9 stories - helping refugees and migrants

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9 stories – helping refugees and migrants

Governments are closing borders and building walls, but many people are helping. Hazel Healy tells some stories from around the world.

1. Stopping 12,000 deaths at sea

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Millionaire US-Italian couple Christopher and Regina Catrambone saw a winter coat in the sea near their boat on a family holiday in the Mediterranean in 2013. Months later, 400 people – mostly Syrians and Eritreans – died in the sea near Lampedusa, about 160 kilometres from Malta where the Catrambone family live. So they decided to do something. They bought a rescue ship, The Phoenix, and in 2014 they paid – it costs more than $500,000 per month – to save migrants in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy.

The project is Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). They now have two drones and two fast rescue boats. They have saved the lives of 12,000 people. The Catrambone family said: ‘people who care about migrants dying in the sea do not need to wait for governments to do something’. After so many people saw the photo of the dead refugee child on a beach, in September 2015, many people sent money to MOAS. They got $1 million in only two days. Many people from the US have sent money eg. families of Vietnamese boat people and famous Hollywood stars. Their next project is to help Rohinyga refugees in the Andaman Sea.

More information: https://www.moas.eu/

2. Support in Belgrade

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Belgrade, capital of Serbia, became a big centre for refugees. So nine charities got together to create Miksalište in less than two weeks. In August 2015, Miksalište was helping 1,000 people a day. They gave refugees food, clothes and a place to charge mobiles from solar panels. The government has no money to help: because they borrowed money from the IMF, they cannot pay people to help refugees.

Many people who volunteer with Miksalište are from different countries. But most of the donations are from local people. ‘We are a nation of refugees – people understand,’ says Marija Vranesevic from the charity Philanthropy. ‘In the summer there were 3,000 refugees in the parks in Belgrade. People brought food and clothing; companies gave them water. There was no conflict at all.’

More information: nin.tl/RefugeeAidSerbia

3. Safe from Boko Haram

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In Nigeria, the government and Boko Haram (the Islamic extremist group) have been fighting for four years. More than two million people have had to leave their homes. Less than 10 per cent of homeless people are in government camps. All the others have to stay with friends, family – or bakers. Lawal Dan Gashua is 52. He runs a bakers’ association in Maiduguri, and he has looked after 300 people in his house. Since 2012, when homeless people started arriving, he has put as many people as possible into his old house, and he has found places for many others in his community. Now he has 14 boys living there. Their fathers were killed or kidnapped – with thousands of others - by Boko Haram. He gets no support from the government, but he feels responsible.

4. Saving people from Eritrea

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Meron Estefanos has probably saved the life of 16,000 people in the last year – but she doesn’t want to know the exact number. 5,000 people escape from Eritrea and its controlling government every month. And many of them have her telephone number. They have problems on boats crossing to Italy, and they call Estefanos. She is a 40-year-old radio journalist. From her flat in Stockholm, she gives the information about where the boat is to the coastguard; at least 50 boats were rescued like this in 2015.

Refugees from Eritrea have many other problems – not only the journey across the Mediterranean. Kidnappers take hundreds of them – they torture, rape and kill them in places like Sudan and Libya. Estefanos tries to get the hostages released by telephone, she collects money to pay the kidnappers, and she helps their families. She also tries to make governments do something to help.

Estefanos is a single mother of two children. She says that if Westerners were kidnapped in the Sinai, everyone would do more to help. ‘This is a race problem,’ she says. ‘Sadly, nobody cares about Africans.’

More information: eirr.org

5. Festival of hope

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Menes La Plume is a refugee from Congo. He wants to change the way people see refugees around the world. So this is the second year that he has brought musicians and dancers to the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi for a festival. This camp started after the genocide in Rwanda. 20,000 people live in the camp now. The Tumaini (‘hope’ in Swahili) arts festival 2015 has music from Malawi, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘No-one plans to leave the place they were born. And to then go to a foreign country where they don’t know anyone,’ La Plume said. ‘No-one wants people to think they are a human who is not important.’

6. Fishers to the rescue

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In May 2015, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia left thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis in the Andaman Sea, with nowhere to go. So people from the villages took action. Indonesian fishers in Sumatra saw many starving people on the boats. So they helped the women and children, the sick and people suffering from trauma. They brought them to land and gave them food, clothes and medical help. ‘We helped them because they needed help,’ said 38-year-old Myusup Mansur from the small island village of Pusung. He, with other fishers, rescued 677 people. ‘What is more human than that?’

7 Caravans for Calais and other places

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Lea Beven wanted to do something after she saw a picture of a refugee in boots. ‘He was standing in water in “The Jungle” in Calais, in front of a tent,’ she says. ‘I had just bought a caravan. I was in it with my three-year-old son and I started crying. I thought, “Why am I here when they are in tents?”’ Since September 2015, Beven and many others around Britain have raised more than $33,000 and taken 50 caravans to the informal refugee camp in Calais. The camp is around the entrance to the Channel Tunnel between France to Britain – more than 6,000 people now live there. Volunteers, medical units and refugee families live in the caravans.

More information: http://caravansforcalais.org.uk/

8. One outfit (set of clothes), one child

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When children get to Greece after they cross the Aegean Sea, they are often very wet and cold. Sometimes they are freezing if they have been in the water. Jeannie Etherton was a volunteer on the Greek Island of Leros. She thought of the idea of One Outfit One Child. They send these ready packs of clothes, with an age label, directly to groups that help on the beaches. So people dry the children and put on new clothes immediately before they get too cold.

More information: nin.tl/OneOutfitOneChild

9. Lighten the Load (not so heavy to carry)

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Brodoto is a charity in Croatia. They raised the money to buy slings for refugee mothers to carry babies when they are walking through the Balkan area. They needed $2,300, but they got four times more in less than 48 hours. ‘We know these baby slings won’t stop this humanitarian catastrophe,’ they wrote, ‘but it will help this group – mothers and babies – to reach their destination safely.’

More information: nin.tl/LightenTheLoad

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2016/01/01/solidarity-knocks/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).