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Greece’s Caritas Aids Refugees With Food, Clothing, Human Warmth

20 Oct 2015 – By Cindy Wooden

IDOMENI, Greece (CNS) — Weary faces, fussy babies, little boys teasing little girls to the point of tears and repeated uses of the Arabic word, ”inshallah” (God willing) reflect the uncertainty faced by refugees trying to reach northern Europe.

Thousands of people fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan pass through the makeshift transit center daily at Idomeni, a Greek village — population 120 — on the border with Macedonia.

The crossings began as a trickle in the summer and by late October were occasionally reaching 10,000 refugees passing through in a single 24-hour period.

“Uncertainty is the name of the game,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis.

The cardinal visited the camp on 19 October with members of Greece’s Caritas Hellas and helped them hand out bags of food to refugees arriving on buses from Athens, 380 miles to the south. With a little bit of rest, some food, water and a toilet break, the refugees continue their journey north, most hoping to join family already in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden or Norway.

Amin and Sambra are a young Sudanese couple who were living and working in Syria when the war broke out; they were given refuge in Turkey, but not a work permit, so Amin could not provide for his growing family. He said he paid 2,500 euros ($2,850) for the whole family to get on a rubber boat to Greece. Sambra gave birth to their fourth child 13 October on the island of Samos. Then they headed for Athens and on to Idomeni.

Those standing in line near the border — marked with rolls of barbed wire — outside the Idomeni camp share key parts of Amin’s story. Fleeing Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, they traveled to Turkey. From there, they paid smugglers more than 1,000 euros each for a place in an overcrowded rubber boat bound for one of the Greek islands. Once in Greece, they paid to ride a ferry to Athens, and then they paid 80 euros for the bus ride to Idomeni. They will walk half a mile to cross the border, then pay 25 euros for a train ticket to Belgrade, Serbia, four hours away.

Luca Guanziroli, a staffer of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said the train ticket cost only 5 euros in the summer, but the Macedonian government has raised the price due to the increased demand.

Just outside the Idomeni transit camp, some enterprising Greeks have parked food trucks. It seems, however, that their most popular offering is a connection to their generators; they will recharge cell phone batteries with the purchase of a beverage or sandwich.

The UNHCR still is trying to secure electricity to the camp for more than its current two or three hours a day.

Patrick Nicholson, communications director for Caritas Internationalis, said the Syrian refugee crisis is unusual for the network of national Catholic charities because it involves ”working with people for very short periods of time over such a long route. We have people helping them all the way from Turkey to Germany.”

Guanziroli said the refugees are at the Idomeni center for anywhere from 30 minutes to 10 hours, depending on how many trains Macedonia runs and how many refugees there are arriving that day.

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Tags: Refugees Relief Migrants Greece Caritas