Emergency

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Staying Safe in Sri Lanka

Reporting and photos from Himangi Jayasundere and local partners in Sri Lanka

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Since May 16, heavy rains from Cyclone Roanu have caused massive flooding and landslides in Sri Lanka. More than 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and 200 people are either reported dead or missing. Fortunately, no ChildFund-enrolled or sponsored children and their family members were reported hurt or killed in the disaster, but some have had to leave their homes.

We are working with Sri Lanka’s government and other nongovernmental organizations to assist people in need, and in Puttalam District, we have set up two Child-Centered Spaces (you can see photos in the slideshow above) to help keep children safe. They also receive psychosocial counseling and opportunities to talk about their fears. Read more about the emergency response in Sri Lanka on our website.

Keep Up With Ecuador Earthquake Updates

Reporting from ChildFund Ecuador

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador on April 16, leading to hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction in the western part of the country. ChildFund does not work in this region (only a few families in our program area were affected, and they have received help), but we are working with Alliance partner Educo, as well as Ecuador’s government and other nongovernmental organizations, to assist families in the worst-affected communities. Read more on our Ecuador emergency page.

ecuador emergency pic

A truck delivers supplies for Ecuador earthquake victims.

The Faces of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

In recent weeks, we’ve posted three stories by ChildFund’s global communications manager, Julien Anseau, who traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia with our assessment team as they collected information on the needs of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly children.

Julien and Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Zachary Reid, who also went on the trip, did an excellent job putting a face on the migration crisis facing Europe. Like the global scope of ChildFund’s work with children and family members who live in poverty, the problem in Europe is vast. But in both cases, real people are suffering. We just need to take a moment to learn their stories and see their faces.

If you didn’t read them earlier, you can catch up with Julien’s blog posts (1, 2, 3) and Zachary’s articles. Below are some of Julien’s pictures taken along the journey.

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On the Migrants’ Trail: Reaching Serbia

Europe migrant crisis

A group of young Afghan men catch a train from Dimitrovgrad, Serbia, to Belgrade, where they will catch another train to Croatia.

By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager

Julien Anseau has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications. In January and early February, he joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to take stock of needs among Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants, particularly children. In Julien’s final report, he continues the journey from Macedonia to Serbia. 

Since the events described here, Macedonia and other European countries have limited the number of migrants allowed through their borders. This has caused a major bottleneck in Greece and occasional violence at border towns. 

At least four trains arrive daily in Tabanovce, a Macedonian refugee camp near the Serbian border. But when we arrive, it’s deserted. The place feels eerie and empty, showing the transient nature of migrant camps.

Most migrants coming through here arrived from Greece, their landing point in Europe; they pass through Macedonia to Serbia and then, if they’re fortunate, on to Germany and other western European countries. Others take a route through northwestern Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia. Both roads are well known to smugglers, who often make the journeys possible — at a steep cost.

But also present along the migrants’ trail are ChildFund, our partner Terre Des Hommes-Lausanne, and other non-governmental organizations, which are trying to keep children safe on their journey.

“We focus on the special needs of children,” says Marija, a social worker with La Strada International, a group of organizations focused on human trafficking in Eastern Europe. Its member group in Macedonia staffs children’s centers at refugee camps in Tabanovce and Gevgelija.

A young Afghan man was robbed of his belongings, but he says, "I’m happy. I’m a free man now."

A young Afghan man was robbed of his belongings, but he says, “I’m happy. I’m a free man now.”

“They come here to play, draw, sing and take part in games,” she says, “so that, for a while at least, they can forget the situation back home and the stressful journey ahead. It’s great to see smiles on the faces of children. It is important to allow children to express their fears and concerns; many are traumatized by war. For younger children, we provide diapers, milk, formula and blankets, as well as a warm place for mothers to rest and breastfeed in privacy. We also give information to mothers about preventing separation from their children along the journey. We ensure children know the full names of their parents and have copies of their parents’ identity papers.”

Often, Marija offers a listening ear: “We listen and support parents as they express the hardships they have faced along the way, the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect next, the fear that they will get stuck at a transit center, and anxiety of not knowing if and how they will keep going to reach their destination. Children’s stress often mirrors their parents’ stress.”

Along the Turkey-Bulgaria-Serbia route, we see migrants in Dimitrovgrad, a town in southeast Serbia near the Bulgarian border. They’ve walked through forests, over hills and across fields under cover of darkness to reach this point. Many migrants are men, but it’s not uncommon for women and children to travel this route, too.

