Tom Steadman

Vital services for refugees in Greece at risk as many NGOs lose funding

From August 1st the majority of EU funding to NGOs providing services for refugees is instead being paid to the Greek government.

While many NGOs have had their funding cut, there are strong concerns that an uncoordinated and poorly communicated transition to the Greek state providing services is already resulting in substantial gaps in areas as basic as food provision, education and medical care.

Not enough shelters.

One particularly worrying area is the provision of shelter for unaccompanied children. In Greece there are over 2,250 unaccompanied children currently in need of shelter, but only 1,270 spaces available. Around 1,000 unaccompanied children are therefore on a waiting list, with some living in squats, sleeping rough, or placed in ‘police protective custody’ (detention centres) while they wait. As a result of this transition, at least five shelters for unaccompanied children are set to close, leading an increased number of children being placed in ‘police protective custody’ or simply having to sleep on the streets.

The lack of clarity around whether funding for NGOs will continue, or how vital services will be provided moving forward is putting huge pressure on smaller-scale grassroots refugee charities in Greece, which lack the capacity to fill the potentially huge gaps in service provision left by this transition.

Unless steps are taken to ensure this process is completed quickly, efficiently and transparently, this transition is likely to have a negative impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of thousands of vulnerable refugees currently living in Greece.

British charity Help Refugees started providing a wide range of support to refugees in Greece nearly two years ago. Founder and CEO, Josie Naughton, said this about this crisis:

“Something as basic as a handover plan, or a lack of one, is putting refugees lives at risk. NGOs are now cutting services and it will be the most vulnerable people that suffer the consequences. Safe shelters for minors are already being shut down, forcing more children onto the streets and into the hands of smugglers.

Grassroots groups have been filling the gaps for more than two years, but this time round we simply don’t have the resources to pick up the pieces.”

ENDS

Full media briefing on the affects of the transition can be found here.

For information and interviews contact Tom Steadman at tom@helprefugees.org / +447460053586

We don’t have the same budgets as major INGOs, but we do have incredible volunteers who want to help. Please help us support those who will be negatively affected by these changes by donating here.

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PARALYSED SYRIAN REFUGEE LIVING IN LEBANON

The story of Hozaifa, a Syrian refugee who stayed in his home country to continue his education, but was subsequently paralysed by an air strike attack on his way home from school, tells the struggle faced by many families currently living in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

Eighteen-year-old Hozaifa greeted a group of three volunteers from our partners Salam LADC’s. “As-salamu alaykum,” he said in traditional greeting before extending his hand to shake theirs. His eyes were beaming above a smile of naturally straight teeth. Despite the discomfort it caused, he leaned up in bed as far as he could to show that their presence was welcome.

Hozaifa is paralysed from the waist down and as the fresh scarring along his spine indicated, he was still in pain from his third back surgery completed just two weeks ago. As he told the story of his journey from Syria, his four younger siblings filtered in and out of the room. Mum and Dad sat on the floor rug.

In 2011 as violence erupted, Hozaifa’s father fled their home in Idlib, Syria just north of where a chemical attack killed dozens of civilians this past April, to establish a new safe home for his family. In such a situation, it is typical for the male of the household to move ahead first to sort out all the unknowns.

In 2013, Mom and the four younger siblings moved to reunite with Dad in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon. Safety was rapidly deteriorating with bombings on the rise which led to items of necessity rapidly inflating in price and life in general becoming much harder.

Hozaifa stayed behind in Syria to continue his education. As he told this part of the story, his words were saturated with passion over his favourite subjects of Arabic Literature, English and Civics. He paused from the painful narrative to discuss his love of law, former desire to be a doctor, and tangential joys in the fields of math and physics. With the emphasis placed on learning and his new desire to be an agricultural architect, it’s no surprise Hozaifa would opt to stay in school and continue learning rather than to run from the only path he thought led to a bright future.

One day in 2016, his hopes and dreams were decimated as he was riding home from school on the back of a motorbike with his cousin and a bomb dropped from a plane blew them off the ground. He’s not sure if it was the explosion shockwave, shrapnel, or the building that fell on him, but some force of those actions hammered his spinal cord to a functioning halt.

He had two surgeries in Syria before he could reunite with his family and has since been mostly resigned to bed. He can’t go to school because he can’t sit up yet or find transportation to get him there and private tutors are cost prohibitive.

His mother desperately wants to provide her son with the good education he thirsts for, and offer him a beneficial activity to focus on besides his mobile phone, but they just don’t have the money. The barren concrete structure they live in more closely resembles a far from incomplete construction that has been squatted in.

A single light hangs from the only thin wire snaking up the wall of Hozaifa’s room. There is no insulation or glass in the window frames, which welcomes in the biting cold of snowy mountain winters. The rotting wood framed threshold is indicative of the water that pours through the roof when it rains.

This half-finished shell of a structure costs the family $150/month which might not be pricey by western standards, but it is half of the father’s monthly salary earned as a gas station attendant. Hozaifa needs diapers, antiseptics, and nutritional supplements to help combat the weight he is losing, but this family are struggling to pay for all these needs, as well as food for the rest of the family.

While the family likes Lebanon, they don’t feel safe or secure here. They are guests in a country where they are not allowed to work. Transient populations are constantly shifting in tents and settlements. The family agree they will endure this life in the short term, but their sights remain set on the UK and Norway, places Hozaifa dreams of one day going to school.

For now, love is what has been getting the family through tough times. In addition to the strength derived from the tight knit family bonds, others have been willing to help out where they can. When the family was unable to pay for the third surgery, a Swedish journalist who had previously heard Hozaifa’s story stepped in to foot the bill.

