Zoe Corden from CAFOD’s Emergency Response Team is currently in Greece, supporting our local partners in their response to the refugee crisis. She writes:
Flying into Lesbos you see the aftermath of the crossings before you even land on the island. Along the coast scarlet life-jackets and sodden clothes litter the narrow bay, evidence of the previous crossings. Out to sea in the distance it is possible to see Turkey rising on the horizon.
This week there have been strikes among transport workers in Turkey. This has meant that everyone, Greeks and refugees alike, are stranded on the islands unless they purchase expensive flights. No departures were scheduled until Friday, and these are likely to be hugely oversubscribed.
Father Leon, whose parish covers the islands of Chios and Lesbos, was meant to return to his home island of Chios after visiting Lesbos on Sunday, but he remains on the island, stranded just as the refugees are. On Wednesday we had the opportunity to visit Kara Tepe refugee camp with him while he waited to return home. Continue reading “Refugee crisis: update from Lesbos”
When I flew into the Philippines a few weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, I was shocked by the extent of the damage. The destruction in Tacloban was the worst I’ve ever seen – worse even than after the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. 170 mph winds and 25-foot waves had destroyed concrete buildings, overturned cars, and drowned thousands of people.
Catholics in England and Wales responded with great compassion to the typhoon, donating an amazing £5.4 million to CAFOD’s appeal. In the first weeks after the disaster, we worked with our Caritas partners to reach thousands of people, providing emergency support including clean water, food, shelter kits, hygiene facilities, and everyday household goods.
Over the longer term, the needs have changed. We have been working to provide more lasting assistance such as shelter and livelihoods and have been looking at how to reduce risks in case of another disaster.
Two years on, it is extremely encouraging to see that the work of the Church has helped so many thousands of people move into stronger homes, and find new ways of making a living. Our thoughts and prayers are with the many local aid workers, diocesan staff and volunteers in the Philippines whose tireless work has helped so many people to rebuild their lives.
As Pope Francis has pointed out, however, countries like the Philippines remain at great risk because of climate change. In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis reminded us that climate change is real, urgent and that it must be tackled. He also described the climate as “a common good, belonging to all and meant for all”. Continue reading “Philippines Typhoon: two years on”
Nick Harrop, World News Officer for CAFOD, writes:
Three weeks ago, Typhoon Koppu battered the Philippines. After making landfall near the town of Casiguran, the typhoon travelled slowly across Luzon island, ripping roofs off poorly constructed homes, cutting off power supplies, and flooding huge swathes of farmland. In some areas the storm dumped 130 cm of rain over just two days – more than twice as much rainfall as London experiences in an entire year.
During the typhoon, Luzon island was also hit by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake. In Britain, the quake would have dominated the front pages for weeks; we haven’t experienced a tremor that powerful since the year 1590. In the Philippines, it went virtually unreported.
To say that the Philippines is hit by a lot of disasters is an understatement. Koppu wasn’t the first typhoon to strike this year – it was the twelfth – and it wasn’t even the most powerful. There have also been more than a dozen deadly earthquakes in the country since the beginning of the 21st century, as well as floods, droughts and volcanic eruptions.
But no recent disaster has been more devastating than Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines on 8 November 2013. The so-called ‘super-typhoon’ was one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall, tearing apart the lives of 14 million people and leaving five million homeless.
Omama, 8, feels homesick. Her father Khaled says to her, “How can you feel homesick when there is no home any longer?” His words are well intentioned but the truth does little to console her.
Omama is one of the middle children from a family of six from Syria. Their flat was completely destroyed by a bomb. “But can you really say we were lucky?” asks Khaled. “We had to live in a tent in the suburbs of our home-town Aleppo from then on. For more than one year. And we were frightened every single minute, every day and every night.”
The family feared the criminal gangs roaming through the suburbs and villages. They were frightened of more bomb attacks, being exposed to the sounds of explosions and gunfire nearly every day.
Khaled and his wife Jayal have three daughters and one son. I meet them all, two weeks after they escaped from Syria, in a refugee camp in northern Serbia, close to the Hungarian border. They are hoping to travel to Germany.
