People to People: citizens go where governments fear to tread
Posted On: May 19, 2016
A report on donations from the people of Ireland to refugees on the move in Europe
In September 2015, several thousand people, mostly Syrian, were trapped outside Budapest station in Hungary prevented from taking trains to continue their journeys onwards to places of real safety. Irish people wanted to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis and so the Irish Refugee Council set up a ‘Budapest fund’, with a guarantee that all money collected would go to those in need.
Initially the plan was that one or more of us would go (at IRC expense) to see the situation on the ground and best assess how to use it. But as funds came in, people were already on the move as men, women and children started to quite literally walk towards the border with Austria. There wasn’t time to go and see for ourselves as the need was too great. So we found other ways of getting the money where it could make a real difference immediately to people.
September 2015: from Ireland to the Austrian/Slovenian border
We knew that a journalist we had worked with, Laurence Lee of Al Jazeera, was reporting from the border of Austria and Slovenia. We contacted Laurence and asked if he could recommend someone or an organisation that we could touch base with to see if a donation of cash would help. Laurence told us about Thomas, an activist on the ground at the border and he put us in touch with him. After talking with Thomas, we arranged to transfer €1000 to him and within days he was able to draw on that money to start making a difference to the people he and his colleagues were meeting. Thomas and fellow members of the Graz Donations Convoy were on the move, able to quickly get to where help was most needed.
From Thomas, September 2016:
The Graz Donations Convoy is a grass roots movement of roughly 60 to 100 volunteers that over the last three months has spent nights and days on weekends and throughout the week on border locations south of Austria, providing essential help to the refugees stranded at closed borders. We have task force teams of the size of approx. 15 people, equipped with one or two large sprinter cars carrying the infrastructure (4 large tents each 6×3 m, plus tables, gas cooking, large pots of 150l size, electrical and gas lamps, clothing, blankets,….) and 4 to 5 cars for the volunteers. These teams engage based on information from coordinator networks having access to authentic local information where to go and help.
We are able to provide food and clothing for larger groups of people (up to 4000 people) and provide them in a fast manner with warm food and clothing. We have over the last month been involved on the Hungarian-Serbian, Croatian-Serbian, Hungarian-Austrian, Slovenian-Croatian and Slovenian-Austrian border. Nearly every location that is reachable within six hours of driving has been visited by one of our teams. Furthermore we have a large inventory in Graz, where people can donate stuff and some of our volunteers then sort it and package it in boxes so that the task force teams have prepared sorted stuff to take with them.
Many thanks for supporting this vital work. As we head into the winter months people need help more than ever.
The transfer of money given to the IRC by people in Ireland was the first of several. Over the next few weeks we will tell you more about where money from members of the public went. Places like the Greek island of Leros, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Calais and Idomeni on the Greek border with Macedonia and to Athens itself.
We are active citizens, not passive subjects: from Ireland to Greece
But the need has not gone away. Hundreds of people contacted the IRC and similar organisations after the ‘refugee crisis’ hit the headlines last summer. Many offered to provide direct support to refugees whom they thought would be coming to Ireland. But there haven’t been anything like the 4000 the government spoke about and the few hundred who come are kept isolated by the Department of Justice with access to them closely controlled. But we do not need to wait for people to come to us; we can provide direct support through the people of Greece.
The Irish Refugee Council has had talks with people working on the ground in Greece on a daily basis, responding to the situation of refugees trapped in Greece. We have seen and heard about the goodwill of the Greek people themselves stepping up when they have often been the hardest hit in recession. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Much like the many Irish people who continue to devote time, energy and money going to places like Calais and Idomeni. This is in contrast to the actions and decisions of our governments who sign up for deals that return people to harm or keeps them in detention.
We need to step up our support for the people of Greece and the refugees who, through no fault of their own, are unable to cross borders to be reunited with family or community. We need to demonstrate to our government that we are citizens not subjects; we are not passive in the face of a need to demonstrate our common humanity, both with the people of Greece and those who are passing through or who will be there for some time to come.
As you see over the coming days and weeks the way in which even small amounts of money has made a difference in different European countries, please give what you can to enable us to support the vital work of activists and grass roots organisations in Greece. We will report back to you about how that money is spent and you will see the difference it makes. Our next post will be about donations sent to the Greek Island Leros.
To donate to this call for humanitarian support for Greece via iDonate click here and select the People to People, Ireland to Greece fund.