By Jessica Hannan
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Nov. 7, 2015, in i4U News at http://www.i4u.com.
As winter approaches, the European refugee crisis faces cold weather and overextended shelter space. The U.S. donations of $172 million help, but what about the darker aspect of not enough resources?
The refugee and migration crisis in Europe faces a new challenge: Mother Nature and winter. As cold weather sets along the route, the UN Refugee Agency must obtain funds to help the thousands of people that cross the borders every day.
According to the agency, 5,000 people are expected to arrive in Greece via Turkey every day. Consider the odds of survival between November and February 2016. Funds are rapidly depleting, causing the UN organization to request a new round of funds.
In a press release, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson William Spindler announced plans to upgrade existing structures, but more items will be needed quickly.
“Harsh weather conditions are likely to exacerbate the suffering of the thousands of refugees and migrants landing in Greece and traveling through the Balkans,” said Spindler. “And may result in further loss of life if adequate measures are not taken urgently.”
With a large portion of refugees settling in Germany for the moment, or using it as the point of entry in conjunction with the Dublin Rule, the hard part is moving from the Balkan region and entering Germany’s southern states.
The world donated multiple kinds of resources when the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Greek shore. Killed during a failed attempt at fleeing the war-torn country via a capsized boat and a blocked attempt at legally seeking asylum in Canada.
That was in September, so what have the global powers offered beyond the moment of grief ?
Last month, a Balkan summit gathered to try and implement a protocol for the rising number of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. While the action didn’t result in concrete answers for some of the 14-point plan, possible solutions were discussed for the nations willing to sit down at the table.
“We commit to increasing the capacity of our countries to provide temporary shelter, rest, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need,” Spindler added. Summit members concluded long-term humanitarian resolutions were needed, including not allowing asylum seekers to freeze in harsh conditions.
Avert the Risk of Humanitarian Tragedy
Spindler expanded on the winter goals set forth by the agency.
“The plan focuses on putting in place measures to support affected countries such as Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Slovenia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in order to avert the risk of humanitarian tragedy and loss of life during the winter months.”
On Nov. 5, the United States pledged $96.15 million in aid—bringing the nation’s full donation to $172,724,529. But is that enough? More than likely not.
Costs mount in harsh weather as supply needs increase. Sleeping bags, tents and warm blankets could be purchased at a reduced rate. But the numbers don’t even out with the expected population.
It’s not just nations or companies like Google that can donate, though. On the UNHCR’s donation page, information is provided for private donors to contribute funding and resources.
For example, $50 offers a family of three sleeping bags to stave off the cold winter while moving between nations and at the Greek entrance point. And $250 provides emergency kits for eight arrivals. Spindler notes what the packets provide.
“Winter clothing and blankets, as well as other essential items for protecting people from the elements, will be included in the aid packages to be distributed to individuals with specific needs.”
Transportation is not always available with the latest border closings, so many of the emergency supplies will be invaluable along the trail. Supplies offer a chance for those waiting to leave Greece to survive the start of their European leg of the journey.
Any donation is welcome, of course. Often those arriving in Greece have little more than cellphones, the clothes on their backs and family. It’s hard to have to leave your livelihood behind and then be fleeced by black market traders while balancing your remaining possessions on your back. The German government has increased human trafficking busts in recent months, however. That doesn’t mean any articles survive the long, arduous voyage.
“UNHCR has distributed over 32,400 sleeping mats, 6,890 sleeping bags and 26,400 blankets and delivered over 275,000 more,” according to the official site.
Winterizing the shelters means preventing frozen pipes and sanitation stations. The money provided by the United States builds on the Initial Response Plan for the Refugee Crisis in Europe plan set after the outcry over a child’s death, but does it do enough? The Special Mediterranean Initiative (September through December) will offer more aid yet it’s not just tangible items that might be lost.
And why did it take the image of a small child when many children have perished in the past four years? Families have been destroyed on the route to asylum. Death, assault, capture and deportation are all common stories. What’s the real cost of fleeing and slow action?
