When Hackney resident Andrew Marr was volunteering in a transit camp for refugees in Greece last December, he was struck by the immediate demand for humanitarian help.
From clothing, sleeping bags, tents and safety equipment, there was no doubt that the 13,000 refugees in the Eidomeni transit camp in northern Greece were in need of immediate support.
“The camp was permanently short of everything: clothes, food, sanitary items … everything. The numbers going through the camp were staggering- in October the daily average had grown to over 7,000 a day,” Marr said.
“The experience of seeing refugees first set foot on European soil is one I will never forget. I felt a compelling desire to do more.” That is when he alerted the Hackney Cypriot Association and the Refugee Appeal was born.
Now thanks to the Hackney community, refugees fleeing the conflict in the Middle East are now receiving aid from the HCA such as clothes, sleeping bags, blankets, powered milk and sanitary goods, all donated by Hackney locals and businesses.
Lindsey Hood, one of the volunteer leaders of the Refugee Appeal said: “The people of Hackney have been exceptional. They have been incredibly generous in giving and delivering the donated goods to our collection points as well as their time. So a big thank you to the Hackney residents.”
Due to the on going refugee crisis, the transit camps are overwhelmed by the thousands of people traveling from their homes to escape war and misery.
Despite the camp supplying certain necessities for the people passing through to Macedonia, the number of people fleeing their countries is overpowering and the support is not enough. Over 13,000 refugees are trapped in the transit camp which is built to accommodate 2000.
The refugees are caught in limbo in the transit camp as a result of recent, unilateral border closures along the route to inland Europe, with thousands of refugees arriving on Greece’s shores every week.
It is not rare that families have to stay in the camps for weeks before entering Macedonia, many without roofs over their heads or clothes to keep warm. The key needs in the camp are sanitation and protection.
The average number of refugees per week who arrive in Greece
Link to source of data: UNHCR
Hackney locals and Hackney-based businesses have showed their support for the initiative through many donations and volunteers. Andreas Michaelides, Chairperson of HCA said that the locals have shown tremendous support and will to help.
With the Northern Bora winds set to arrive, a lack of heating, insufficient or non-existent lighting and washing facilities stretched beyond their capacity; the massive makeshift camps are in urgent need of humanitarian help to keep the families warm and safe.
“Having seen the faces of refugees, particularly mothers with babies or small children, in receipt of things they need, things they are desperate for, I cannot convey how valuable these shipments are.” Marr said.
Lindsey Hood explained the gravity of the situation. “The likelihood is that many who arrive at the camp every day will not be able to move, creating many more difficulties and a possible humanitarian crisis.”
HCA Refugee Appeal is primarily run by three volunteers Andreas Michaelides, Sabrina Aaronovitch and Lindsey Hood, with the help of ten other volunteers located in Hackney, working with sorting and transporting the goods from Hackney.
Hackney Cypriot Association has been in operation in Hackney for 36 years, offering support and empowerment to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
“Our work is the advancement of education, protection of health and relief of poverty and sickness, recreational facilities to improve the living conditions for our community and large traditional fundraising events.” Hood said.
The first delivery to Eidomeni transit camp in Greece was on January 26 and the second one on March 2, with more to come.
“The donated goods were of very high standard and completely in line with what was required for the refugees entering Eidomeni.” Hood said.
Michaelides said that the project has been very successful with donations of both new and used clothes and help with both transport and packing on the designated sites in Hackney, but it is still not nearly enough.
One of the pressing needs at this time is funding for transport and as well as more volunteers from the community.
”We have enough donated goods already for our next delivery, what we are in urgent need of, is the funds for the delivery. We require £750, which will enable us to send out our next delivery immediately on receiving the all clear from our volunteers in Eidomeni. This will enable us to send through 6 pallets. ” Hood said.
To help with HCA’s fundraising visit their website.