Hozaifa’s mother, as she poured hot chai for her guests, jubilantly gave thanks for this woman who was even there in the waiting room during surgery hugging, squeezing and comforting her. She left additional money for some medications and later sent a laptop which is helping Hozaifa learn English among other things.

Find out how to get involved with our work here.

Please support the amazing work of Salam LADC and our partners in Lebanon by donating here.

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SYRIAN CHILD REFUGEES IN GREECE: SARA’S STORY

Sara is a Syrian child refugee. She was three-years-old when her family left Syria a year ago. When she lived there with her father, she couldn’t leave the house because it was too dangerous.

Her father, Zain, said this about her Sara’s childhood: “She lived it inside the house but not outside, she rarely went outside to streets when we were in Syria”.

Sara is traumatised by what she has seen and heard. She tells us that when she hears a loud noise or strong sound around her she worries it’s the sound of a bomb and she becomes scared.

Volunteers have worked with Sara to help her process this trauma, and have given her a safe space to have fun and thrive. She comes to the child friendly spaces in Athens every week, and has fun with children her own age.

Please help us support more children like Sara, by donating here.

Incredible photography by Abdulazez Dukhan from Through Refugee Eyes

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REFUGEES DENIED RIGHT TO SEEK ASYLUM IN ITALY

Vulnerable refugees and migrants continue to be treated as scapegoats by the Italian government.

Arriving in Sicily after days at sea on unseaworthy boats, those rescued are filled with relief, happy to be the lucky ones who survived the treacherous journey.

A discriminatory process

Unfortunately for many there awaits an unjust discriminatory process, whereby the Italian police block many nationalities from exercising their right to seek asylum.

Instead of being given somewhere safe to sleep, they are turned directly from the port to the streets, with a notice saying they have 7 days to leave the country by their own means.

It is then left to volunteers to help them find their way, providing legal assistance, finding dormitories which can host them, and providing hot meals.

This is one of the many things that Porco Rosso, one of the organisations we are supporting, are doing to help vulnerable migrants and refugees arriving in Sicily.

Please donate here to help us support refugees in Italy.

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REFUGEES IN CHIOS, GREECE: KAMAL’S STORY

What’s happening to refugees in Greece, particularly on the island of Chios, is dreadful. And it seems as though Europe is turning their back on the crisis here.

Chios is at breaking point. 3,000 people are penned in on the island, half in a makeshift camp, living in festival tents, the rest are in a razor wire topped detention centre.

Kamal, from Syria, has been stuck on Chios for 3 months with his daughter. She is 19 years old. He is blind and has diabetes.

They’ve been stuck in a tent with temperatures of 42 degrees, with no fan, no information and no options. His wife and children are in Germany but his daughter has not been given permission to leave the island.

Our partners at the are working with Kamal to provide him with legal information and care. They’ve been working on the island to help help those who have been left behind by a system supposedly designed to help them.

Please support their incredible work, providing information and care to refugees where there is none, by donating to our fundraiser for the project.

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THE CLOSURE OF THE DUBS AMENDMENT: “SHAMEFUL”

Dubs

Last year Amber Rudd and our government stepped up, momentarily, and committed to the Dubs Amendment. A bill offering refuge and a future to the most vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children in Europe.

The Home Office committed to talking to local councils to find out how many children we had the capacity to help. But when the consultation was done, local councils said the process was “chaotic”, “wholly inadequate”, “incorrect and incompetent” and “cursory to the point [they] didn’t even recognise what it was”.

What was the result?

The result… a cap far lower than that of Britain’s total capacity.

The government failed to do their job fairly and responsibly, and let down refugee children in Europe and the British public.

Because of the closure, thousands of unaccompanied children have been left to fend for themselves, vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.

As we wait for the decision from the High Court, we’re calling for donations to help the children who wait with us.

Please donate if you believe Britain can do more to help child refugees in Europe.

You can find out more about Help Refugees’ advocacy over the Dubs Amendment and our court case with the Home Office here.

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CHILD REFUGEES IN CALAIS: MERON’S STORY

Meron is a child refugee. He left home when he was only twelve years old and travelled from Eritrea in 2015 to Libya, then to Italy for 5 months.

He kept trying to reach France from Italy but every time he’d cross the border, the police would send him back the way he came. Finally, after many months of trying, he reached Paris where he spent a month living on the street.

Sleeping rough in Calais

He went to Calais for a few weeks and then on to another little camp some 60km from Calais. There he sleeps in a tent in the woods with his friend Abel. He tries to get to the UK with his friend Abel – they both run for the trucks when they stop. One time when he was with Abel and trying to get into a truck, he was sprayed in the face with pepper spray by a man. Another time he was caught by the truck driver who tried to beat him. “To go to the UK is very hard.” “My aim is first to see my brother.”

Meron’s brother is in the UK

Meron’s older brother left Eritrea for the UK some three years ago and he now has papers. His father has been in the military for as long as he can remember – he was conscripted indefnitely. The last time he spoke with his mother was when he was in Italy. He hasn’t heard from her for many months.

A local church near the camp has opened a safe-house for refugees and young people where they can cook for themselves, wash themselves and relax. He hangs out there sometimes, so that he can eat cooked meals and use the shower. Out back is a garden with an outdoors BBQ and a big garden tent. It’s a busy space, but while he’s there at least he’s out of the camp. Some of the women at the safe-house point out how young Meron is and look worried.

Meron is really small and quiet, but he smiles a little every now and then. He talks about wanting to get a good education and that he was good at mathematics at school. He seems unsure who he can trust. I ask him how he feels now. “I feel tired. Really tired.”

To help us help Meron, and more child refugees desperately in need of support, please donate to support our work here.

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