Heightened Risk of Violence and Abuse
Just above one-third of the arriving 644,000 refugees and migrants are women and children. In October, the Refugee Agency reported concerns about sexual assault against the refugee women and children. Spokesperson Melissa Fleming spoke of the reality of the situation in her speech at a Genevan news conference.
“Refugee and migrant children moving in Europe are at heightened risk of violence and abuse, including sexual violence, especially in overcrowded reception sites, or in many locations where refugees and migrants gather, such as parks, train stations, bus stations and roadsides.”
Chillingly, the report offered more grotesque horrors. “From testimony and reports we have received there have been instances of children engaging in survival sex to pay smugglers to continue their journey,” said Fleming. “Either because they have run out money or because they have been robbed.”
How can an organization offer safety? By putting funds aside to provide aid workers on the ground, which means more funding.
Safety can be an illusion, however. A Reuters report states that German police union chief Rainer Wendt believes that reports of harassment and assault within the nation have been downplayed.
Germany has willingly taken on the bulk of the refugees, which has caused a divide within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition. Der Spiegel reported a rise of refugee violence as overcrowding in shelters heightened tempers and shortened patience. That doesn’t mean the problem is only within the community, though.
Until the flashpoints of political and religious disagreement are reached on a national level, aid workers and organizations can only help stem the tide. And the opinion polls indicate a stronger stance against the aid; this change from the prevalent sentiment of previous months worries officials who believe the rising extreme-right sentiment might be a great threat.
Victims of the crisis face the challenge of more than just frozen pipes and lack of winterization.
Reports of sexual assault have been on the rise since the international media’s turned the camera on those in need.
Jina Moore of Buzzfeed News reported on the crisis along the Central and Eastern European front last month. Aya, a Syrian refugee traveling without a male relative, faced a terrifying choice in Hungary—either pay whatever the smugglers wanted or trade sex for safety.
Make no mistake. Forced coercion is a form of sexual assault and placing the onus on the fleeing person takes away all choice as resources fade on the long journey. It’s predatory. “I was trapped in this hotel. And he could call the police, or do anything.”
Look at Their Own Reports
As with most sexual assault crimes, women are cautious to open up to authorities, especially if seeking asylum in an overburdened system. Instead, assaults become secondary to ongoing problems, like the shanty village built around the Calais tunnel and the continuous arson on German refugee housing locations.
“The interior ministers would be well advised to have a look at their own reports to know what actually happens on our streets at night and in the shelters,” says Wendt.
“That’s no reason to sweep this issue under the carpet. Right now is the time for the authorities to raise their voices in order to prevent extremist groups from dominating the debate,” Green Party spokesperson Tuelin Akkoc told Reuters.
Nationalist rhetoric can be detrimental, as is the case in Akkoc’s Hamburg district. Eight cases of assault have been reported and several more in the city of Hesse.
Barbara Helfrich, Paritaetischer Bund charity spokesperson in Hesse, confirmed Akkoc’s account. “We have several trustworthy reports on sexual violence and assaults from victims, as well as advisory groups and NGOs.” It’s not just the refugee women and children in danger from the damp, chilling weather.
So how does a global power stop a rising tide of extreme nationalism and sexual assault? Follow Akkoc’s advice and do not bury the lead in order to appear more receptive. Reports indicate approximately three million people are expected to arrive in the Central European nation by 2017.
Aid must come in multiple forms: money, supplies and medical help. And the latter should include psychological help in adjusting to new national norms as well chances to move on from trauma and assault along the journey.
To donate, please visit the UNHCR Web site. Local organizations are listed by country. Remember that February is not the end of the tide. Funding will be needed for quite a while. Money isn’t all that’s needed. Bodies are just as important. People are also needed to help ease the transition and provide a point of contact in a new world.
Jessica Hannan is an English major turned accidental journalist based in Atlanta. She is a recent graduate of Georgia Gwinnett College, raised to be aware of the surrounding world and local communities. She is always looking for solutions to combat injustice and inequality in today’s world. Follow her on Twitter @jessicahannan81.