Today, temperatures have plummeted, and it is snowing. I speak to a young man from Afghanistan who doesn’t want to be named. He is shivering, his pants are ripped, and his shoes are broken down. I ask why he has no belongings.

“My bags were stolen in Bulgaria,” he says. “A group of men took my bags, money and phone, and they beat me. Still, it’s better than braving the sea.” As of March 8, 444 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The young man looks exhausted, but he continues: “I’m happy. I’m a free man now. I have a cousin in Germany. I don’t know which city he lives in, but I’ll call him once I arrive. I want to find work and settle.”

Later, we see 38 more migrants, including 14 children, arrive at Dimitrovgrad’s police station to get their papers stamped. We walk through barn-like doors to a large, open room with bunk beds covered by blankets.

There’s also a yard, just beyond the station. Clusters of girls and boys engage neighborhood dogs in play. Despite the harsh conditions they have faced, the children appear happy for a moment — a testament to their resilience.

Read parts one and two of Julien’s story and learn how you can help migrant children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as they undertake this perilous journey.

On the Migrants’ Trail: Children Traveling Without Parents

Idomeni migrant camp

Thousands of migrants wait at the Greek border town of Idomeni, where they wait to cross into Macedonia.

By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager

Julien Anseau has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications. In January and early February, he joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to take stock of needs among Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants, particularly children. In Julien’s second report, he speaks with people at camps in Greek and Macedonian border towns. 

Since the events described here, in the past week violence has broken out in Idomeni, Greece, because of a bottleneck caused by Macedonia’s new daily cap on the number of migrants allowed into the country, as well as other restrictions. Thousands are now stranded in Idomeni and nearby camps, causing serious tension and questions about what will happen next.    

In Idomeni, 350 miles north of the Greek capital, thousands of migrants are waiting to cross the border into Macedonia. Only a few hundred are permitted to cross the border at a time, yet more and more buses continue to drop off migrants eager to keep moving and reach their destinations. A Greek policeman tells me, “Today is busy. Very busy. As always. Five thousand people are waiting to cross the border. We can only accommodate 1,200 in the camp. And still they keep coming. There is no end in sight.”

Families sit and wait around the train tracks and in the surrounding fields. Some sleep around the dying embers of a fire; others hang their washing while children play soccer. Many line up for medical assistance, warm clothes and food for their children. The long journey is starting to take its toll on people, particularly women with children, disabled people and the elderly. People are exhausted and lost. An Iraqi woman with four children tells me she wants to give her children freedom and a brighter future.

In Idomeni, only a few hundred migrants were permitted to cross the border at a time, and now there are further restrictions by Macedonian authorities.

In Idomeni, only a few hundred migrants were permitted to cross the border at a time, and now there are further restrictions by Macedonian authorities.

In one corner of the overcrowded camp, amid the chaos one can hear the laughter and singing of children. ChildFund’s partner organization, Terre des Hommes, a group of Swiss non-governmental organizations focused on children, provides a child-friendly space staffed by social workers, psychologists and translators.

Under the supervision of caring adults, children draw, play and sing — activities that help them cope with stress. The center is well-equipped with toys, drawing supplies and child-sized tables and chairs. It also has a private room for mothers to breastfeed, change diapers and rest.

Mazen, a 15-year-old Syrian boy traveling with his uncle, proudly pins his drawing on the wall. They want to go to Germany. They have a phone number for some relatives there, but they don’t know the name of their city. Mazen dropped out of school and hopes to complete his education. He is the oldest child in his family and the only one his father could afford to send away.

Seventeen-year-old Amani is also from Syria. She is traveling with her cousins, and they are on their way to Sweden, where her brother lives. She is both excited and scared about her uncertain future. Like many others, she has left part of her family behind in Syria.

UNICEF reports a growing number of children traveling without a parent or guardian; they are claiming asylum in Europe as unaccompanied minors.

Kyriaki, a social worker with Greece’s Association for the Social Support of Youth (ARSIS), explains how her organization assists young migrants: “We coordinate with La Strada, an organization on the Macedonian side, in ensuring unaccompanied children safely cross the border. ARSIS sends lists of names and photos to La Strada and asks the unaccompanied children to walk across the border hand in hand. The group is then picked up by La Strada on the other side and taken care of in Gevgelija camp.”

La Strada International is a network of non-governmental organizations addressing human trafficking in Eastern Europe; its member group in Macedonia works in the Gevgelija refugee camp near the border of Greece. Stojne, a La Strada social worker, has heard many heartbreaking stories, especially from the youngest migrants.

A young girl shows a drawing she made at the Gevgelija refugee camp in Macedonia. Photo by Open Gate - La Strada Macedonia.

