Balkan borders have closed to refugees seeking safety in Europe. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) has turned much of its attention to refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, and those seeking legal asylum.
ADRA’s emergency response team (ERT) was deployed to Greece in March. Staff members from ADRA Slovakia have been distributing hygiene kits to refugees in Idomeni, as well as providing psychosocial support to many in the camps who have been traumatized by their experiences.
The ADRA network is also implementing a larger project across three camps to continue hygiene kit distribution and psychosocial counseling, but also to include distribution of fresh food and information leaflets.
With borders currently closed, Greece has become the front line of the European crisis. There is a growing bottleneck for refugees and migrants traveling from Turkey, with close to 100% crossing by sea to Greek islands. From there, most travel by ferry to mainland Greece and continue their journey to Idomeni on the border with Macedonia, where they remain because they are no longer allowed to cross.
The refugee camps in Greece were built as a short-term solution for those traveling through to other destinations, and the deplorable conditions are not suitable for the length of time that families are now staying. The UNHCR estimates as many as 44,000 are trapped here, and 60% of those still arriving by sea are now women and children who suffer the most from long queues for food and inadequate shelter and hygiene.
An agreement between the European Union and Turkey has added much uncertainty to the volatile situation as boats have now started returning small numbers back to Turkey.
New refugees are not able to cross Balkan borders, but many remain in those countries seeking legal asylum. The numbers are much smaller than the tens of thousands that ADRA staff were dealing with on a weekly or daily basis.
A few examples of ADRA’s current work in these countries:
ADRA Macedonia has established a children’s play zone, where little ones can play with toys and parents, often mothers traveling with children alone, are able to take a break.
ADRA Slovenia is working diligently in local centers where asylum seekers are residing. There are many gaps in providing for this group because of the rapid shift in refugee strategy.
ADRA Serbia’s information center in Belgrade is providing essential assistance to asylum seekers, helping connect them to local services and items they need.