Christian aid calls for UK to do more to ease refugee crisis in Europe

By agency reporter
September 24, 2015

Christian Aid has welcomed the EU decision to give €1 billion to UN agencies in the Middle East supporting Syrian refugees, although it says the relief effort is drastically underfunded, and needs a massive boost as winter approaches.

The agency expressed “deep disappointment” at the continued reluctance of the UK government to accept any of the half million or so refugees who have recently reached mainland Europe.

This means that the UK is now the only EU member refusing to accept any of the new arrivals. Even Ireland and Denmark, which like the UK have opt-outs from Schengen – the agreement that guarantees free movement across the EU – have agreed to help.

Tom Viita, Christian Aid’s senior political advisor, said: “Aid to Syria and neighbouring countries is currently less than 40 per cent of what is needed, so we welcome the EU decision to increase funding immediately, with more promised next year.

“The UK has played a major role in helping fund relief efforts in the Middle East, which is laudable, but its reluctance to accept any of those refugees who have recently arrived in Europe is deeply disappointing. The UK is now alone in the EU in taking such a hard-line stance.

“The misery endured by for those forced to flee their homes is bound to increase in coming weeks as the weather worsens, both in Europe and the Middle East, and winter arrives.

“As well as helping in the Middle East, the UK must shoulder some of the responsibility of assisting those who have risked their lives to find sanctuary in Europe.”

Pointing out that UK funding for relief in Syria and neighbouring countries now stands at £1.12 billion, second only to aid provided by the US, Mr Viita called on other EU countries to give as generously to enable front-line agencies in the region to function properly.

Christian Aid recently launched an appeal to support partner agencies in Europe working to alleviate suffering in the present refugee crisis, and organisations in the Middle East providing emergency relief to those fleeing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The agency has for several years funded organisations working in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon with refugees and the displaced, providing communities with food, bedding, hygiene kits and health services. In Lebanon and Iraq, its partners also provide psycho-social support to children and women in need.

In Europe, Christian Aid’s partners in the Act Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, are providing emergency relief in Greece and Serbia.

In Greece, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is providing food and other essential supplies, improving conditions at reception centres and carrying out water, sanitation and hygiene activities on the islands of Chios and Samos.

In Serbia, Philanthropy, the charitable foundation of the Serbian Orthodox Church, has helped set up a transit border centre between Macedonia and Serbia, which has capacity to deal with 1,700 refugees per day. They are supporting the registration of arrivals and distributing hygiene items, food and water.

Christian Aid’s Regional Emergency Manager, Euan Crawshaw, who this week visited reception centres in Serbia, said today: “Numbers in Europe will continue to rise as people attempt to make the perilous journey before winter.

“While the focus of the international community must be to find a sustainable political solution to the Syrian conflict, there is growing concern over what happens to those who may become stranded in European countries with limited capacity and infrastructure to cope, where facilities are already overstretched.”

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