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How To Help Refugees In Greece In This Holiday Season

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/12/2015 Danae Leivada

ATHENS, Greece -- More than a million migrants and refugees have made their way to Europe this year, the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday. Most people traveled to Europe via the eastern Aegean Sea, crossing from Turkey to Greek islands such as Lesbos, Chios and Kos in flimsy boats or rubber dinghies.

More than 810,000 migrants and refugees , mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have arrived on Greece’s shores in 2015. At least 706 people have lost their lives trying to make the trek.

The journey has become increasingly perilous in the past months, as winter temperatures and rough seas have complicated the crossing. The Greek islands have seen dry and sunny days in the second half of December, but weather conditions on the islands are volatile, and cold and rain are likely just around the corner. 

Despite the hazardous conditions and new regulations that allow only Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis to cross Greece’s border with Macedonia, people are still braving the journey to the Greek shores in hopes of finding safety and a new livelihood in western Europe.

Amid the increasingly challenging conditions, nonprofits and volunteer organizations operating on the Greek islands are in constant need of supplies to deal with the large numbers of people still arriving daily. While there’s no lack of medical supplies, and food needs are often met by local initiatives, a host of other supplies are desperately needed.

Here’s what the people arriving on the Greek islands need most, and how you can help them this holiday season.

Space blankets

Migrants and refugees most often make the journey across the Aegean Sea at night, when temperatures are freezing. Once approaching the shore, they often have to swim or walk through cold water to make it to the beach. Isothermal blankets are the most effective means of warming them up. They aren't very expensive, are easy to buy online and can directly be sent directly to the Greek offices of organizations such as Doctors Without Borders .  

Warm clothes and shoes

Organizations are looking for winter clothes and shoes in different sizes that people can pull on after coming out of the water. Doctors Without Borders is collecting clothes, and the International Rescue Committee is selling appropriate winter clothing .

Wheelchairs and strollers

Dimitris Patestos, a Greek doctor working for Doctors of the World,  explains that wheelchairs and strollers are often not allowed on the boats and dinghies crossing the Aegean Sea. Patestos said donations of used strollers and wheelchairs are therefore incredibly useful, as they allow parents and people who rely on a wheelchair to travel with greater ease.

Formula milk

Doctors from nongovernmental organizations working on the islands also stress the importance of formula milk, as  some mothers aren’t able to breastfeed their babies or, in some cases, babies might be separated from their mothers. Patestos said most plain milk formulas -- particularly first infant and follow-on formulas for children over 6 months -- would be adequate and that people could send formulas to Doctors of the World's Athens office. “Equally, baby equipment, from baggies to slings and even baby toys are scarce and always necessary,” he added.

Cash donations

If you aren't sure what to buy or send to help refugees, you can always donate money. Simona Mortolini, team leader of the Greece refugee and migrant response of Save the Children, said  the organization is constantly looking for ways to pay more specialized personnel.

“The work we do is focused on the children, engaging with their health, well-being and protection so donations would help us recruit more staff to reach out to them,” she said.

UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency, gave out more than 75,000 aid items to refugees -- ranging from blankets and sleeping bags to hygiene kits and energy bars -- on the island of Lesbos in October and November, said agency spokesman Boris Cheshirkov.

Cash donations to NGOs such as Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Doctors of the World and UNHCR can be made through their websites.

Read more: 

- Life On The Island At The Frontline Of The Refugee Crisis

- Thousands In Greek Border Camp Have Nowhere To Go - Volunteers Don't Want To Abandon Refugees In Greece: 'How Can I When People Are Drowning?'

- 7 Volunteers Whose Lives Were Changed By Refugees


A Thousand Miles In Their Shoes

- The Crossing: Susan Sarandon Welcomes Refugees To Greece

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