Trapped At The Turkish Border – ShelterBox Sends More Aid

Bomb damage in Aleppo

Fighting in Aleppo, Syria causes thousands to flee to the Turkish border

 

Thousands of Syrian families are trapped at the Turkish border as they struggle to escape the front line of fighting. Many have young children to look after and nothing to protect them from the elements.

In the past few days, up to 70,000 people have fled Aleppo, Syria’s second city, as the regime pushes forward through northern Syria. With fighters on the ground supported by airstrikes, nowhere is safe and few buildings are still intact.

There is no clear route to safety, as the border crossing into Turkey at Bab al Salam is closed. Trapped between the encroaching army and a closed border, families have had no choice but to sleep outside in temperatures as low as -5°C.

We are determined to provide warmth and shelter for these families and a ShelterBox response team is currently based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep to identify how we can best we can support them.

ShelterBox operations coordinator Sam Hewett said: ‘These people have suffered enough, fleeing their homes due to warfare, and they deserve all our efforts to provide them with shelter, food, healthcare and safety.’

The team is working with long-term partners Hand in Hand for Syria to deliver the vital aid. Ahead of the arrival of sturdy, durable tents, the team is sourcing emergency kits to distribute to families. These kits contain blankets, mattresses and tarpaulins to protect people from exposure to the freezing conditions.

Around 4.6 million people have fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011, and another 13.5 million are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country. The majority of people have fled to the bordering countries of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In Lebanon, a quarter of its inhabitants are now Syrian refugees.

ShelterBox has been supporting families displaced by Syria, both in the country and elsewhere, since 2012. Working with a range of partners in Syria, we have distributed a variety of essential items from tents and shelter kits, to thick blankets and cold-weather clothing for children. In the past year, we have been supporting refugee camps in Iraq and providing temporary respite for families arriving in Greece before continuing their journey onwards into Europe.

A donation of $120 will buy an emergency kit containing blankets, mattresses and tarpaulins for a family. By donating now, you can prevent another night of freezing winter conditions to people exhausted by war.

Video: International Migrants Day

mig

 

At this time of year, our thoughts turn to family and home, but for many this just isn’t possible.

At ShelterBox, we don’t just help people whose homes have been damaged or lost in natural disasters, but those who have had to leave their homes due to conflict.

While many people leave their homes to escape the threat of terror and violence, such as those fleeing from Boko Haram in Nigeria or Islamic State in the Middle East, the way to safety is often just as perilous.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the number of people fleeing war and violence in 2015 is set break a record high, with almost a million people having crossed the Mediterranean Sea to escape conflict in Syria and elsewhere.

While we may not be able to help these families return to their homes and communities as we can after a flood or earthquake strikes, we can make sure that people who are migrating to safer parts of the world have some respite along the way.

This video shows our recent work in Greece, providing emergency shelter for people who had made the journey across the sea to the island of Lesbos. Many families only stayed in our tents for a few nights, but it meant that they were able to rest somewhere safe, warm and dry, before continuing their journey on to other parts of Europe.

Your support helps us to keep helping families in need, wherever they are in the world.

Video: Growing Up In The Shadow Of War

Shadow

 

With no end in sight to the war in Syria, living in emergency camps and temporary shelters has become an everyday reality for many children.

Even though thousands of families flee Syria each year, there are many more that are unable to leave, families that have become displaced in their own country.

ShelterBox has been working with implementing partners in Syria for two and a half years, supporting people newly displaced by fighting with shelter.

As the war has raged on, people who were forced from their homes by fighting have found themselves living in camps for long periods of time. Inevitably, exposure to the extremes of Syria’s climate has taken its toll on these temporary shelters, meaning that children are growing up in tattered tents, exposed to the elements.

This is why ShelterBox has been working with several organisations, such as the Violet Organization, to replace old tents with ones that are durable and resilient to harsh winters and strong sun.

In this video, we meet some of the families that we have been providing with new tents to see what a difference it has made to them.

