IsraAID on the ground in Greece and Serbia/Croatia

On Wednesday 2nd of September, 2015, the full extent of the human tragedy unfolding on European shores finally became global as images of the lifeless body of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi captured the world’s headlines and social media, and brought the plight of the mostly Syrian refugees to light.

A week earlier, 71 bodies were found in a truck in Austria, together with Aylan Kurdi, adding to the more than 2,600 that have already lost their lives this year, out of the massive 300,000 that have crossed to Europe in 2015, already 50% more than crossed during the whole of 2014.

A vast majority of those crossing are Syrians, fleeing violence and conflict as well as the atrocities of ISIL. More than 55% of Syrians are no longer in their homes, and as funding for refugees in neighboring countries has dwindled, and the situation has become increasingly desperate, a breaking point has been reached, forcing hundreds of thousands to make the treacherous journey to Europe, regardless of the risks.

In the midst of this exodus, European states are completely overwhelmed, and are struggling to deal with the sudden and massive upsurge in the sheer numbers of refugees. Entire families arrive in Europe tired, sick, and traumatized, devoid of any belongings, and carrying the burdens and scars of over 4 years of conflict. Their needs are huge, and until a comprehensive solution is found, the affected countries have appealed for aid and expertise to tackle what has been called “Europe’s biggest crisis since World War 2”.

IsraAID has an Advanced Emergency Teamon the ground providing basic medical and psychosocial support to refugees, as well as distributing much needed emergency items, including baby slings. The island of Lesbos continues to be overwhelmed by more than 5,000 refugees daily, many arriving in dire need of medical attention and basic supplies. In some instances the team has had to save children and women from the sea after their unstable boats overturned.

On September 13th, IsraAID sent an assessment and relief mission to Serbia and Croatia to determine both the short term and long term needs of both the refugee population crossing through Europe as well to support a number of national and international agencies struggling to cope with the changing humanitarian needs on the ground. IsraAID in Serbia first piloted and then launched the Mobile Relief Unit during the week of September 14th – 21st, at a crucial period in the development of EU policies towards refugees, and in anticipation of Hungary’s stricter border controls and fencing of its southern, open border with Serbia, where thousands of refugees had been crossing through freely on a daily basis. IsraAID subsequently expanded its work to locations where refugees were being re-routed, on the Croatia side of the Serbian border, in several transit points, train and bus stations as well as in ad hoc camps that sprung up. At its peak, IsraAID was among the first agencies providing relief to over 11,000 refugees crossing from Serbia into Croatia in under 24 hours.

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