By Silvia Sinibaldi, Humanitarian Director, Caritas Europa
Winter time clearly highlights the vulnerable situation of people who struggle to deal with extreme weather conditions. This is particularly true for migrants and refugees. And this year this is truer than ever as the situation in Greece and Serbia shows.
According to the director of Caritas Greece, Maria Alverti: “In the north of Greece, temperatures close to zero were the common reality already in December. It was really hard there. Most of the people are in containers, but you cannot say it is warm there. Some people have been transferred to hotels and shelters, but this is still not enough”. Also, “what happened in the last days is too much for everyone, not only refugees. There are a lot of snowbound villages. There is no running water because the pipes have broken due to the extreme cold. Electricity is failing down in many camps”.
Freezing temperatures are not so common in such a southern part of Europe. The situation is further complicated by the already challenging conditions caused by the humanitarian crisis there. Caritas in Greece is helping vulnerable families by giving them monthly vouchers for meeting their priority needs, as well as purchasing, installing and assembling container style houses and furniture and cooking facilities. Caritas is also providing supplementary food supplies for schools. For refugees and migrants, Caritas provides food and non-food items and mobile sanitation facilities and supports self-reliance and integration activities.
In Serbia, winters are normally colder. The differences between temperatures in the north and the south of the country amount to an average of around 0° in January. At the moment there are 7.200 refugees registered in camps and their conditions are extremely weak. In addition, many poor Serbian people and unregistered migrants, especially in Belgrade, are suffering from the cold.
Darko Tot, national director of Caritas Serbia, describes the dire situation: “refugees and poor people, especially the poorest Roma and local populations, have serious problems with obtaining firewood, which is still a common heating fuel in the majority of Serbian homes in smaller places and villages. With the extremely cold weather expected to continue in January, the problem of heating poorly constructed houses will become critical. Many of the poor families are close to spending all their firewood planned for the entire season. At the same time, delivery of firewood is almost stopped due to high snow and low temperatures”.
The situation in the country is extremely complex. The capacities of different institutions, organisations and people of good will are being overstretched all the time. They are struggling to provide regular hot meals every day and are mostly dependant on external support. Given the different basic needs of people, it is important to be able to plan in advance and secure funding and mechanisms which can grant some degree of flexibility.
Caritas in Serbia is helping vulnerable families by procuring firewood and stoves or paying their electric bills. Caritas also provides basic food and hygienic items, medicaments and vitamins and other bulk items, such as clothes, shoes, sheets, blankets, baby care items, etc. At refugee camps, Caritas helps by providing daily breakfasts and lunches and clothes. In addition, Caritas provides migrants and refugees with qualified psycho-social support.
Caritas continues to closely monitor the situation on the Balkan route in order to respond quickly to any emerging emergency.