To donate click here: PLEASE DONATE

Refugee Crisis In Europe – The Suffering On Lesbos Makes Headlines Again

Refugees disembark an inflatable boat on the shores of Lesbos, a man carries two children to shore

 

The Greek island of Lesbos has become a focus on the refugee trail again, as wet weather, illness and lack of shelter make conditions miserable for families arriving from Turkey.  ShelterBox is considering a return to Lesbos, but is finding barriers to helping its refugees.

In September disaster relief agency ShelterBox left the island of Lesbos – one of the Greek entry points for refugees fleeing the Middle East – after weeks of providing shelter and shade in respite camps, and generally improving conditions on an island overwhelmed.

Now Lesbos is one of the refugee hotspots making headlines again, as journalists, broadcasters, medics and politicians highlight the continuing suffering playing out on European soil.

Last week broadcaster and writer Lliana Bird quoted a doctor on Lesbos saying,‘There are thousands of children here and their feet are literally rotting, they can’t keep dry, they have high fevers and they’re standing in the pouring rain for days on end. You have one month guys, and then all these people will be dead.’ Lliana noted that, ‘There is very little visible support or help from large charities or governments.’

Now UK Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Opposition’s refugee taskforce,has written to David Cameron urging him to offer ‘immediate’ humanitarian aid to Lesbos after witnessing shocking scenes first-hand. After a visit she reported that there were just two ambulances serving the whole island, doctors working twenty hours a day, children sleeping amidst the rubbish, and fears among aid workers over an outbreak of cholera.

The UK Government has offered to resettle 20,000 refugees from over five years and has offered £100 million in aid. But Yvette Cooper has asked the Prime Minister for the Department for International Development to intervene on Lesbos rather than rely on volunteers and charities. Today UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening has announced a £5 million funding package for a group of humanitarian organisations to fund the distribution of sleeping bags, towels, rain wear, hygiene kits, nappies, food and clean water for refugees in Greece, Serbia and Macedonia.

Former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, now President of the New York based International Rescue Committee, had also visited Lesbos in September where he said he found ‘appalling neglect’.

ShelterBox has been hard at work on the refugee trail for over three years, providing shelter in refugee camps and for displaced families in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan and deep into Syria itself. Right now ShelterBox is providing aid in Syria through its in-country partners, and a team returned in October to Kurdistan to evaluate and improve long-standing provision.

But CEO Alison Wallace explains that the refugee crisis, particularly in Europe, is fraught with challenges and frustrations for aid agencies like ShelterBox. ‘The humanitarian need is obvious, and reports like those in the press make heart-breaking reading. But providing help to refugees within Europe is far from straightforward.’

‘On Lesbos the provision has grown ad hoc, and at times our response teams were caught up in the havoc caused by unmanageable numbers and slow registration procedures. Even now Greece’s government and the UN are finding it hard to identify land where respite camps can be legally placed.’

ShelterBox has access to many more of the large UN-style tents that it had already deployed in camps such as Kara Tepe near the island’s capital and main port of Mytilene. But Moria camp was already beyond capacity, and the lack of co-ordinated organisation could have exposed both ShelterBox teams and their beneficiaries to harm.

Alison adds, ‘With winter months approaching, shelter and warmth will be as important to refugee families as medicine, food and clean water. But all are hampered by a lack of local resources, a lack of available land. There is also decreasing political will, with many European countries exercising strict border controls.’

‘ShelterBox keeps the situation under daily review, and wherever we find an unmet need and a government willing to let us operate within their country, we will do all we can to respond.’

ShelterBox is preparing to mobilise a response team to evaluate need on Lesbos in the coming weeks, and is in touch with colleague agencies and local and government organisations on the island.

As The Vienna Talks Begin, ShelterBox And Its Partners Continue To Reach Out To Displaced Families In Syria

Young Syrian boy holding a ShelterBox sign in from of tent

© Violet Organisation

 

Of all the families on the refugee trail these are the hardest to reach, and the hardest to help – Syria’s internally displaced, people caught in the crossfire within their own country. But aid is getting through, as ShelterBox and its partners deliver with determination.

The world watches hopefully as talks begin in Vienna, bringing to the table the power-brokers who are backing rival sides in Syria’s civil war. The aim is to close the gap between the US and its allies, who support the rebels, and the key foreign allies of the Syrian government, Russia and Iran. This is the first time that Iran has been involved in diplomatic moves towards conflict resolution.

