Host Country: GreeceClick here to read the newsletter
Dear Friends and Brethren,
Greetings from Greece!
Since last summer out country has been in the front pages of the world news. The reason for this: the wave of refugees coming here and trying to go to other European countries. Suddenly almost everyone became familiar with the names of some Greek islands in the Aegean sea, names like Lesvos, Chios, Samos… and the, totally unknown to the world, little village of Edomeni, right at the Northern border of our country, between Greece and F.Y.R.O.M. That place became overnight the focus of world’s interest, as thousands of refugees were stuck in the camp for days and months waiting to cross the border and flee to other European Countries.
According to official records more than 1.000.000 refugees have passed through our country since August 2015. Greece was flooded not only by refugees but also by many Christian, humanitarian, governmental and other organizations trying to meet the needs of the refugees.
For almost a year now we, as Greek Evangelical Alliance, in spite of the severe financial crisis Greece is facing, have been serving the waves of refugees reaching our shores. Our local churches did their best in serving that urgent and tragic need. The united Evangelical community of Greece responded to this humanitarian tragedy, serving people from many nations, cooperating with a number of Christian and non Christian organizations (e.g. Red cross, Doctors without borders, Praksis, Samaritan Purse, Agape) and others who came to help under the coordination of the UNHCR (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in the Islands and at the camp in Edomeni village, despite the adverse conditions.
We organized training seminars for volunteers, in order to create flexible small teams ready to help, and finally we have mobilized more than 500 volunteers from our churches providing for the physical and spiritual needs of these people. Food, clothing and hygiene items were being distributed. We thank God because he was with us in every step we took. Our volunteers, with their zeal to help and their love for the needy, gave a good example of 2 consistency and efficiency, which did not pass unnoticed by UNHCR: our coordinators were invited to be part of their decision-making meetings. So for two days every week we were responsible for the food distribution in the camp not only providing the food but also keeping people in line and helping solve various problems and tensions between the refugees. That was not an easy task, since people were stressed and tired from their long stay at the camp.
Now things have changed. On 18 March 2016, EU Heads of State and Turkey agreed to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU and replace it instead with legal channels of resettlement of refugees to the European Union. The aim was to replace disorganized, chaotic, irregular and dangerous migratory flows by organized, safe and legal pathways to Europe for those entitled to international protection in line with EU and international law. Since 18 March 2016, the Greek Government has:
~Moved all migrants who arrived on the islands before 20 March to the mainland;
Returned to Turkey 147 irregular migrants not in need of international protection, who had arrived before 20 March;
Transformed the hotspots into closed reception facilities to avoid irregular migrants absconding when they are subject to return decisions;
Adapted its legislation to provide a legal framework for the implementation of the 'first safe country of asylum' and 'safe third country' principles.
So the refugees from the islands and Edomeni camp moved to different open hospitality camps dispersed in different places, most of them close to big cities. And the question is: What next? What is going to happen with these hospitality centers?
It’s obvious, that our Christian Evangelical community has entered a second phase of ministry, focusing to more than 53.000 refugees who have been trapped in Greece and particularly in areas around the big urban areas of Athens and Thessaloniki. Only in Northern Greece 29.290 refugees have been put up in open hospitality camps with tents or temporary lodgings where the food is provided by the Greek Army. For example at the suburbs of Thessaloniki 20 hospitality camps have been created, where the average number of inhabitants varies from 1,000 to 3,000 people. In Athens and Piraeus are opened 11 camps holding about 15.000 people.
After their being registered at these centers, they are not treated like prisoners but they are allowed to go out during the day. The entrance is not allowed to visitors, unless they have special permission from the local Authorities. So we have already got special authorization visas for some of our volunteers to enter the camps. In these different conditions new, special needs are emerging: various season clothing according to age and gender, shoes, medicine, hygiene items like nappies, baby creams, sterilizers etc. especially for women and babies, toys for children, stationery material, Arabic-English material for language lessons, Arabic speaking volunteers and Farsi speaking volunteers.
It is obvious that we, as Christian community, are facing new challenges: These people have many needs which at the moment are and cannot be met by the government. Many Churches have created project plans with the object to find financial support by missionary organizations and other churches abroad. We, as Greek Evangelical Alliance, are ready to inform about these projects those interested in financing them. Please continue to pray for all those people who reach the refugees and for us to continue to offer our help in spite of the difficulties we encounter. On Behalf of Greek Evangelical Alliance, George Kaloterakis Fotis Romeos President General Secretary Please consider supporting this outreach.
If your church you would like to help, contact World Partners staff in Greece, Nathan Moser, directly at nmoser@earthlink.