A young girl shows a drawing she made at the Gevgelija refugee camp in Macedonia. Photo by Open Gate – La Strada Macedonia.

“I’m a humanitarian aid worker, but I’m still a human being, and I can’t help but be touched by people’s stories,” she says. “I recall meeting a 16-year-old boy who fled Syria because he didn’t want to be recruited as a child soldier. His father gave him his life savings so that he could make it to Sweden. He left behind his parents and five brothers and sisters, including one sister critically injured after a bomb blast. He carries the responsibility on his young shoulders to make a go of it in Sweden so that his family can join him later. He was very stressed out.

“I hear these stories every day. I know I cannot solve all the problems and help everybody, but I try my best to make a difference as much as I can.”

The number of migrants, including children traveling alone, is expected to rise later this year as weather warms, experts predict. To protect young migrants, ChildFund child protection adviser Maggie Zraly says, improvements are needed in child-friendly accommodations and identification processes for unaccompanied children and those separated from family members during their journey. Children also need legal aid assistance, accurate information and referrals to people and organizations that can help them reach safe and stable homes.

Meanwhile, in Macedonia, Stojne has noticed a new — and more vulnerable — wave of migrants arriving.

“Before, it was mainly men traveling,” she says. “Now I am seeing more and more children, with families or alone. I am also seeing more and more elderly and disabled persons. The situation in their countries must be terrible for them to leave and embark on such a long and dangerous journey.

“People are tired. They just want to arrive. Migrants are grateful to the staff in the camp. They just want a better life.”

Read Julien’s first story, and stay tuned for a third post next week.

Emergency Relief in Post-Cyclone Fiji

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Photo from the Fiji government’s Facebook page. Click on the picture to see more photos of the cyclone’s damage to the island.

By Jacqui Ooi, ChildFund Australia

This week, Fiji experienced the worst storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, when Tropical Cyclone Winston (a Category 5 storm) tore through the Pacific island nation. The death toll stands at 44 as of Feb. 26, with fears that this figure will rise. Tens of thousands of Fijians are living in evacuation shelters because their homes were damaged or destroyed.

ChildFund Australia is supporting the relief effort through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity Australia, which has a long-established presence in Fiji. It is actively involved in relief and recovery efforts.

ChildFund Australia has given funds to Habitat so it can provide the following emergency resources: temporary shelter kits for families, including tarpaulins, roofing materials, access to toolkits and training; as well as water purification tablets, household water filtration kits and hygiene materials.

On the Migrants’ Trail: In Search of a New Life

Afghan refugees in Greece

A group of Afghan migrants take a moment to breathe after reaching Greece by boat. Julien spoke with Hamid, who wears a red jacket, and Mehdi, second from left. 

By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager

Julien, who has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications, joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia earlier this year to take stock of needs of migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, particularly children. This is the first of Julien’s reports from the field. 

Thousands of Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians are fleeing their war-torn countries and embarking on a perilous journey to Europe seeking refuge and a better life. In Izmir, a western port city of more than 2 million people in Turkey, many throng the streets, desperate to get to Greece — the entrance to the European Union.

Izmir, Turkey

Lifejackets for sale in the streets of Izmir, Turkey, the starting point for the journey by boat to Greece.

It’s an anxious and fearful time for many. The most dangerous point of the journey to Europe is the illegal boat crossing from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands.

According to the International Organization for Migration’s last update on Feb. 19, 413 people — including children — have died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. Migrants pay smugglers anything between $500 and $1,200 and take their chances aboard unseaworthy rubber boats in a desperate bid to reach Europe.

Around Izmir’s Basmane Station, shops sell everything migrants may need, as well as things they don’t. Merchants do a brisk trade in lifejackets, which cost about $25 each and are sometimes useless. This is just one of many examples of people making a quick profit on migrants’ desperation.

***

A few days later, in Athens, Greece, we see many more migrants, but this time, the mood is of elation and relief. They’ve made it to Europe. In Victoria Square, a central meeting space in the city, I met a group of young Afghans taking their first steps on European soil.

“Thank God!”

“Finally!”

Hamid, who says he is 20 years old but looks younger and may in fact still be a minor, describes his harrowing ordeal on the boat from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.

“I’d been trying for three weeks to reach Greece,” he says in English. “I was losing hope, and then one night at 4 a.m., the smuggler came and said it was now or never. I grabbed my bag and followed him to the beach. Forty-seven of us piled up on a small rubber boat. The smuggler stayed on the beach and told one of us to steer the boat straight towards the lights on the island in the far distance. What was supposed to be a one-hour journey took five hours.