Four years of war in Syria have left a quarter of a million dead, and forced half the country’s population – around 11 million people – from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of them now live under canvas in fast-growing encampments, mostly in the north of the country.

ShelterBox has been working across Syria and its geographical neighbours all this time, helping refugees and displaced families in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan and well into Syria itself. Getting aid into this volatile war zone has meant very careful negotiation of so-called ‘aid pipelines’, the discreet movement, distribution and allocation of equipment, and effective in-country partners who can operate cautiously in hostile conditions using their local knowledge.

Among these are London-based Hand in Hand for Syria (HIHS) who were the first to take humanitarian aid into Syria shortly after the conflict began in 2011. HIHS and ShelterBox have supported newly displaced people in northern Syria for over two years, and even managed to deliver school equipment into war-torn Aleppo. A new shipment of aid for a further 1,000 families is now being dispatched.

ShelterBox’s newest partner is the Violet Organisation, a Syrian non-governmental organisation  shown in the photos accompanying this press release. 350 large UN specification tents and tarpaulins have been transported to Syria, bound for distribution in camps.

Volunteers from the Violet organisation erect tents donated by ShelterBox

© Violet Organisation

200 UN tents supplied by ShelterBox have also just been distributed by theInternational Organisation for Migration (IOM), mostly to replace those damaged by time and climate over the years of conflict.

Operations Co-ordinator Sam Hewett has recently returned from the Iraq / Syria border territories, where he and ShelterBox colleagues were assessing conditions in many long-established refugee camps, and helping to plan new provision for Iraq’s own internally-displaced population.

Sam says, ‘ShelterBox gives you a global perspective on the refugee crisis – from its origins within Syria, to border territories such as Iraq and Lebanon, and on into Europe where we were recently providing respite for thousands of families arriving on the Greek islands.’

‘At every stage these are stories of great hardship and desperation. The scale of it can overwhelm, so we focus on what is achievable, and where the aid provided by our generous donors can help best. As these photos show, our in-country partners make it possible for ShelterBox to reach those trapped within Syria, whose lives are uncomfortable, uncertain and unsafe.’

Air strikes across Syria have intensified in the last month as the Russians have flexed their air power. The UN says 120,000 people fled from Aleppo, Hama, and Idlib provinces between 5 and 22 October, the places where most Russian bombing has taken place and where Syrian Army ground pushes have occurred. The Russians claim that no civilians have been killed, but they have been using cluster munitions that western air forces shun for their indiscriminate effect.  

It is estimated that almost half of Syria’s population has now been displaced, but that six million of them remain within Syria’s borders. Only those who cross borders are classed as refugees, and therefore entitled to the support of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The internally displaced do not enjoy even that status.

You can help by donating to our Syria Refugee Appeal here: PLEASE DONATE

 

Meet The Tradesmen And Shopkeepers Of Iraq’s Refugee Camps

image of Nizar, cutting a man's hair

‘I work because I don’t want to just sit in my tent and do nothing. This is who I am, this is what I do.’

 

As the months drift into years a refugee camp becomes more than just a refugee camp. It becomes its own township, its own community, its own trading centre. In a unique and moving insight, ShelterBox talks to four people making the best of life as long term refugees

International disaster relief charity, ShelterBox is in Iraq Kurdistan visiting refugees, some of whom may have first received its aid over three years ago. Time and climate have taken their toll on tents distributed all those many months ago, so ShelterBox’s team is there to assess refugee needs in the area, and to plan with partners to refresh or replace equipment.

The European refugee crisis has its roots in the Middle East and Africa. But those roots are deep, and now of very long standing. The camps are undoubtedly safer than where the refugees have fled from. And for many children, parents and elders they may now feel like home. But they are not.

In ramshackle shops and trading posts some make a meagre living. Others are working just to stay connected to their past. Some of the camps’ residents and workers opened up to our response teams with their personal stories. For security reasons we have changed their names, and we don’t identify the actual camps and their locations.

Nizar has been in the refugee camp for six months. He’d been cutting hair in his own barber shop in Syria for 17 years, and it was a successful business. He is barely able to support his family now that he lives in the camp, and he is eating into savings he put aside in Syria. People here are so poor he can’t rely on any income now. Nizar rents his shop, which he renovated with his own money to entice customers.

