani & Bananas and One Family No Borders, to complete a men’s summer clothes distribution of shorts and t-shirts.
Day 2 and we’ve travelled to the island of Lesvos where Simon and I are in the brilliant hands of Ines, Mohammad, Anna and the fantastic team of Refugee 4 Refugees volunteers. And I also visited the very lovely Danielle at Gateways2Life showers for women.
We’ve been a bit quiet for the last few weeks so here’s a quick update of what we’ve been up to. Thanks to YOUR donations over the last few months (since January 11th), we have been able to… have 29 people participate in our employability program, where we provide a personalised service, helping people one-on-one with their CVs, cover letters and job searches…
Every day, Refugee4Refugee volunteers gather children from three to 12 years old and take them on an excursion to our plot of land, where they are typically found singing songs, playing fun games and doing creative crafts, especially out of recycled materials.
The area for today’s distro was on the left of camp right next to the road and closer to the town. Omar had already been through this area with the tarpaulins and lots of the tents feel bigger and more homely structures than in the other overspill area we were in yesterday. However, I also find this area much darker.
Me and about 20 other volunteers were in the Vathy Refugee Camp ‘large overspill area’ with Omar of Refugees 4 Refugees. Our task for the afternoon was to give each of the men a brand new sleeping bag in a tent-to-tent distribution.
What a great day today! Maybe it was the bright Greek sunshine lifting the mood? It was a busy start at the Refugee 4 Refugees shop as a queue was waiting when we arrived. The women happily took a pen whilst they were being registered and, instead of kids’ drawings, Anne’s scribbling wall was soon full of lovely messages in French, Arabic and a little English.
Today we spent the day with the brilliant team at Samos Volunteers. After learning the ropes in the laundry we headed to The Alpha Centre where more than 500 pass through their doors every day. They can drink tea, play games, read books, learn and charge their phones. When you walk into Alpha there are guys everywhere!
Another busy day in the Refugee 4 Refugees shop. The brand new bras and knickers for the women, as well as the jumpers, scarf and sleeping bags of course, are so popular and so we opened the doors at 9am to a queue outside and lots of new registrations (registrating people as Anne calls it!). It’s great because it means word has spread in the Camp and the women really want what we’re giving out.
There was something about today where we didn’t just "help 165 refugees from Vathy Camp”, we helped individual people with real and unique hardships. A day when they became a person standing in front of you asking for your help.
As we drove from the volunteer house in the morning, I was struck again by the camp on the hillside. No more than a blip, a little strip of blue and white canvas above the town. When we give out tickets, not everyone shows up, but ‘show rates’ this week for the jumpers, socks, underwear, bra and sleeping bags / shelter suits has been about 80-90%. And there’s lots of women coming to register too.
There’s a brilliant buzz of activity in the Refugee 4 Refugees shop as the women come to collect their jumper packs, a new bra and underwear, and a sleeping bag for themselves and their kids. The mix of Refugee and international volunteers seems to work really well too.
We found the Vathy Refugee Camp right next to the islands’ main Samos Town (pop. 6,500). It’s been built for 700 people and is beyond bursting at the seams. The immediate hillside on all sides is packed full of tents with no sign of any facilities like toilets or showers.
It looks like a refugee camp bordering Syria, yet this is Europe. The hotspot on Samos is managed by the Greek government and funded by the European Union, but it's illegal. Welcome to Europe's shame. Share the truth on the Samos hotspot and show the world what people here have to endure everyday. 4400 people live trapped in a space built for 650. 1500 of these are children…