Winter storm intensifies challenges for refugees in Greece

By January 17, 2017

Greece (MNN) — Winter weather can be a pain to deal with, even when you’re equipped for it. But it’s absolutely deadly when you’re not prepared at all. This is the case for refugees in Greece who are waiting for permission to move further north in Europe.

Tasos Ioannidis of AMG International says, “Since the beginning of the refugee crisis, approximately 1.5 million people have tried to cross into Europe. For the first year of this crisis, basically there was no restriction in the flow of refugees.”

pxy_refugeesAfter hundreds died while crossing the Aegean sea, the European Union and Turkey came to an agreement that restricted the flow of migrants. This greatly reduced the deaths and the flow of refugees into Greece. However, it did not stop the flow of refugees into Europe. Nor did it stop them from risking their lives in order to escape the violence and danger from home.

“At the same time, it increased the number of refugees that are trying to cross from the African coastline to Italy which is a much longer trip and has a lot greater risk,” Ioannidis explains.

According to the UN, over 5,000 migrants have drowned while crossing the Mediterranean sea in 2016.

In their search for asylum, they overwhelmed Germany, Sweden, and other European countries. And so, these northern European countries began closing the borders, trapping over 60,000 refugees in ill-equipped Greece.

Ioannidis says, “A few thousand more are coming each month. And all of those refugees, in order to be admitted to one of the other European countries have to go through an asylum process. That asylum process is very slow, and the number of applications that get processed on a monthly basis does not even begin to come close to the number that flow each month.”

And while they wait, especially through this winter weather, they suffer.

(Photo courtesy of AMG International).

(Photo courtesy of AMG International)

“A lot of them are in very appalling conditions. Some of them have been in tents for more than a year. It’s just a very difficult and a really tragic situation where there is ongoing need and all these refugees are there hoping they will be able to continue their journey.”

These tents are nothing more than regular camping tents — not built for winter conditions. Meanwhile, as with other refugee populations, there is little to do as far as occupation. And as long as they remain dependent on handouts, they struggle with poor morale and self-image.

Recently, Ioannidis says, Greece had the harshest winter storm in recent memory.

“You could see these refugees were in situations in freezing conditions, in the mud, in the snow, snow-covered tents, no heat, trying to burn the wood or burn the cardboard or whatever they could find to try to warm up.”

Fortunately, some of the worse off were able to be moved to a different location with better conditions. AMG is on the ground, working to meet the immediate needs of these people.

“Wait time” is time to minister

These people are no longer passing into northern Europe after a quick stop in Greece. That means, while they wait, AMG is able to build relationships and address their spiritual needs as well.

(Photo courtesy of AMG International).

(Photo courtesy of AMG International)

“With individuals being there on the long-term basis, being trapped there for a while, we have of course been working to provide for basic things like food, clothing, medical care, just transportation to the places they need to go, help with government applications.”

In addition, they have community centers that provide counseling, language and vocational training, and other aid. It’s been an effective way to engage in conversation.

“That shows, in a practical way, the love of God to them. And for many of them, it opens up the opportunity to ask questions, to want to know more, and we have seen the Lord move in a wonderful way as we have been able to help the refugees.”

What you can do

If you would like to walk alongside AMG International, consider praying first for the work going on. Pray for the workers who are exhausted emotionally and physically. Pray also for the refugees to open their hearts to learn about Jesus as Christians minister to them.

If you would like to assist financially, click here.

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