Category: Appeals

Helping refugees on the streets of Athens

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athens street walk1

Border closures have left thousands of refugees stranded in Greece. In freezing conditions, many are waiting for news on the streets of Athens. Nigel Ede, a British Red Cross aid worker, joined a team of volunteers to see how they are helping.

I arrive at the family shelter run by the Hellenic Red Cross around 7pm after work. It’s a cold night and I am well wrapped. Aggelos and Alexandra who help manage the family shelter have spent much of the afternoon preparing bags with a blanket, dry food, toiletries and bottled water. Down a narrow stair case in the basement, two large cauldrons of water come to the boil to fill large thermoses lined up on the counter.

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Greece: Europe’s road to nowhere

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As talks to stop the flow of migrants into Greece continue, more than 1,300 vulnerable people continue to arrive on Greek islands every day. Tens of thousands have been stranded across Greece for the past weeks.

Many of them have made their way north to the border town of Idomeni. They sleep in tents pitched on train tracks in cold winter winds. Queuing, often for hours to get food or use the toilet, some have waited here for weeks in the hope of crossing into Macedonia.

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Europe refugee crisis: So close to death, so close to safety

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Grande-Synthe, Dunkirk, refugees

Authorities in France have started to demolish part of the refugee camp in Calais known as the ‘jungle’. Estimates as to the number of people who could be affected range from 800 to 3,455. With nowhere else to go, refugees could relocate to the camp at Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, where conditions are even worse than Calais. Bryar, a nurse from Iraq, is among the thousands of refugees already living in Grande-Synthe.

In the last 18 months, Bryar has stared at death on more than one occasion.

Certain death was the reason why he fled Iraq. He almost perished aboard a sinking inflatable boat in the Mediterranean. Upon reaching Europe, only scavenging for discarded food kept him from starvation.

And now the 27-year-old nurse is in the midst of a squalid camp in northern France with little protection from the winter.

Yet his story of tussles with death is not special or unique. It is the norm. Talk to anyone at the Grande-Synthe camp and they will all tell you similar tales.

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Meet the ‘mother of the jungle’ at Dunkirk refugee camp

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Roonak, pictured with her son Beshwar, centre

“The only thing that people have here is hope,” says Beshwar. “There’s no clean water. There are no showers, there aren’t enough toilets. What else do we have?”

The mud consumes everything in the dank squalor of the Grande-Synthe camp, near Dunkirk. Flimsy tents offer little protection from the rain and cold. Rats and diseases are rife. It is inhumane.

The camp is home to around 3,000 refugees, mostly Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. There are many families here, including around 300 children.

The inhabitants spend their days trying to keep warm and dry. They spend their nights trying to find an unguarded lorry bound for the UK.

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Refugee crisis: cold and alone with nowhere to go

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Grande-Synthe-Aram.2Aram is 16. His parents are dead. His younger brothers are in Iraq. He is alone in France.

For the last three months he has been living in the squalid Grande-Synthe camp, home to around 3,000 refugees and migrants, near Dunkirk.

He was brought here by people smugglers, hidden in the back of a car. He had no idea where he was, or where he was going.

“I don’t like it here, it’s a crazy place,” he says in a softly spoken voice.

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Syria crisis: Escaping the snipers and bombs

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Syrian refugees, Jordan

©BritishRedCross/IvorPrickett

For someone who has been through so much, Maher is exceptionally calm and dignified.

His is a tale of desperation and sadness, but it is by no means unique.

I meet him in the small basement flat that he shares with his wife, Fatima, and father. The family sleep in a tiny room that floods regularly.

They don’t seem to mind; they are just grateful to be alive.

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Syrian refugees start afresh in Turkey

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Turkey hosts more refugees than any other nation in the world. Mike Adamson, British Red Cross chief executive, visited the country recently and saw how Syrians are trying to settle into a new way of life.

I met Rana* at a community centre in Istanbul. Along with a group of other women, she was taking part in a Turkish language course organised by our partner the Turkish Red Crescent.

Some of them had been in Turkey for several years, others just a few weeks. Rana used to be a dentist in Aleppo.

Her English was word perfect and we chatted about her journey out of Syria and some of the challenges she and her family now face.

She told me about the frustrations of not being able to work and the difficulty of learning a new language.

I asked her what her preference would be: stay in Turkey and start a new life, or go back to Syria? She smiled at me. “I still carry the key to my home in Aleppo,” came the reply.

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Syria crisis: a grave would be better than this life

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Syria crisis winter

©AbdulazizAl-droubi/SyrianArabRedCrescent

Cold, lonely, hungry and surrounded by conflict. There is little to cheer for Mohamad.

All he has is hope. Hope that one day the guns in Syria will fall silent and that life will return to normal.

“What is this war? We cannot understand it,” he said.

The stories and photos that have emerged from Madaya in recent days have highlighted the plight of those left behind in Syria.

And while much of the focus has been on the besieged town near Damascus, the sad truth is that millions of people across Syria are in exactly the same position.

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