Balkans and Greece: Stranded refugees face freezing temperatures

 Greece, Serbia
 Emergency Response
 12th Jan 2017

Belgrad/Athens, 13 January 2017. Stranded refugees in the Balkans and Greece face freezing temperatures and are in urgent need of assistance, warns the international aid organization CARE. “The lives of thousands of men, women and children are put at risk,” says Sumka Bucan, CARE’s Regional Balkan Director. “We are talking about families who already lost everything. They don’t have any resources to protect themselves from temperatures dropping as low as minus 15 degrees, heavy winds and snow fall. Most people live in makeshift communal facilities, mostly empty factories or hotels that do not provide enough heating and safety. Especially children and elderly people are suffering from respiratory diseases and don't have the means to get treatment."

Over 7,200 people are currently stranded in Serbia, living in overcrowded buildings or informal settlements. In Belgrade, around 2,000 young people, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria are currently sleeping in abandoned buildings in the city center because they fear deportation and are waiting for the borders to reopen. Around 1,000 refugees and migrants, including children, are also living on the streets of Belgrade, making it difficult for aid organizations to provide assistance. “These are inhumane conditions, especially for unregistered, ‘invisible’ refugees and migrants. There is no water, only limited access to sanitation facilities and health services”, explains Bucan. “These people fled war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, they came to save their children’s lives and to seek protection. It is unbearable that they are now risking to freeze to death on the European continent.”

Ten months since borders closed across the Balkans, more than 60,000 people are also still living in limbo in Greece. Efforts have been made recently to improve conditions in the camps on the mainland. “Conditions are slowly improving, but this is too late to ensure warm living conditions for refugees during this winter. Many refugees still live in unheated tents, warehouses or squatting unprepared buildings in the urban environment”, says Aleksandra Godziejewska, CARE Country Representative in Greece. Conditions are also dire on the islands, as reception centres are overcrowded. “Sub-standard camps need to be closed immediately and refugees need to be moved to sites suitable for the current winter conditions, including to apartments and hotels in the urban context. This should have happened months ago and the humanitarian community has continued to push for it. Safe and warm accommodation are a question of human dignity and minimal standards."

 

CARE's response: In Serbia and Croatia, CARE and local partners provide 24/7 assistance to new arrivals. To protect people from the severe weather conditions, CARE distributes warm clothes, blankets, hot meals and mattresses. To date, the emergency teams have reached more than 180,000 people. Read more about CARE's work in Serbia here.

In Greece, CARE supports refugees with cash assistance and provides legal and psychosocial assistance to urban refugees. With support by the European Commission and other donors CARE aims to reach 4,000 people until the end of March. Read more about CARE's work in Greece here.

 

Media Contact in Serbia: Ninja Taprogge, CARE Emergency Communications Officer, CARE International Balkans, taprogge@care.de, +381649887411 and +4915170167497.

Media Contact in Athens: Theodora Vangi, Emergency Communications Officer, CARE Greece, vangi@care.de

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