ShelterBox Provides Tents For Migrant Crisis in Greece

Young Syrian refugee on the Greek island of Lesbos

Kara Tepe Camp on a hillside outside the main port of Mytilene. ©Rachel Harvey, ShelterBox

 

As Greece buckles under its own economic pressures, it is also under stress from a growing external pressure. Every day boatloads of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan arrive from Turkey on islands such as Lesbos. ShelterBox is sending tents to help in overwhelmed transit camps.

It is a short three mile sea journey from the coast of Turkey to the island of Lesbos. But this proximity has made it a stepping stone on a journey of despair. Some days as many as 2,000 migrants arrive in small vessels on the island’s northern beaches. Most are fleeing war in Syria and Afghanistan, with hopes of heading further into Western Europe.

For these families any sense of relief at finally setting foot on European soil is soon crushed by a stark reality. Transit camps on Lesbos and its neighbouring Aegean islands are now overwhelmed, many becoming squalid. Greece, absorbed with its own problems, is ill-equipped to deal with this influx. Its government is nearly broke, local services – where they exist – are struggling, and one person in every four is unemployed.   

Lesbos, third largest of the Greek islands, is still a popular tourist destination. It has only 86,000 residents. But although up to 3,000 holidaymakers a month fly into Mytilene Airport, that traffic is now eclipsed by seaborne migrant arrivals that exceeded 107,000 last month. The UN says that more migrants landed on the island in June than in the whole of the previous year.

Disgarded lifejackets in a bin on the island of Lesbos

Disgarded lifejackets in a bin on the island of Lesbos

On Lesbos, as on nearby Kos, residents and tourists are doing what they can to help, many providing clothing or food. But occasionally tempers run high. Last week migrants on Kos clashed with police in the long, hot queues to obtain registration papers. Migration from Turkey into Greece is now on a larger scale than to the southern Italian islands from Tunisia, or to mainland Spain from Morocco at the mouth of the Mediterranean. It is only the closeness of the Aegean islands to Turkey’s coast that has prevented multiple sea tragedies, most making it to shore on flimsy rubber dinghies provided by people-traffickers, with instructions to  slash them on arrival so they can’t be used again.  

International disaster relief charity ShelterBox has had a team on Lesbos island over recent weeks assessing needs and talking to local officials about how it can help. Now, later this week, a second team will return to oversee the distribution of 100 tents across the islands, with 70 of these allocated to Lesbos. Here they will be allocated to create a new site, and to ease pressures on the existing camps. But ShelterBox is also looking to neighbouring islands.

Response team volunteer Rachel Harvey was part of the original ShelterBox team, and gives this eyewitness reaction. The situation on Lesbos is unlike most other humanitarian crises in that the population needing help is transitory, only staying for as long as it takes to get the necessary papers allowing onward travel.’

More than 107,000 migrants arrived on Lesbos ls June, more than the previous 12 months put together

More than 107,000 migrants arrived on Lesbos ls June, more than the previous 12 months put together

 

‘Hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, arrive on the island in overfull dinghies every day. They are exhausted, often traumatised by recent experiences, and frequently confused about what to do next. Very few want to remain in Greece – Lesbos is simply the geographic gateway to the EU. But while they wait they need somewhere safe to stay. The authorities on Lesbos are doing what they can, but by its own admission the local municipality is ill-equipped to manage a crisis on this scale.’

 

‘Conditions in the two main reception camps have improved – thanks to the efforts of international agencies working with local officials. But the existing tents, provided by Lesbos’s Civilian Protection Force, weren’t designed for constant use over a period of months, and have fallen into disrepair. Ground sheets are soiled, guy ropes knotted and frayed, fly sheets torn.  Some people arrive too late to get a space inside even these meagre shelters, and end up sleeping out in the open. People are visibly shocked by the situation in which they find themselves. One asked me for more bin bags so that he could try to collect some of the festering rubbish that keeps piling up in the corners of the overcrowded camp.’

 

This week ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett and Response Team member Jennifer Butte-Dahl are travelling to Lesbos to work alongside local government and UN refugee experts overseeing aid across the Greek islands.

ShelterBox CEO Alison Wallace says, ‘What a desperate situation, both for the travel-weary migrant families, and for their reluctant hosts. Even if systems were in good shape, it is hard to see how Greek officials could process the numbers that keep arriving every day, and provide shelter and basic provisions for an unforeseeable number of people. Whatever pressures or fears have brought them to these shores, and wherever they are bound next, we will make sure as many as possible get some respite in our tents and from our colleague charities.’

 

Gaza – ‘It is frustrating, and heart-breaking, to have to watch and wait,’ says ShelterBox CEO

Gaza March 2009. ShelterBox has previously deployed aid to help families in Gaza. (Mark Pearson/ShelterBox).

Gaza March 2009. ShelterBox has previously deployed aid to help families in Gaza. (Mark Pearson/ShelterBox).

The world watches in disbelief as civilian casualties increase daily in the conflict between Israeli and Palestinian militants. ShelterBox last helped in this war-torn area in 2009, and is now on standby to provide aid once circumstances allow. 

Gaza City, as can be seen in constant news reports, is one of the most dangerous battle zones in the world at present. ShelterBox is in constant contact with numerous agencies on the ground, including the lead coordinating shelter organisation.

At present humanitarian agencies are finding it difficult to get any aid into the area, given the risk to aid workers and the tight border controls. Among aid priorities is the supply of medicines to Gaza’s over-stretched hospitals, and water supplies to UN shelters. Health services are often overwhelmed, especially following the frequent air and missile strikes. Gaza’s sole power plant has been damaged, so much of the city is without electricity.