‘I work because I don’t want to just sit in my tent and do nothing. I certainly don’t do it for the money, because there is none to make! This is who I am, this is what I do. I don’t really have any customers because a good haircut isn’t a priority for people anymore, they’ve lost interest in their appearance.’ Nizar is considering taking his family to Europe, but is aware of the risks involved. His eventual goal is to return to Syria when it’s more peaceful.

 

Portrait of Sayid, electrical engineer

 

Sayid is also from Syria. He’s lived in the camp for two years, and he fixes washing machines and air conditioning units. He sourced a lot of equipment from outside the camp, but there is little actual payment. It’s mainly barter, as few customers have cash, so he exchanges his skills for goods. In Syria he studied to become an electrical technician, but never had enough money to start his own business.

Sayid says, ‘People inside the camp have very basic human needs at this time. Although it’s hot here, aircon units and washing machines are not a priority for the poor.’ He can barely support his family, and would like to go back to Syria ‘because it’s home’. He also has land and property, and was farming his own land before the conflict drove him away.

 

Iraq Kurdistan - Shoe seller

 

Mother of six, Amena lived in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, now all but razed to the ground. She fled with her husband and family two years ago. Amena opened her shoe shop in the refugee camp four months ago by borrowing $3,000, so is paying for the stock by instalments. This money is also going towards preparing her family for the winter cold. There are icy months ahead, and the camp is on flat ground open to the unforgiving desert wind. She’s not making much money, but however poor her clients, everyone will always need footwear, won’t they?

Amena was forced to become the breadwinner when her husband fell ill. She registered with UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) one year ago hoping to claim asylum in the EU. But that has already been twelve months of waiting. She says, ‘I am proud and feel somewhat satisfied that we no longer need to receive aid, that I can support my family, even if by support I mean ‘survive’.’ Survival is all. She hopes their children will get a good education and start to live in a more dignified manner when, or if, they enter the EU.

 

Portrait of Adnan, the tailor

 

Adnan ran a thriving tailoring business in Damascus, having started young and been a professional tailor for seventeen years. But he has now lived and worked in a refugee camp for two years. Adnan tries to support his family, but is struggling because his money trickles away on basic necessities. When asked what his future plans are he says, ‘I want to go home to Damascus….‘home sweet home’. People don’t become refugees because they have a choice. They don’t go to Europe because they want to, but because they have to.’

As the ShelterBox team talked to him he was working on tailoring a pink dress, and fixing a Peshmerga (Kurdish army) uniform. He says, ‘Some of the Syrians in the camp are trying to change their reality and make things more peaceable by volunteering with the Peshmerga.’

 

Portrait of SRT member, Jack Bailey in the tailor's shop

 

Jack Bailey is a ShelterBox response volunteer, and was one of ShelterBox’s team on the Greek island of Lesbos, where refugee families paused for respite and shade on the long trail towards central Europe. Now Jack is part of this latest deployment to Iraq Kurdistan.

He says, ‘Adnan, the tailor, with his sharp appearance, clean clothes and uncluttered shop was obviously skilled in his trade. How inspiring to see someone taking control of his livelihood and living as normally as possible in very abnormal conditions. To see him in a small shack on a dirt road in a dirty dusty refugee camp, and know that two years ago he was running a successful business in a cosmopolitan city and, by circumstances out of his control, he finds himself there barely able to support his family.’

‘He still greets us with a smile and is polite as he offers me his chair while I make notes. And as we leave he wants to know where we will publish the small article that will take a snap shot of his struggle, dignity and pride.’

Jack describes the feelings evoked by this long term refugee camp. ‘Arriving into this camp I was surprised to see how families had adapted their living space. It seemed that they had created a private space in the form of a court yard around their tents, possibly taken from their local architectural norms of high walled courtyards for privacy, or perhaps extra shelter from the sand storms that occur over the flat and barren desert landscape.’

‘The mixture of different coloured tarps and off-cuts that were used to create these court yards was striking. I was also struck by the freedom of movement of the children, their feeling of safety as they walk around the camp hand in hand or with arms around each other, in contrast to the fact that we are operating under strict safety and security protocols.’

