World Day for Migrants and Refugees

This blog is written by Linda Jones, Head of the CAFOD Theology Programme. Linda shares her thoughts on the World Day for Migrants and Refugees in this Year of Mercy.

Aza and her young son
Aza and her son

‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’ (Luke 6:36).

“They (refugees) are men and women like us… seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war” Pope Francis.

Last year the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recorded that more than one million migrants and refugees had crossed the Mediterranean Sea, seeking sanctuary in Europe. Sadly, the UN Refugee agency (UNCHR) say that over 3,700 other children, women and men did not survive the perilous journey by sea, and drowned on their journey to safety.

Find out more about our response to the refugee crisis

Aza fled Syria with her infant son because of the war. She said, “They told us that there would be 35 people in our boat but when we arrived there were more than 200. We were in the sea and the engine stopped. The first thing we did was call the coastguard but they didn’t come.

Continue reading “World Day for Migrants and Refugees”

Refugee crisis: update from Lesbos

Abandoned life-jackets on a beach on Lesbos
Abandoned life-jackets on a beach on Lesbos

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.

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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”

Why Syrians become refugees: a view from Aleppo

Bishop AudoBishop 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.

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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”

“Treated like humans”: CAFOD supports refugees in Serbia

Caritas-Serbia---AbdalkarimCAFOD 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.

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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.

“In these aid camps for the first time after so many exhausting weeks, I felt I was treated as a human,” said Abdalkarim. Continue reading ““Treated like humans”: CAFOD supports refugees in Serbia”