ShelterBox Chief Executive Alison Wallace says, ‘It is frustrating, and heart-breaking, to have to watch and wait, but the shelter we offer is not currently appropriate to the needs of families and communities caught in the cross-fire. Our Operations Department is continually monitoring the situation through a number of channels, including multiple sources on the ground.’

‘As soon as a shelter need is identified that we can meet, we are poised to help the many thousands of people who have been displaced by the violence. Everyone is hoping that diplomatic efforts succeed in achieving a lasting cease-fire, so the humanitarian aid community can safely reach these desperate families.’

Over 250,000 people have quit their homes as a result of the fighting according to the UN – ten per cent of the population of Gaza. The branch of the UN that provides relief and human services to Palestinian refugees, the UNRWA, says it has exhausted its absorption capacity in Gaza City and northern Gaza, while overcrowding at its shelters is raising concerns about the outbreak of epidemics.

Palestinian officials now say 1,156 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the fighting since 8 July. Some 6,700 have been injured. Israel has lost 53 soldiers and three civilians. There is international outrage at the numbers of children killed or injured. The UN estimates that 185 children have been killed, and over 1,000 injured so far, with 150,000 forced to flee their homes.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Phil Duloy says, ‘We have made our partner agencies aware of our willingness to contribute to the response, should what we can offer become appropriate in time.’

Access constraints are also a major factor for aid agencies. There are limitations on the movement of cargo, whether by air or road. ShelterBox is active elsewhere in the Middle East, with partners currently distributing in Iraq to some of the 1.2 million people displaced by the advance of armed opposition groups in the central areas of the country. We are also supplying relief materials to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and internally displaced Syrian people in the north east of the country. ShelterBox last deployed to Gaza in 2009, supplying almost 600 tents to families displaced by conflict, at the time the longest solo deployment in ShelterBox’s history.

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Iraq’s Displaced Families To Receive ShelterBox Aid

RAQ KURDISTAN. SEPTEMBER 2013. ShelterBox had aid prepositioned in the Iraq Kurdistan leftover from its last response in the country when it provided shelter for Syrian refugees in August 2013 at Qushtapa camp near Erbil, pictured here. (Simon Clarke/ShelterBox)

IRAQ KURDISTAN. SEPTEMBER 2013. ShelterBox had aid prepositioned in the Iraq Kurdistan leftover from its last response in the country when it provided shelter for Syrian refugees in August 2013 at Qushtapa camp near Erbil, pictured here. (Simon Clarke/ShelterBox)

 

ShelterBox aid prepositioned in the Kurdistan region of Iraq is imminently being distributed by an in-country partner to bring shelter to families displaced by the country’s recent conflict.
Fighting between armed opposition groups has forced many families to head north to Iraq Kurdistan to seek safety.
ShelterBox tents and kitchen sets already stored in the country as contingency stocks whilst the Syria crisis continues to feed instability in the region are now being used to help some of the thousands of Iraqi families internally displaced.
‘Whilst preparing to deliver aid with a long-standing partner, we are also exploring several other options to respond to the needs of large numbers of displaced people in different parts of the region,’ said ShelterBox response team member Phil Duloy in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

‘People need help now’
‘People need help now and having prepositioned aid in the country already has allowed us to respond quickly to some of the shelter needs,’ added response team member Malcolm Shead. ‘A further 1,000 tents are being sent next week to help more people across multiple locations that are experiencing waves of displaced families who are currently sleeping in the open as the collective shelters are full.’
Thank you to all of our kind supporters for enabling us to carry out our disaster relief work and bring shelter and comfort to families made homeless by disaster and humanitarian crisis.

Update on Shelterbox’s Position in Sryia

A man carries his daughter as he walks in Bab Al-Salam refugee camp in Azaz August 29, 2012. Photograph taken by Reuters/Youssef Boudlal, courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet.

A man carries his daughter as he walks in Bab Al-Salam refugee camp in Azaz August 29, 2012. Photograph taken by Reuters/Youssef Boudlal, courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet.

What started out as a peaceful protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the southern Province of Deraa in March 2011 has degenerated into a regional interethnic civil war. 

The growing violence, sectarian tensions and economic hardship has forced more and more Syrian families to flee not only their homes with around 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs); but also their country with over 294,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, according to the latest report from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

With the escalating conflict now also hindering aid agencies going into Syria, how can ShelterBox distribute aid and help people in need?

With the restricted access to Syria, we have explored other avenues through the surrounding nations of Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, but each has its challenges and limitations.

There are ShelterBoxes prepositioned with the Jordanian Red Crescent in the capital Ammam, which were originally going to be used to set up transit camps along the border to accommodate the influx of Syrian families into Jordan. Existing transit camps have been criticised by the international community for inadequate standards resulting in the Jordanian Government becoming wary of setting up future transit camps.

‘The Jordanian Red Crescent is working on alternative solutions with the Government of Jordan to set up a transit camp,’ said ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Tom Lay.

‘Victimised’ 

‘Currently the security situation in Syria does not allow for a safe return by families and there is every chance they will become displaced again and even victimised for having received international assistance.

‘Therefore we will use the relationships between the Jordanian and Syrian Red Crescent societies, the latter being granted the most humanitarian access in Syria of any humanitarian organisations, to distribute our boxes on our behalf to families attempting to return to their homes in Syria once the situation allows for this.’

Safety of ShelterBox Response Teams (SRTs) and the practicalities of logistics are constraints for ShelterBox in the Arab region.

Read more here: SYRIA