‘Talking to them I’m reminded that each person deserves respect and dignity. As we were asking questions I’m listening, and impressed with people’s dignity in scratching out their own livings, and taking control of their own livelihoods, however unfruitful it might be.’

You can help refugees like Nizar, Sayid, Amena, Adnan and their families by donating here:

PLEASE DONATE

 

 

 

 

Respite From The Road In Greece

 

Image of UN spec tents as supplied by ShelterBox and small camping tents brought by refugees

As thousands of people continue to make the journey to Europe from countries such as Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, ShelterBox is providing much-needed shelter on the Greek island of Lesbos – a halfway point for many weary travellers.

Earlier this month, a ShelterBox Response Team, made up of Sam Hewett (UK), Jennifer Butte-Dahl (US) and Jack Bailey (UK) travelled to the island to set up 100 tents in the Kara Tepe camp near the main port of Mytilene.

In contrast to many refugee camps, where people sometimes stay for years on end, the people passing through Lesbos and other Greek islands do not stay for long. This is just a temporary stop after long truck rides and dangerous sea crossings before continuing on to other European countries. Most families are only there for a few nights at a time, before they receive the necessary paperwork to resume their journeys, but the number of people arriving is so high that many local resources have been overwhelmed.

Response Team member Sam Hewett describes the unique situation in which the team was working: ‘On the first day I was nervous – normally you get everything in a camp set up before the intended occupants move in, and undertake tent construction like a production line. You ensure that essential services such as water and sanitation have been installed and you draw up a list of households who will move into each tent to prioritise the vulnerable.

‘But in this case, we were putting up our tents in and around people’s tiny camping tents. We couldn’t draw up a beneficiary list because groups of people arrived every half an hour or so – many with small children, pregnant women or disabled family members, while others departed each day.’

One of the households we helped was the Jejou family from Mosul in Iraq. They told the team that they left Mosul in August because of the threat posed by Daesh (Islamic State) and for the future of their children.

 

6 smiling Iraqi children in from of a tent supplied by ShelterBox

Children from the Jejou family, who travelled to Greece from Mosul, Iraq. (Credit Jennifer Butte-Dahl/ShelterBox)

 

One family member said: ‘We have suffered a lot and lost everything. We are Christians, and Christians are all being killed by Daesh in Iraq. Churches are being destroyed and Daesh kidnapped some of our relatives. Two children in our extended family were killed by missiles.’

They carried on to explain that they travelled to Greece with five other families. There were 40 people in total and they all went in one boat. The motor died in the middle of the sea, but thankfully they managed to fix it and continue.

The experience of the journey has made a big impact on the family’s three children. The parents told us: ‘They’ve lost their manners. Every day we move to a new place, meet new people. They are learning bad habits. Their days have no structure and there is no controlled environment. The children want to get back to school and we want them back in school as well.’

However, in the short time that the family were on the island of Lesbos, they were able to have a brief rest in a secure environment, thanks to ShelterBox.

They said: ‘The tent is big – we can put our luggage inside to keep it safe and the whole family can live in this tent. This tent provides shelter for us and it is a safe space.’

Hundreds of others, just like the Jejou family, have been able to rest in somewhere safe and comfortable thanks to ShelterBox. An item as simple as a tent is not only providing shelter, but much-needed security, in the midst of many harrowing journeys.

Greek Island ‘On The Verge Of An Explosion’ – ShelterBox Work Disrupted By Unrest

Refugees waiting in the harbour area of the island capital, Mytinini.

Refugees waiting in the harbour area of the island capital, Mytinini.

 

As the Greek government and the UN bring in staff and ships to deal with around 25,000 refugees stranded on the island of Lesbos, ShelterBox considers its position amid tensions that Greece’s Immigration Ministry has described as ‘on the verge of an explosion’

In the last two days the Greek island of Lesbos has become the latest focal point of Europe’s refugee crisis. With an estimated 25,000 people awaiting registration papers and onward travel to the Greek mainland, there have been protests and marches in transit camps and at the island’s main harbour.

