11 September 2015

A global response to refugee crisis

Refugee camp in Lebanon Photographer: Adel Samara

SOS Children’s Villages International is continuing to respond in every possible way to the global humanitarian crisis of refugees and displaced people. Emergency response activities are underway in the Middle East and across Europe, bringing much needed relief to refugee children and their families.

Globally, SOS Children’s Villages is working to prevent the problems that create refugees, to support children and families in their path to safety, and to provide care for unaccompanied children in the destination countries.
 
Syria
 
With more than 12.2 million people, including almost 6 million children, in need of humanitarian assistance, Syria faces the largest displacement crisis in the world. SOS Children’s Villages is continuously stepping up relief efforts in this war-torn country, aiming to help at least 26,000 children at the source of the problem.
 
Two care centres near Damascus are providing protection, medical care, educational programmes and psychological and emotional support to unaccompanied and separated children until they can be reunified with their parents or biological families.
 
The reunification is often bittersweet. “When I was first told my children are alive and there is a possibility that I will find them in the SOS (Children’s Villages) temporary child care centre, my heart started beating again. It was like somebody made it easier for me to breathe,” said a mother who already lost three children in the conflict and spent three months searching for the surviving ones.


Internally displaced children in Syria. Photographer: Carole Alfarah
In the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, three SOS Children’s Villages child care centres and one mobile team are currently providing services to up to 7,500 children. Almost a thousand children in the Dwair refugee camp have received winter clothing and other items from the mobile team.
 
Nutritional support is provided across Syria, with 10,000 food parcels already distributed and a special nutrition project aimed at preventing malnutrition among children.
 
Lebanon
 
Since March 2014 SOS Children’s Villages has been running an interim care centre for unaccompanied children in Khonshara, Lebanon. More than 200 children have been cared for there, as well as receiving informal education and psychological support. In addition, SOS Children’s Villages has provided day care to around 250 children around Khonshara and in Beirut, and our economic empowerment support (including some vocational training and psychological counselling) has helped around 100 women living in the Beirut refugee camps.
 
In collaboration with Islamic Relief, SOS Children’s Villages has supported distribution of food and non food items to around 600 vulnerable families in Beirut and its surroundings.
 
The refugee route
 
To relieve the plight of refugee children en route to countries where they seek asylum, SOS Children’s Villages teams are on the ground in Serbia and FYR Macedonia.
 
In Serbia a child friendly space, manned by two educators, is being set up at the information centre in Belgrade. The facility is located across the road from the train and bus station where the most refugees from Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and other African and Asian countries stay awaiting their journey north to Kanjiza and Subotica where they hope to enter the European Union via the Hungarian border.
 
In the next two months, SOS Children’s Villages Serbia also hopes to supply packages with baby food, diapers and other necessities for babies and small children, as well as blankets, raincoats and hygiene packages for women.
 
Some of the other urgent needs identified by the team in Serbia are for tents and containers to live in, heating for the winter, showers, generators, washers and driers, food and hygiene products, warm clothes and shoes, as well as internet access.

Mother and child at the Gevgelija refugee camp, FYR Macedonia. Photographer: Katerina Ilievska

Our team in Macedonia is equally busy. They will soon move into two pre-fabricated units at the Vinojug refugee site on the Greek border, each manned by a three-person team consisting of a psychologist, a child development specialist and a special education professional. Packs containing baby products to mothers with babies are already being distributed and a child friendly space is also planned.
 
“Ground information tells us the number of children with disabilities is increasing. The site has no beds where children with cerebral palsy or epilepsy could rest. There are no strollers or child-size wheelchairs. Also, we were told the number of unaccompanied and separated children is increasing,” said Zoran Bogdanovski, advocacy advisor of SOS Children’s Villages Macedonia.
 
A family house in SOS Children’s Village Skopje is being adapted to accommodate up to five unaccompanied or separated children at a time.
 
An information and communication technology corner, providing a wifi hotspot, will be sponsored by SOS Children’s Villages as soon as Vinojug has an electricity connection.
 
“A charging station for mobile phones, tablets and other electronics is also planned, as is an internet/printing kiosk where an SOS co-worker would be helping people to search for information on their families, travel routes, etc.,” said Zoran Murgoski, ICT advisor of SOS Children’s Villages Macedonia.
 
The number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving in Italy via the Mediterranean Sea is increasing sharply. More than 6,000 children, of whom 4,300 were unaccompanied, arrived on Italian shores between January and June. SOS Children’s Villages Mantova and Vicenza are providing temporary shelter to as many as they can.
 
Finding a home in Europe
 
In Austria a new home is awaiting up to 100 unaccompanied and separated refugee children within SOS Children’s Village programmes. Places for just over 30 children have already been created, while two new programmes are opening in October.
 
In Italy, SOS Children’s Villages is currently providing shelter to about 15 unaccompanied children.
 
SOS Children’s Villages CEO Richard Pichler said the organisation is in a unique position to help across country borders.
 
“SOS Children’s Village is responding to urgent needs in the receiving countries and even preventing the causes of suffering in the refugees’ countries of origin. Thousands of children are now alone in a strange country, separated from their parents in a desperate journey. We must not turn our eyes away from the misery. We shall find ways to contribute our share of help in this global crisis,” Mr Pichler said.