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Volunteers in Instanbul rise above the political fray to help refugees

By ELIS GJEVORI

As refugees on the Greek-Turkish border continue to reel from decisions taken in far-away places their ordeal shows no sign of abating.

Migrants walk in Edirne at the Turkish-Greek border, March 9, 2020. ( AP )

Ipsala, Turkey – Images of refugees at the Greek border lighting fires to stay warm at night and families sleeping in makeshift tents during the winter have been circulated widely in Turkey and have galvanised some into action.

At dawn on Saturday, Zeynep and Omer Cam, two young Istanbul professionals, set off for the border town of Edirne to do their part.

“We want to do what we can to help,” says Zeynep, who is making the three-hour journey with a group of friends in a convoy of four cars and a truck.

Each car is packed with food, and the truck is filled with jackets, baby clothes, shoes, and other essential items.

Before leaving Istanbul, the group has to make one more stop.

A donor has 15 boxes of wet wipes waiting at an industrial house on the outskirts of Istanbul. Once the final pickup is loaded up, the convoy is ready for the 255km journey to Ipsala, a small district of Edirne.

Zeynep was moved to act by friends who had been to the border during the week and experienced first hand the plight of refugees. After conferring with a group of friends, they decided they had to help.

Within one week the group raised more than $3,000, in addition to the goods they have collected, to support the waves of migrants and refugees.

Fellow volunteer, Bilal Sariyasar, who has been making the trip between the border and Istanbul over the previous week, explains that the help the Turkish volunteers are providing is crucial.

“The situation there has become very bad, the aid we are providing is important for the people there,” Sariyasar tells TRT World.

“We don’t focus on their decision to come here or their background, we only want to help when they are here,” the Istanbul Technical University engineering student adds.

Feeding the ‘downtrodden’

Since the Turkish government announced that it would no longer stop refugees from going to the European Union, several thousand people have attempted to leave believing they can make the crossing.

Turkey hosts almost four million Syrian refugees who have fled the Assad regime and hundreds of thousands of refugees from other countries, in particular Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

The ensuing rush towards the border by some of these refugees left many unable to access basic amenities. In addition to the Red Crescent, civil society groups and volunteers have been an important help in looking after the refugees.

Ibrahim Tuzcu, a soup distributor for Ashane, a mobile soup van in Istanbul, drove to Ipsala, one of the main gathering points for refugees attempting to make the crossing into Greece. It also hosts one of the main border checkpoints.

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“They are downtrodden and some of them have been made naked,” Tuzcu tells TRT World, referring to the refugees that were stripped down to their underwear by Greek authorities then beaten and sent back to Turkey.

Ashane mobile soup van in Edirne.(TRTWorld)

“Since Friday we have given more than 2,000 bowls of soup,” says a visibly tired Tuzcu who is now taking a break from distributing.

A Turkish Red Crescent official who spoke to TRT World on condition of anonymity was gloomy about the situation but also suggested that over the next two weeks there could be a reduction of people coming to the border.

A recent survey in Turkey found many Syrians have a very low desire to go back to Syria, where even if the Assad regime doesn’t arrest or torture them, they face crippling poverty.

Neither do the vast majority of Syrians want to move onwards from Turkey, a place many have made home.

The vast majority of refugees TRT World met at the border were from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and several other African countries. Many of them, unlike Syrians, do not have official status in Turkey.

Fear and misinformation

The first stop for the Istanbul aid convoy is the offices of the Mufti of Ipsala, a hastily prepared classroom served as a forward storage unit for much of the clothes.

Donated blankets, tents, shoes, clothes and other essential items at the offices of the Mufti of Ipsala.(TRTWorld)

The first village the group visits is Saricaali, with a population of slightly over 700, about 2.5km from the Greek border.

News comes through from local contacts that a building is being used by refugees as a resting place, waiting for the right opportunity to cross the border.

The arrival of the volunteers causes a great deal of interest as word spreads. Many of the people staying there had travelled to the border with only the things they could carry.

A large hall, that on a different day may have held a marriage ceremony, has been converted into an impromptu shelter. Different groups of people have gathered into their corners, attempting to create a sense of privacy.

“My dad is missing in Sri Lanka. I arrived here yesterday night, I’m trying to get to Greece,” says Nilaxsan, 27, who previously lived in Istanbul having escaped from Sri Lanka.