A team from ShelterBox is on Lesbos to help the UN and colleague charities improve conditions for the island’s growing transient population of Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees.

Yesterday there were reports of refugees setting fire to partially constructed registration containers in Kara Tepe camp, the largest on the island. Kara Tepe has been the main focus of ShelterBox’s work – originally intended to accommodate hundreds, this barren area of scrubland and olive grove has become a temporary home for thousands over recent weeks. But many families find themselves waiting two weeks or more to move on.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett, and response team volunteers Jennifer Butte-Dahl and Jack Bailey, have been putting up a hundred large UN-style tents in camps to give children, the sick and the elderly better respite conditions. They are also deploying netting to provide large areas of shade from daytime temperatures, which can reach 40 degrees.

Shelterbox has sent 100 UN spec tents and 100's of metres of shade cloth to Lesbos

Shelterbox has sent 100 UN spec tents and 100’s of metres of shade cloth to Lesbos

 

But work was suspended yesterday amid unrest, and colleagues from the charity International Rescue Committee (IRC) were forced to halt work on improving sanitation facilities. Another charity baked and distributed 1,500 loaves of bread to feed the crowds.  

Jack Bailey says, ‘The security situation means we had to suspend work yesterday, and it is frustrating not to be able to help these desperate families.Small, but mostly peaceful, protests and marches have broken out, borne of frustration at the lack of reliable information about the registration process, and where to book ferry tickets.’

‘Our team attended meetings at Police headquarters yesterday to hear about the arrival of more officials to streamline the processing of applications. There will also be more ferries from the port in Mytiline to help people on the next stage of their journeys.’

Last evening Greek TV reported scenes of chaos when up to 6,000 refugees attempted to board the ‘Eleftherios Venizelos’, a cruise liner pressed into action as transport to the mainland. The surge was such that the vessel had to raise its gangplanks after it had docked.

Syrians and non-Syrians will be expedited through the registration process in the coming days. A new processing centre is being set up on an abandoned football ground, and 60 coastguard officials and Athens police have been seconded. 6,200 refugees are scheduled to have their applications processed and then to board waiting ferries from today. It is estimated that numbers on the island may become more manageable over the next 4-5 days.

 

You can help by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

Tensions, Temperatures and Numbers Rise On Greek Island

Image of branded ShelterBox van with tents behind

ShelterBox is working with partner agencies on the island of Lesbos

 

ShelterBox has witnessed increasing tensions on the island of Lesbos. Active for years across Syria and the Middle East, and now helping to improve conditions in Greek transit camps, it agrees that to prevent further deaths and misery a two-speed solution is needed.

Few have greater insight to the plight of refugee families than humanitarian aid workers. Recent events have brought the refugee crisis into sharp and dreadful focus. Shocking deaths at the hands of people-traffickers, near riots on the Hungarian border, heart-rending images, yet no unified solution from leaders across the EU.


International disaster relief organisation, ShelterBox has been at work providing shelter and equipment to displaced families across the Middle East for over four years
in Syria itself, and in its bordering countries – and now on the Greek island of Lesbos, one of the stepping stones to Europe that is now becoming overwhelmed.

As they work to help the local authorities, the UN, and colleague charities such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to improve shelter and conditions in transit camps, the ShelterBox team is now witnessing a ratcheting up of tensions on the island. The local Mayor’s office recently estimated that there were around 25,000 refugees on the island, with Kara Tepe camp, originally designed for hundreds, now hosting thousands. Numbers rise and fall by the day. But everywhere there are long queues in the unrelenting heat, and always more families arriving in flimsy boats on northern shores. And now their desperation is beginning to show.

Team members Sam Hewett, Jennifer Butte-Dahl and Jack Bailey have had to suspend work numerous times in recent days at Kara Tepe as refugee camp capacity was exceeded, tensions grew, and small protests broke out.  Colleague humanitarian organisations working to improve sanitation facilities and distribute supplies were also forced to evacuate. As the situation has allowed, the ShelterBox team has moved in to Kara Tepe to continue distributing 95 large UN-style tents, as well 800 square metres of shade nets to protect families from the elements while they wait on Lesbos.