“A Syrian guy steered the boat into the darkness of the night,” Hamid continues. “None of us had ever driven a boat before, but he was brave. The high waves were crashing against the boat, and I was cold and wet through. Everyone was afraid, screaming and crying because we thought we were going to turn over. Some people were praying together. I can’t swim, and I thought I was going to die. When we arrived on shore, I was exhausted and lay down for a while, too tired to realize I made it.”

I can’t swim, and I thought I was going to die. When we arrived on shore, I was exhausted and lay down for a while, too tired to realize I made it.

Mehdi, another young Afghan man whom Hamid met earlier in the journey, jumps in: “We tried a few times to cross by boat. When the weather is bad and the sea is rough, smugglers drop the price. But we didn’t want to risk our life. We know some boats never make it. This time we were lucky. I’ve met some people on this journey who have lost friends and family at sea.”

Just that morning, as the city of Athens woke up, came news of yet another boat that didn’t make it to Greece. The boat capsized, killing several people, including children.

For most people seeking asylum in Europe, Germany is the destination of choice. Usually people have friends or relatives already living there, and the government has been welcoming of migrants fleeing political turmoil.

Ali, a man in his early 30s from Bamyan Province in central Afghanistan, says he hoped to complete his studies so he could rebuild his life away from the pervasive violence of his homeland. He was anxious to recharge his phone so he could tell his family that he was safe and learn the latest news on the migrant crisis.

The port in Athens, Greece, is where numerous migrants take their first steps on European land.

The port in Athens, Greece, is where numerous migrants take their first steps on European land.

“There are a lot of rumors and hearsay,” he says. “I heard that countries are closing their borders. I want to check online for myself.” Ali has kept in touch with friends further along the route to Germany, who relay practical information and advice.

Reaching Germany takes a great deal of planning and money, as well as procedures to protect migrants from losing their savings to dishonest smugglers.

Instead of paying smugglers directly along the route, Ali keeps his money in trust with a middleman back in Afghanistan. After hearing from Ali, this man released a payment to the smuggler who got Ali to Greece and made arrangements with the next smuggler along the route to Germany. If Ali had not reached Greece, the smuggler would have had to keep trying, or he wouldn’t have been paid.

The expense and trouble are worth it to Ali. “The insecurity in Afghanistan drove me out of my home,” he explains. “It’s a war zone. There is no education, no jobs, no safety, nothing. I am sad to leave my parents behind, but I have to save my life. This is not my first attempt to leave Afghanistan for a better life. The first time, I was caught without papers by police in Iran. I was beaten and sent back. This time I made it through.”

A few weeks after I met Ali, Hamid and Mehdi, the situation suddenly changed for Afghan migrants, who are no longer allowed to travel through Macedonia. Many are now stranded in Greece.

Stay tuned for more blog posts from Julien, and also check out Richmond Times-Dispatch staff writer Zachary Reid’s reports from his time spent shadowing ChildFund’s needs-assessment team in Europe. 

To find out more about the children and families undertaking this journey — and to help — read more on ChildFund’s website

A Bottleneck in Europe for Families Fleeing Violence

family at Serbian border

A family at the Serbia-Macedonia border, where families from Syria and other countries in strife are attempting to cross to freedom and safety. Photo courtesy of Terre des Hommes-Lausanne. 

In January and early February, Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reporter Zachary Reid traveled through Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary with ChildFund staff members, as we took stock of the situation facing refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. Reid’s first story, published Feb. 14, shows the complex situation families face as they enter ports in Greece, the first stop in the European Union for many.  

As months of news reports have shown us, the journey to Europe can be arduous and dangerous, especially for children, but the risks don’t end there. For several months, ChildFund has worked with Terre des Hommes-Lausanne, a group of Swiss non-governmental organizations focused on child protection, as its staff helps families passing through Serbia and Macedonia. Many are vulnerable to traffickers, and the majority need clean clothes and other basics. 

The numbers continue to grow, with no end in sight. 

“Last year, 853,650 refugees arrived in Greece by sea, mostly from Turkey, according to the International Organization for Migration,” Reid writes. “That was a 1,075 percent increase from 2014, when 72,632 people arrived. An additional 68,778 people arrived from Jan. 1 to Feb. 3 this year, despite bad weather and rough seas for much of that period.”

During the next two Sundays, Reid’s stories will focus on the promise of better lives in Europe, and ChildFund’s expanding mission to protect children in global emergencies. Stay tuned! 

 

Ethiopia: “Our Children Are Suffering Because of the Drought”

Ethiopia food shortage

Three-month-old Fentale is weighed at a health center in Ethiopia. He has been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.

