From the start of the refugee rush into Europe to what’s now a refugee crisis in Greece, Samaritan’s Purse is there to help.
June, 2016—They had been smuggled into Greece on a rubber raft a few months ago and arrived in the northernmost Greek region only days after the borders closed.
Like a million others, the Afghan family had launched into their dangerous journey with high hopes which, weeks later, were cut short at the closed border with Macedonia.
Now Idomeni camp was closing, which meant Bahark and her family would probably need to move to an official camp elsewhere in the country.
“We don’t care where we go,” said Bahark’s husband, Mahmoud. “We just want to find a safe country.”
‘They are my children and your children.’
The Greek government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Samaritan’s Purse and many other groups have worked cooperatively since the borders closed to provide safety, security, and hospitable living conditions for refugees and their families.
It would be a strain on most countries to care for the welfare of its own people while also taking on the wellbeing of tens of thousands of desperate people who had been deceived into believing that they’d have the life they want after crossing the Aegean Sea.
Samaritan’s Purse is working alongside government officials, churches, and other organizations. We will continue to provide our experience, expertise and resources to build sustainable solutions. As one Greek official overseeing official camps puts it: “These are humans, and they need to be treated like humans. These are my children and your children.”
Samaritan’s Purse responds
In the early days of this crisis, we received thousands of refugees, some hypothermic and injured, who arrived in overcrowded boats. We then provided basic necessities for sojourners passing through on their way to Europe.
We have delivered more than 42,000 backpacks this year and provided more than a million meals since the beginning of the crisis.
Additionally, we have distributed shelter materials such as tarps and blankets along with hygiene supplies and other non-food items.
Samaritan’s Purse also is providing clean water and sanitation facilities through our water, sanitation, and hygiene program.
As part of a longer-term strategy currently under development, we will serve alongside local churches to provide ongoing community support and refugee care.
An open and shut case
No one wants to think of Greece—the cradle of Western civilization—as a place where refugees are living in camps. But now it has become a difficult place for nearly 50,000 people seeking solace, asylum and a better life. They’ve left Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries where people wonder daily whether they’ll make it home alive.
“They have too much guns,” said one young Kurdish Syrian, 19, who’s been working 12- to 14-hour days since he was 10. In broken but impressive English learned and pieced together from long hours of work at tourist hotels, the young man described his plight. “I leave Syria because of the war. I am Kurdish. Not Turkish government, not Syrian, not Iraqi government—nobody likes us. Islamic government don’t like us. In 2014 ISIS began to attack Kobani.”
Refugees passing through Greece several months ago made it through to Germany or other points west. The refugees now living in Greece heard from those friends and relatives who made it to their desired destinations. They were told to come, so they decided to make the trek. Now the borders are closed.
For some people the borders closed only hours before they arrived at the border town of Idomeni. What should have been an hours-long stay has turned into months of living in camps on the islands, mainland country sides and makeshift camps in the ports of downtown Athens.
“I miss my country and my friends and the work I used to do in my country. I miss the home I lived in that I built with my own hands and that brought so much happiness. It was destroyed,” said Nazir, a Syrian staying in a makeshift camp on the large grassy field outside an Eko gas station near Idomeni.
Nazir traveled to Greece with his children and grandchildren. Now they’re waiting for borders to open, for asylum or for any other positive development that might mean they can make a new home and start a new life.
An unexpected parting
“My father is missing. I do not know where he is,” said one girl who was adopted by another group of Syrians traveling to Greece. With fathers and brothers having gone ahead to scope out the route, many women and children are now traveling alone, hoping to reunite with their loved ones.
Unaccompanied minors represent the most vulnerable group of refugees next to women and the elderly, so Samaritan’s Purse, UNHCR, and other organizations have made protection and provision a priority for at-risk refugees and especially for children.
An Afghani man living in a camp just north of Athens said he was made responsible for many of his female relatives as they traveled from Kabul through Iran and into Turkey and Greece.
“We were traveling through mountains, camping in the woods where no one lives and I was crossing rivers with children on my shoulders. I made several trips back and forth carrying children and the women,” he said. “The smugglers didn’t tell me about the river and that we would be shot at. We had another group with us. I don’t even know where they are or if they made it.”
We are finding these stories to be all too common among the refugees in Greece; we seek to show the love of Christ to these thousands who were suffering when they arrived, and we continue to hurt as they seek a new life and reunion with family and friends.
“We’re here because there’s a crisis and that’s central to our mandate to help meet the needs of victims of various crises in the world, reduce physical suffering, and meet physical needs so these people might experience the love of God in Christ,” said Aaron Ashoff, Samaritan’s Purse country director in Greece.
“Our work will continue here, and we’ll continue doing what we’re good at while working with other organizations and the Greek government to do what’s best for these people and the communities that host them.”