ShelterBox has also put up five UN-style tents in Pikpa, a small camp run by local Greek volunteers, which is housing families with young children, the sick, and the disabled. The final tent erected yesterday soon became home to a young Syrian couple with a four week-old baby who had just been discharged from the hospital. Sam says, ‘We are working closely with the United Nations to assess shelter needs across the island and provide assistance where possible, and as the security situation allows.’

Families are on Lesbos, having made the short sea journey from the Turkish coast, awaiting papers that will allow them to continue by ferry to the Greek mainland. But the EU system that says refugees must be processed in the country of their arrival is now being severely tested. Local authorities on Lesbos are unable to effectively manage the rising numbers of arrivals, and the bureaucratic backlog can mean waiting times of over two weeks for some people. So the travelers linger in inadequate transit camps awaiting registration papers, and then try to purchase seats on inconsistent and overbooked ferries to the mainland.

Most are patient, but patience is running out. There have been a number of clashes between refugees and riot police both in Kara Tepe and at the port in the last few days as registration has been suspended.  According to Jen, ‘There is no consistent registration system in place here on Lesbos. The situation changes hourly and key decisions required to safely and effectively process refugees are caught up in political indecision. In the meantime, families wait days in the sun without information or direction on what to do next, and numbers continue to grow. The current situation is unsustainable.’

Chief Executive of ShelterBox, Alison Wallace, says, ‘This crisis undoubtedly needs a two-speed solution. Like many other aid organisations and local governments ShelterBox is urgently dealing with the here and now – providing humanitarian relief for those families who have arrived in Europe escaping fear and persecution.’

‘But our teams have also been active for years at the source of this problem. Conditions in Syria itself, and in countries such as Iraq and Turkey on the flight from ISIS, need vast improvement with a concentrated long-term international effort.’

‘Only when it becomes bearable to stay will these frightened people stop setting out for the hope that may lie over the horizon.’

Two speeds tackling both the course and the source. The course of the refugee trail is Europes immediate dilemma – where to accommodate these people who cannot go home. But tackling the source of the problem will require a long term commitment to global aid, diplomacy, and compassion.    

You can help by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

 

2014 Reflections: The Syria Conflict

Syrian children in a classroom, receive ShelterBox school packs

 

It’s been a busy 2014 for everyone connected with ShelterBox. This past year we have sent aid to 25 different disasters and throughout this holiday season we will be looking back at how these responses have made a difference to families in need as a direct result of the support of our donors.
One disaster, which we have continued to respond to throughout the year, is the ongoing conflict throughout Syria, Lebanon, the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Jordan.
In the three years since the conflict first broke out in Syria, more than 9 million people have been forced from their homes in the war-torn country, after being exposed to violence and unremitting fighting. The majority now remain within the borders with no home to go to and no possessions. More than 3.2 million refugees still seek safety and shelter across neighbouring countries.
The vast majority of fleeing families arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs. Many are injured from continuous bombing and shelling. They have no regular food and no income. Men, women and children are suffering through no fault of their own. They are in desperate need of shelter and other vital supplies.
ShelterBox has to date sent aid to support more than 5,000 families in Syria, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan in some truly challenging situations. Throughout 2014 our aid efforts have continued in earnest, working with partner organisations to continually preserve to deliver vital aid to where it is needed the most.
One of the aspects of life that has been most greatly affected is education. Children whose families are on the run from conflict in Syria have been described as a generation lost to education. However ShelterBox is helping to bring refugee children back into the classroom.
Working with long-term partner charity ‘Hand in Hand for Syria’, ShelterBox has been sending truckloads of aid deep into Syria, containing tents, shelter repair kits, mosquito nets, water filters and carriers, blankets, groundsheets, solar lamps and most importantly for some, ShelterBox SchoolBoxes. As the above video shows, our SchoolBoxes contain essential supplies for teachers, including wind-up radios that also charge mobile phones, and school equipment for 50 children. They also include blackboard paint and a brush – these two items alone can transform any flat surface into a focus for learning. School packs, in bright yellow material bags, also contain stationery, pens and calculators along with drawing and maths equipment.
ShelterBox continues to work to assist families in need in the region. As another winter closes in on those who have lost their homes, thanks to the support of our donors, we strive to help bring families in from the cold.