Khaled says, “I hope so dearly it will work and I will immediately get some work in Germany. I’m used to working a lot. I’m a construction-site worker. And I urgently need money. You know, I borrowed all the money for our flight from Syria and I have to pay it back. And we are already running short of money because the people smugglers took nearly all of it.”
Swimming to Europe
The crossing of the sea from Turkey lasted only about 40 minutes, yet it cost the family $5000. Khaled and his daughter Ronya were not even on the boat. It was so overcrowded that there was no space for them.
Khaled is a tall, sturdy and broad-shouldered man. Otherwise he could not have managed what I first find hard to believe when he tells me: “I was swimming alongside the boat, with Ronya wrapping her arms around me and clinging her head to my neck. It was a rubber boat and very slow. So I could keep up with it. If that hadn’t worked I was expecting Jayal and the other children to wait for us at the shore in Greece.” Continue reading “Refugee crisis: swimming to Europe”
Bishop Antoine Audo, SJ is the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo and the President of Caritas Syria. He writes:
If you want to know why so many Syrians are seeking a new life in Europe, just come to Aleppo. Large parts of our city have been laid to waste. Bombs and rockets fall every day, and we never know when or where they will hit. We do not feel safe in our homes, in our schools, in the streets, in our churches or in our mosques. It is exhausting to live with this fear hour after hour, day after day.
Even without the shelling, life here would be almost unbearable. Throughout the summer, as temperatures have soared, people have been forced to cope without running water or electricity in their homes. Four out of five people don’t have a job, so families are not able to afford food or basic supplies. The middle-classes have become poor, while the poor are now destitute. Many of those who are still here are elderly. Almost no-one is still in Aleppo by choice: most of those who remain do not have enough money to leave.
I have been the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo for 25 years, and it fills me with sadness to see what has happened to my city. As President of Caritas Syria, I have chosen to stay so I can lead distributions of food and emergency supplies, with support from Catholics in England and Wales and their aid agency CAFOD. But our work is becoming harder, because more and more of our staff are leaving the country. I do not blame them, but their departure makes the task of helping those in need even more difficult.
In some parts of the country, we have had to suspend our operations. In 2014, my colleagues in the city of Hassakeh provided vulnerable Syrians of every faith with vouchers for food, clothes and school equipment as well as covering the costs of medical treatment. In total, they reached over 20,000 people. But this July, as the city fell to extremists, all our staff had to flee at short notice. One of my colleagues had given birth only three days beforehand. Continue reading “Why Syrians become refugees: a view from Aleppo”
CAFOD is working with its partner Caritas Serbia to support thousands of refugees as they attempt to travel north. Stefan Teplan from Caritas describes what it was like to meet just one of them.
“I walked so many roads,” says Abdalkarim. “I crossed so many rivers. I went over so many hills and valleys. I lost my home, my belongings, literally everything.” Abdalkarim Zahra is only 26, yet he says he is “totally finished”.
It’s been many weeks since he fled his home in Syria. His journey has taken him to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. People smugglers have taken all his money. He has been pushed into an overcrowded boat to reach Greece. He has worn the same clothes for weeks. He has suffered hunger and thirst. He has been kicked by border police. “Can I still be called a human?” he asked.
I meet Abdalkarim Zahra in a refugee aid camp in Kanjiža, a Serbian town 3.5 kilometers away from the Hungarian border. About 2,000 to 3,000 refugees come here every day on their way to Hungary. They then head mostly to Germany.
With support from CAFOD, Caritas Serbia is providing emergency relief there, in two other refugee aid camps in the south of the country in Preshovo on the Macedonian border and in the capital Belgrade. Just like tens of thousands before him (and most probably hundreds of thousands after him), Abdalkarim Zahra has stayed in them all.
In these camps, Caritas Serbia distributes drinking water and juice to the refugees, provides medical help and legal support. In Kanjiža, Caritas is even providing a temporary facility for refugees and migrants that has bathrooms, showers and beds.
