Help Refugees visits volunteers in Thessaloniki, Idomeni and Skopje

This is the first in a series of reports from Heydon Prowse, one of the main team members at Help Refugees. Heydon recently travelled to Macedonia and Greece to meet organisations we are funding and to research new groups for funding.

Thursday 28th January 2016

Flew out to Thessaloniki and arrived in the early afternoon. Met with Maria who is working extensively with the detention centre in Korinth, where refugees from countries other than Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are kept. The conditions there are dire – no heating, not much bedding and insufficient clothes.  We bought bedding and sleeping bags for the refugee families she is supporting.

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That afternoon I left for the Macedonian border. On the way stopped at the petrol station close to the border where many of the refugees are now waiting. There is a camp at the border, but the numerous border closings and the delays mean there is spill over and many refugees end up waiting at the petrol station.

Conditions are quite good in the camp as the UN are there, and Save the Children also have a small presence. Most of the people I met were Afghan or Syrian. Maria hands out supplies at the camp regularly and we will continue to fund her important work.

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Refugees round a fire at petrol station close to Macedonian border

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Refugees at petrol station

Since September a new camp has sprung up near Idomeni. There are a number of well run UN tents and people are processed in an orderly manner.

Later that evening, I met some volunteers from an organisation called Legis on the Macedonian side of the border. Together we drove up to the capital Skopje, which is near the border with Kosovo. The following morning we drove down to the refugee centre on the Greek border and spent the day handing out supplies to the 2000 or more refugees that were processed that day.

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Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees arrive in Macedonia.

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Syrian/Afghan/Iraqi refugees being handed supplies at border

At the border of Macedonia and Greece it begins to get very cold. Legis try to use the opportunity of having all the Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees in one place to equip them with as many warm clothes as possible. From here they will have to make their way through Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia before they reach Austria and Germany where most are headed. At this time of year these countries are cold. Still these people have it better than the other nationalities none of whom are allowed to take the official trains and busses. They must walk or find alternative means.

The supplies that these volunteers hand out make a big difference to those receiving them. Alongside the food and warm clothing, the refugees find hope that the countries and communities they are travelling to might be kind and welcoming.

What next?

As a result of this trip, Help Refugees is now committed to working with Maria and providing her with support and aid as she needs it. We are funding Legis to buy much needed boots and socks, and will continue to do so as the need grows. We are also working closely with Aslam Obaid, a refugee in Syria who moved to Idomeni to help those in need on the Greek side of the border. Our funding allows him to buy emergency supplies, food and run an essential mobile baby care van.

We would not be able to do our work without your support and kindness. Many of the refugees we help are fleeing the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Others are trying to escape political oppression in countries like Eritrea. All are human beings like us. As well as providing immediate physical assistance, we want to help refugees maintain their dignity.

Please click through if you would like to find out more about our work in Calais, Dunkirk, Lesvos, Samos, Idomeni and other locations. If you would like to know how you can help refugees, please check out our Get Involved section where you can find out how to fundraise for us and how to make a donation. Thank you!