A member of the Tamil community he had left the island state in fear for his life.

He and his friends are appreciative of having received a pair of thermal socks and jackets from the volunteers. TRT World counted seven people that said they were members of the Tamil community and all with a similar story to Nilaxsan’s.

Images of Greek police beating up refugees have reached Nolaxan and his friends who fearfully ask whether the images were real and whether the same could happen to them.

The Greek government no doubt believes that stories of police brutality at the border may act as a deterrent for immigrants thinking of making the same journey.

With many of the immigrants who had believed that a crossing was possible now feel compelled to jump one more hurdle.

In this village of Saricaali, there are more than 100 migrants and refugees amongst which there are also several families including children. The vast majority were single men from Afghanistan and West African countries.

Turkish armed police officers patrolled the area, before leaving.

The immigrants encountered in the building fared a lot better than those sleeping out in the elements.

Immigrants attempting to make the crossing into Greece are spread out over large sections of the 200km border.

One of the aid workers receives a call that there is a group of immigrants close to the Meric river, which also acts as a border between Turkey and Greece.

Living in the open waiting for an opening

It’s now almost 9pm and the unusually warm weather slowly gives way to a cooler evening.

The group head northwards to the outskirts of the village of Kuplu, just 300 metres from the border.

There they find a group of twenty-five Syrians living in an open field looked after by two Red Crescent workers.

The lights from the nearest Turkish town are flickering in the distance, ahead of them is a menacing pitch-black Greek border.

The only source of light for the camp are the embers of the wooden fire. Many of the immigrants have laid out blankets on the ground and there is only one medium-sized tent which can’t accommodate everyone.

Open fire in a field at Kuplu village mainly with Syrians.(TRTWorld)

“Join us for tea,” says Mohammed in broken English as he stokes the fires.

All the people in this small grouping are Syrians who were previously living in Istanbul for several years.

“We want to go Germany, all the people here have members of our families there. In Syria we have nothing left,” says Mohammed. “We have been here for one week and we want to try and cross.”

When Mohammed is asked if he is aware of what may happen to him and the women and children he’s with if they cross to Greece, he exclaims: “The greek police have no honour.” He is seemingly prepared to take the risk nonetheless.

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Volunteers and the Red Crescent are most active during the night. When immigrants are most likely to cross the border and in the early morning when immigrants are most likely to be pushed back by Greece.

As the team of volunteers heads into Kadidondurma, a village North of Kuplu, they run into Ibrahim Kibar who is currently pursuing his Masters in International Human Rights Law in Sweden.

He’s been volunteering since February 28, the day after the government decided it would no longer stop those that wanted to leave from leaving and has come from Fatih, Istanbul.

Kibar witnessed first hand testimonies of refugees being beaten by Greek authorities, a policy he put down to teach migrants a lesson.

“When I ran into these men, they had only their underwear, they were thrown into the river by Greek soldiers or police. We gave them blankets, clothes, underwear, socks and loads of food,” says Kibar.

“Almost every single refugee that has been turned back by Greece has told me they were beaten up. They were kept in a secret location for two days with no food or water before being stripped of their belongings,” adds Kibar.

In Kadidondurma, where Kabir is based, there were three abandoned houses that had been turned into accommodation for the migrants.

Abandoned warehouse Kadidondurma with a indoor fire.(TRTWorld)

One of the smaller warehouses was divided into a section for women and infants with a separate section for men. There were several fires that had been set up and the resulting smoke made it difficult to breathe.

The men were using the fire to cook meat sourced from the nearby town Kadidondurma.

By morning some of them will attempt to make the crossing across the river and into Greece.

Kibar and the other volunteers will cover about 100km of the border, it’s now past midnight and the volunteers will be up until dawn ready to give aid.

Some who try to make the crossing will, without doubt, be back.

Source: trtworld.com

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

READ  Removing barriers for immigrant medical professionals is critical to help fight Coronavirus

Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

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“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  UNHCR welcomes Ethiopia’s ratification of Kampala Convention

 

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FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK

Kelvin

The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.

Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.

Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.

Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.

“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.

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READ  Allegations of extortion, delays trail issuance of passport by Nigeria Immigration Service
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