The European Refugee Crisis

The European Refugee Crisis

The European migrant crisis or refugee crisis began towards the beginning of 2013. Rising numbers of people arrived in the European Union (EU) from across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through Southeast Europe. It is part of a pattern of increased immigration to Europe from other continents which began in the mid-20th century and which has encountered resistance in many European countries.

Most of the migrants came from Muslim-majority countries in regions south and east of Europe, including the Greater Middle East and Africa. Many were fleeing the wars being fought in their home countries by European Nations and the USA which included Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Entire families endured harsh and dangerous conditions as they travelled to Europe in order seek safety and security for their children and relatives away from the bloodshed.

I first visited the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in the French border town of Calais in 2013. During that initial research trip I travelled with a small production team to research developing a documentary project with local NGOs who were working with refugees and migrants by providing support throughout the lengthy French asylum seeking process. At that time tented camps could be found in and around the port area. Legal and medical facilities were available whilst daily food distributions took place under the watchful eye of the French police. In the summer of 2015 I was contacted by a young production crew who had just returned from the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in the French border town of Calais.  The situation had worsened, people had now been moved on from the port and were living in the local woods in a makeshift shanty town made of plastic tarp and broken wooden pallets. This young production crew were motivated by what they had seen to make a documentary and turned to online crowdfunding. The total budget they needed for their films production was quickly exceeded. Due to the compassion of the crew and generous donations from the public there was now sufficient cause for an aid mission. I was asked help to coordinate this work.

One of our initial project objectives was the recycling of tents and camping equipment left over from the Reading Music Festival.

Thousands of perfectly serviceable tents, stoves and camping accessories were discarded and abandoned after the weekends festivities.

We arranged for a group of volunteers to meet us at the site to dismantle and pack usable tents and equipment in to our donated vehicle.

Two days after the collection tents from the Reading Festival the body of three year old Alan Kurdi washed up on the beach at Bodrum in Turkey.   He and his family were attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos from Turkey when their boat capsized in the early hours of the morning. Turkish journalist Nilufer Demir came across Kuri’s body on the beach and made a number of pictures which were shared on social media quickly making headlines around the world. The UK’s public response was a huge upsurge in support of the refugees in the form of both material and financial donations. Fortunately we had already been working with the French NGOs Secours Catholique and Salam to create a concise list of people’s needs to better assist in the effective distribution of clothing and shelters whilst supporting their well established channels with more volunteers, transportation and warehousing.

Centralising the collection of UK donations allowed us to ask for specific and much needed items, whilst reducing the chaos being caused in the camp by uncoordinated aid distributions. Working in partnership with NGOs in France and dozens of grassroots community organisations in the UK we asked everyone to follow our list of essentials in order to minimise material waste and maximise volunteer resources. A number of collection points where established around the country where individuals and organisations could bring their donations. We then arranged for all of these donations to be brought to a central London depot where they were sorted and placed in to various storage facilities ready to be transported abroad to aid refugees and migrants as required. Our first large scale national collection was known as the Dalston Drop.

A number of road side designated drop zones allowed vehicles carrying donations to be unloaded safety and efficiently.

Tons of humanitarian aid were collected, sorted and transported to storage by hundreds of volunteers over several days.

Once arrived the aid was removed from bags and sorted in to a number of departments and then again in to various sub categories.

We repurposed industrial bags and filled them with clothing and aid. Once full they were transported to one of our many storage warehouses.

The first of many loads are delivered to one of our storage warehouses north of London.

We collected not only clothing and tents but also a large quantity of personal care items.

After a couple of weeks the cycle of the news media had moved on. Fortunately we had amassed enough aid to supply the warehouses in Calais for many months, operations were therefore expanded to send much needed containers of aid further afield to camps in Eastern Europe and the Greek Islands. A number of highly skilled professionals contacted me asking where best to volunteer their time. I decided to volunteer some time on the Greek Island of Chios and in the Turkish town of Izmir in order to effectively direct international volunteers and locate organisations that were in need of skilled volunteer support.

The aftermath of an unaided landing on the Chios coastline. Sharp rocks puncture the boats and hinder safe landings.

Boats are unloaded safely by members of the Chios Eastern Shore Response Team (CESRT) after been redirected to a small harbour.

Boats are intercepted at sea and led to a safe harbour by Spanish rescue team Humanitarian Maritime Rescue Association (SMH).

In the port town of Çeşme aid is sorted by volunteers ready to be given to people waiting to cross the waters to Greece.

Local organisation Imece Inisiyatifi Çeşme collects food and clothing for people attempting to cross to Europe by sea.

Warm clothes are needed for early morning crossing attempt to Europe.

Once landed people will need to change their clothes again because they will be soaked though from the sea crossing.

Any contact between a rescue boat and the migrant’s vessel would be considered people trafficking under international law.

Entire families including the old and very young risk their lives, they leave almost everything behind and travel with very few belongings.

This adult lifejacket had been taken from a commercial aircraft and was then used for the crossing to Chios.

Found in Chios after a safe landing this children’s water toy had served as a makeshift lifejacket.

Small babies are given infant lifejackets taken from the aircraft of commercial airlines.

A doctor working with SMH helps a young child ashore after guiding the boat to a safe harbour.

Small children have a greater risk of hyperthermia. Immediately on landing they are provided a change of dry clothes and sweets to maintain energy.

Volunteers use their cars to warm up the children and allow them rest after the crossing.

People are given a change of socks in order to keep them warm and dry and reduce the risk of hyperthermia.

After a landing discarded lifejackets are collected together ready for collection by the local authorities.

Once safety ashore the new arrivals must pay a private bus to take them to a centre for processing.

The processing centre is dark and cold. There are few functioning staff, the majority of the work is done by an unpaid team of international volunteers.

Volunteers welcome the refugees and assist them in filling out forms. They provide hot drinks, food and a change of their wet clothing.

Eventually the arrivals enter this area for an interview and processing by FRONTEX. After registration many will continue onwards to Europe, whilst others will remain in a refugee camp.