By Ann Marie Foley - 29 October, 2015
105-year-old grandmother and her extended family walked thousands of miles from Afghanistan across mountains, deserts and seas to reach Europe.
As the Irish Government agencies met yesterday (Wednesday 28th October ) to make preparations to receive refugees in Ireland, the Immigration Council of Ireland called for a comprehensive plan to integrate refugees and ensure that they are not ‘left living in limbo’.
They should be given family rights, access to education, training, work, and accommodation according to the council which also called for the Irish Government to keep the Irish Defence Forces deployment under review – and if necessary extend it into 2016.
The call came as the Irish navy ship LÉ Samuel Beckett rescued 218 people from small boats off the coast of Libya on Wednesday morning. Among those rescued were 63 women, including one pregnant woman, six children and 149 men.
The plight of refugees arriving in Serbia and neighbouring countries has been to the fore in recent days.
The BBC featured the arrival of a 105-year-old grandmother with her extended family in Croatia, having walked thousands of miles from Afghanistan and across mountains, deserts and seas to reach Europe.
Trócaire’s Meabh Smith is at the Presevo registration centre on the border between Serbia and Macedonia this week and is releasing videos of her meetings with people who have undertaken unthinkable journeys.
She sets the scene in her first video saying that 1000 people had crossed the border that morning alone from places like Syria, Iraq and Afganistan.
She tells the story of a 14 year old boy who said his family’s home and thriving shop had been destroyed, so fled to Turkey first and then went on to Serbia. He stated: “all I want is to study, I don’t want help or money. I just want to continue my studies.”
She also met a man from North Iraq who was told he had to fight in the war or be killed, he somehow escaped but with serious injuries and arrived in Serbia.
Trócaire is working with Caritas Internationalis at the registration centre in Presevo for refugees crossing from Macedonia to Serbia.
This crossing recorded its highest number on Saturday with 7,770 new arrivals. More than 9,000 entered Serbia on Saturday in total. Nearly half were children.
Caritas stated that these people are part of the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war. More than 670,000 people have crossed into Europe this year, with 56,000 arriving in Greece in just six days last week.
They are fleeing conflict and make their way by boat from Turkey, to Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and then on to Austria, Germany and other European countries.
“When it’s raining, it’s so hard to see these people wet and hungry,” said Milica Ocokoljic, a Caritas field officer from Presevo.
“I met one young family from Syria, the father is 34, the mother 27, they have 7 year old twin girls, a 4 year old son and triplets born on the 7th of September in Kavala – Greece, on their way here. Can you imagine giving birth to triplets on a journey like this.”
Caritas distributed 1,000 food packs in Presevo over the weekend, with 300 hygiene packs for women and 120 for babies.
So far Caritas in Serbia has assisted over 21,000 people with food packs, 5,600 women with hygiene packs and distributed over 1,800 baby hygiene packs.
With the help of CRS, Caritas Serbia are also able to distribute hygiene items in the park near the Belgrade railway station, where many refugees stay while waiting for their transport to get close to the borders.
The charity also hopes to provide sanitary facilities with showers in this park.
Since most of the refugees are Muslims, Caritas is distributing fish, canned sardines, bread and some cake, as well as drinking water. Children receive hygiene packs with nappies, tissues, baby powder, cream, fruit juices and for women the packs include sanitary pads, gel for the dry disinfection of hands, toothpaste, toothbrush and wet tissues.
Caritas is supporting Preshevo in handling the garbage problem, as there are not enough containers for the garbage of so many people coming into the country.
So Caritas Serbia will provide twenty containers to help the municipality. This is also essential to avoid potential diseases and to make sure that the hygiene level is safe.
Caritas also provides electricity plugs and an internet hot spots at the admission centres on north and south, so the refugees can communicate with their families.