Three months since Nepal was devastated by an earthquake, CAFOD’s Nana Anto-Awuakye visited a community receiving support thanks to your donations. She writes:
As we bump along the narrow potholed roads in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, heading east for a village in the Kavrepalanchok district, it’s hard to imagine that this bustling city, along with the rest of the country, was struck by a violent earthquake just three months ago.
The earthquake that hit on 25 April shattered lives and reduced ancient and modern buildings, as well as family homes, to rubble within a matter of minutes. It left almost 9,000 people dead and thousands of others injured.
Not more than three weeks later, amid the ongoing rescue efforts and emergency aid distributions, another powerful tremor shook the country, claiming more lives and adding to the human suffering.
It is testament to the Nepalese people that today you find terracotta bricks from collapsed buildings in Kathmandu organised into neat piles ready for re-use. It is only as you head out of the city on the tarmac road that you see structurally unsound, lopsided buildings, and houses cracked beyond repair. Seeing them jolts you into remembering the devastation the earthquake unleashed.
I ask our driver Rayesh how the capital has been cleared up and brought back to normal so quickly.
This week I’ll be taking the boat to the airport to leave Sierra Leone, three months to the day since I arrived.
I remember well the apprehension I felt when I first came in on that boat, mainly at the enormity of the task and the scale of the crisis.
In October last year we were preparing ourselves for the possibility that 1.4 million people would be infected with Ebola by the end of the year if we didn’t massively step up our efforts.
As of the 25 January, the World Health Organisation estimates that the cumulative confirmed, probable and suspected cases across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea stands at 21,724 and the graphs finally seem to be flattening out, showing fewer cases per day. It’s still too many lives lost, but thankfully not our worst case scenario.
At last, districts in Sierra Leone are crossing the ‘Ebola free’ threshold, having passed 42 days without a new case. I feel a sense of relief that we were able to prevent the worst and our optimism albeit small is allowed to grow a little every day.
So many people have made an extraordinary effort to get us to this point: the local health workers who selflessly stepped up to care for the sick and dying, 221 of whom here in Sierra Leone lost their lives to Ebola; the brave men and women who volunteered to join burial teams and dig graves, every day facing the strain of grieving families; and the people across England and Wales who’ve generously donated to CAFOD. Continue reading “Ebola Crisis: On leaving Sierra Leone”
Across the world, disasters disproportionately affect those who are already living in poverty. A changing climate is set to make this situation worse. Cleofas Friego lost her home and her means of making a living because of Typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Yolanda). She says:
“The typhoons we had before were not that strong compared to what we have now.
“Typhoon Yolanda affected us because it destroyed almost all our coconut trees, which is how we earned our income. It takes about six years for coconut trees to grow back. We used to harvest three times a year. Now we have difficulty finding sources of food for our children.
“CAFOD and Catholic Relief Services helped us to set up a new garden. We will plant vegetables, so we have food to eat. If I ever get to earn a living again, I will rebuild my house, send my children to school and send my disabled child for medical treatment.”
A new start?
Thanks to your donations to our Philippines Typhoon appeal, Cleofas is starting to make a living again. But the Philippines is repeatedly hit by typhoons, which could leave farmers like Cleofas having to start again from scratch.
CAFOD’s campaign, One Climate, One World, asks British political leaders to work with other countries to secure an ambitious international deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and to support the transition from polluting fossil fuels to sustainable energy. Add your name to our climate petition today.
After the end of the war in 2009, a rainbow coalition of political parties now provides the best option for sustainable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
The contest for the island’s eighth Presidential Election began in November when incumbent Rajapaksa called snap polls, two years ahead of schedule. With no serious contender at that time, he was eyeing an unprecedented third term in office, least expecting his own Cabinet Minister Maithripala Sirisena to defect and emerge as a common candidate who would win the support of an eclectic joint opposition platform.
Mr. Sirisena’s departure not only prompted some of his colleagues to move with him, but also caused quite a flutter in the ruling camp. The subsequent turn of events — importantly, Tamil and Muslim parties pledging support to Mr. Sirisena — led to what was one of the most closely fought presidential elections in Sri Lanka’s history. Continue reading “Sri Lanka elections: peace and reconciliation”