Reporting by ChildFund staff

Halko, 28, is the mother of 3-month-old Fentale, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a condition that can lead to brain damage and death. A two-year drought in Ethiopia has caused a serious food shortage, leaving millions without enough to eat. Halko, who is married and has three more children, eats only a diet of maize flour and is unable to produce enough milk to feed Fentale.

After a health extension officer from the government of Ethiopia identified the possibility of severe malnutrition, Halko took the baby to a health post in their village, where a health worker referred them to the health center. Halko spoke to us recently about the drought and the food shortage affecting her family.  

Ethiopia health center

Halko with Fentale at a health center.

Due to the absence of rain, the conditions here are so hot and dry. It’s difficult to live in this village. The trees give no shade. The drought is really affecting us. It started two years ago. There’s been no change. It is the same. If the rain comes, the situation will be different.

We are facing a problem. The livestock are not able to produce milk. If the livestock can’t give milk and I can’t add milk to our porridge, then we face problems. We eat only maize porridge without milk. Our livestock have no pastures to graze because there’s been no rain. They don’t have grass to eat. Because of this drought, we have a food crisis. Our children also suffer because of the drought. They don’t get any curd or milk. In the past, we’d add different things like onions or rice – and we may have gotten tomato or oil sometimes. Now we eat only maize. We can’t even get oil to cook with.

The land is dry and it produces no crops. There’s been two years of no rain, and we haven’t been able to harvest crops.  We planted maize and white teff [an important food grain used to make staple food injera], but since there was no moisture, the seeds did not germinate. During normal times, we used to buy cabbage and potatoes from the market, and we cooked it together with the maize, but there’s no more now.

The distance to the water point is two hours from here, one way. If we go in the morning, we return back here by noon. My, how we travel.

Fentale is 3 months old. We took him to the health center, and they measured him. They told me yesterday he will be admitted and treated there, and I have to stay there with him. It started after he was born; now he’s 3 months old. There’s been no improvement or growth, and he cries the whole night. If he’s not able to get milk, he cries all night. He cries and kicks all night.

Ethiopia family

Halko’s family eats a diet of maize.

He started coughing after he was born. After coughing, he would cry all day. Especially in the hot weather, he’d cough and cough.

If I’m able to give him some milk, he’s better. If he gets some milk, he’ll sleep. But if he can’t get milk from my breast, he won’t sleep and will just cry. When he first started crying, we took him to the health center. They identified his problem and advised me to eat different foods, not just maize, and to drink enough pure water. They said to try to breastfeed him more often.

I fear for the future. I don’t know whether Fentale will pass through this situation. We are hoping he’ll recover his health and grow to be a man. We don’t know if this will happen, and he’s not able to speak and tell us his problem. The whole night I sit with him, and this week is somewhat better.

What we need right now is teff. Wheat is not good. Maize doesn’t really have any benefits.

A balanced diet is important for my family. For their physical well-being, they need pure water and milk too.

If God gives us rain, we will try to plant crops. If our child recovers, I will be thankful. We need food. That’s our most serious problem.

You can help families like Halko’s by making a donation to our Ethiopia emergency fund.

 

Extending Relief to Delhi Fire Victims

CF staff

ChildFund India staff members distribute clothing, hygiene materials and kitchen utensils to people affected by a fire in North Delhi, India.

By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India

Samaypur Badli, an urban village in North Delhi where ChildFund India recently started a youth employment training project, suffered a terrible fire Dec. 18 that gutted dozens of homes, displacing more than 100 families. No casualties were reported, but the fire was a significant setback for the residents.

Some families are living in tents temporarily.

Some families are living in tents temporarily.

Firefighters doused the flames, which were caused by a short circuit, according to media reports. ChildFund India staff members, along with our local partner Al Noor Charitable Society, took action a few days later to help the fire victims, which numbered 300 people, including 200 children. Homes in this area are set very close together, so the fire spread quickly.

After a quick assessment of conditions and needs, ChildFund India gave woolen clothes to 200 children to ward off the freezing weather in Delhi. The 100 school-aged children received education kits, and families also were given personal hygiene materials and kitchen utensils to replace belongings lost in the fire.

In partnership with Al Noor Charitable Society, ChildFund India recently initiated the Youth United for Voluntary Action program to provide vocational and livelihood training to help young adults in this community find better jobs. Despite several industrial businesses in this region, many people live in poverty.

“We will enhance our support and intervention to ensure that these families come out of this tragedy and that their lives bounce back to normalcy as soon as possible,” says Neelam Makhijani, ChildFund India’s national director.

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