The current refugee crisis brings the plight of people living in war-torn nations into stark relief, with thousands of people risking life and limb to cross the sea to the relative safety of Europe’s borders. Fundraising Europe addresses the many challenges facing voluntary sector agencies of channelling public support where it is needed most.
During the course of this year, an estimated 442,440 refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Kosovo amongst other places, have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean.
Some 2,921 are known to have died en route, travelling in flimsy dinghies or fishing boats, and 4,000 now arrive on Greek islands daily, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. Survivors often arrive traumatised having suffered violence and abuse by people traffickers.
The scale of the crisis has put immense pressure on destination countries, particularly Greece, Italy, Austria, and Hungary, as well as Germany which receives by far the most asylum applications and is expecting up to 800,000 refugees to arrive this year.
With many refugees arriving by boat at small Greek islands and on Italian beaches, the local infrastructure is not sufficient to deal with the mass influx of refugees and has become heavily reliant on local volunteers providing vital assistance. Several major ports, towns and cities within the continent are ‘overwhelmed’ by the number of arrivals seeking asylum.
Experts believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg, citing the urgent need for a coherent and united response. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, who chaired last week’s EU summit on the refugee situation, warned: “The greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come.”
From Syria alone, there are more than 4 million registered refugees who have fled and another 12.8 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance within their home country.
EU leaders and national governments continue to debate how to deal with the current flow of refugees and how to share responsibilities across member states. While they decide how best to deal with the crisis, the humanitarian crisis accelerates, refugee numbers swell and the burden facing nonprofit agencies grows.
Voluntary sector agencies have a dual role both in providing relief to refugees arriving at European borders, as well as working to support people within their home nations. Numerous appeals have been launched to provide for displaced people, to ensure the provision of water and sanitation facilities at refugee camps, in addition to food, shelter and other resources. While the level of need is immense within refugees’ home nations, the spotlight has turned towards those crossing into Europe.
Captivated by the image of a small child lying dead on the sand of a Turkish beach and news of so many others who have died as they attempt to cross the sea, the refugee plight has united the hearts of the public with their desire to help; a human response to a humanitarian crisis.
Migrants may have had a bad press in the past, but 2015 has seen the evolution towards a more sympathetic public who recognise the desperate circumstances that have led so many refugees to flee for the relative safety of European borders.
Many citizens have sought to take matters into their own hands, turning up at national borders with offers of supplies and shelter. For them, it is not enough to simply donate money; they want to be more actively involved, giving clothes, blankets, food, their time and services.
Volunteers have been instrumental in enabling over-stretched states and aid agencies to cope with the sheer scale of arrivals at Calais, Berlin, Salzburg and Budapest, to name but a few.
Some have opened up their own homes to migrants who have nowhere else to turn. Most notably, the BBC reports that German conservative MP, Martin Patzelt, took two Eritrean refugees into his home and helped find them work, while Finnish Prime Minister, Juha Sipila, recently promised to make his home available to refugees from next year.
Social media has enabled like-minded people to connect quickly, garnering support and coordinating their own relief efforts. Through crowdfunding, donations can be raised promptly, funding further action from volunteer refugee supporters.
The challenge remains for voluntary sector agencies and Governments not only to continue their vital work in supporting and relocating refugees, but to welcome, coordinate and facilitate wide-ranging forms of public support as best they can.
But, as one representative of a large international aid charity said: “Truthfully, many international NGOs have a very limited presence in Europe. The bulk of our activity is in developing countries, where it is needed most.
“We’re starting to scale up in Europe, but it takes time and funds and we have limited capacity to start delivering on the ground.”
Some partnerships have been established to enable nonprofits to extend their delivery of aid and to direct the public as to where their support is most needed.
In Austria, the national broadcasting service ORF has linked up with six major NGOs to set up an online portal to coordinate relief efforts. Governments are signposting their nation to the various ways to best support refugees, while the European Foundation Centre is in the process of mapping civil society's relief efforts to alleviate the refugee crisis.
Relief efforts for refugees have been significant, but remain disjointed, with Head of the UN Refugee Agency, António Guterres, saying: "It (the EU) now has no other choice but to mobilise full force around this crisis. The only way to solve this problem is for the Union and all member states to implement a common strategy, based on responsibility, solidarity and trust."
He added: “No country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part.”
While politicians continue to debate how to deal with the growing refugee crisis, voluntary sector agencies issue a stark warning of the need to refocus on the root of the matter.
One international aid spokesperson said: “The greatest need is for the vast majority of displaced people still in the region of Syria and surrounding countries.
“While we do what we can to support refugees, the focus should be on the urgent need for funding, food and resources outside of Europe. It is because those things are in short supply and that the situation is so desperate that people are taking to the boats.
“The media focus is on those travelling and drowning, but we should be refocusing on the massively underfunded response in the region.”
UNHCR echoed this view in a recent press statement, saying: “This massive flow of people will not stop until the root causes of their plight are addressed. Much more must be done to prevent conflicts and stop the ongoing wars that are driving so many from their homes.”
While refugees continue to land on Europe’s shores, the plight of people in war-torn countries and those facing torture, famine and more has never been more evident.
The need for voluntary sector agencies to support Government in utilising their expertise to coordinate an organised, collaborative response for refugees is certain, but the opportunity to direct the public’s generosity and willingness to those ‘root’ problems, has also never been greater.
Photo credit: UNHCR (Photographer I. Prickett), Syrian Refugees Crossing into Turkey