Monday, May 30, 2016

Some comfort for refugees - amid grim suffering and warnings of worse storms ahead

Stricken refugees rescued from the Aegean Sea will be looked after better and more safely thanks to generous Metro readers.
A fresh batch of supplies has just been delivered to the beleaguered Greek island of Lesbos, funded by thousands of pounds’ worth of readers’ donations.
But actor Hugo Speer, who delivered specially-designed beds which can accommodate almost 100 people, warned that a new ‘storm’ looms of many more migrant boats bringing misery to the shoreline.
He was most touched by one Syrian youngster holding up a placard, pleading: ‘I survived war but you make me wish I didn’t.’
Metro told in March how The Full Monty star Speer and Men Behaving Badly and The Night Manager actor Neil Morrissey had just spent a week in Lesbos helping the rescue efforts.
The stage and screen pair had been invited by Charles Storer, founder of the Essex-based charity Hope and Aid Direct.
They came back determined to drum up more support for a British expat couple who have turned their holiday home on the island into a relief centre for newly-arriving refugees and migrants.
Eric and Philippa Kempson, now both 60, arrived in Lesbos 16 years ago to run a holiday home but have since turned their Hotel Elpis on Eftalou beach into a safe haven for rescued refugees.
That is where the Metro reader-funded ‘Disc-o-Beds’ have now been installed, using £8,000 of the money so far raised.
Each of the 45 bunk beds not only provides somewhere for two people to sleep but can also be easily cleaned and disinfected, amid fears of diseases such as scabies and chicken pox.
Speer said: ‘I was worried at first when we opened them up but they’re incredibly easy to put together – more so than a Kinder egg toy which somehow took me 45 minutes the other day.
‘Everyone there was delighted to see the beds – they don’t want charity but they are of course appreciative and grateful.
‘It’s good to know there are people back in Britain supporting them.’
During his return trip, Speer and film-maker Sharron Ward also visited the island’s Pikpa open shelter for refugees, where many of the inhabitants are those deemed most vulnerable – for example, young children or disabled people.
The camp has faced closure threats several times, including another earlier this month – but for now, about 75 occupants remain in wooden shacks.
Among them was 17-year-old Mohamed, from the Syrian capital Damascus, who was there alone – desperately hoping to reunite with a brother now living in the Netherlands.
‘It’s heartbreaking to see so many kids abandoned on their own – and hear of many many more who have simply gone missing,’ said Speer.
An estimated 3,500 refugees and migrants remain on the island.
Several boats carrying 50 to 60 people apiece tend to arrive on a ‘normal’ day although this has eased in recent weeks following a controversial EU-Turkey deal.
That scheme commits the EU to evacuating migrants from the Greek islands, sending them back to Turkey, albeit agreeing to accept one Syrian refugee for each individual taken by Turkey.
But aid workers fear the agreement will founder in the coming weeks, as people-smugglers insist on resuming regular trips – especially as the weather improves. 
Traffickers typically charge about £75 per journey, giving them almost £5,000 per hazardous trip.
Recent crackdowns – including patrols by three British naval warships – has deterred some boats by daylight but prompted fears many could choose instead to travel, more riskily, at night.
Some 4,000 people are thought to have drowned last year attempting to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, with almost another 1,000 perishing so far this year.
Latest victims include an estimated 900 – according to the charity MSF – in separate sinkings between Libya and the Italian coast last week, with about 13,000 people rescued.
Lesbos has less affected in recent weeks but Speer fears far worse ahead.
He said: ‘At times it felt eerily quiet, but this is the calm before the storm.
‘And this time it could be a hell of a lot worse, with people all coming at once – maybe hundreds of thousands in a short space of time.
He now hopes to continue the appeal, hoping to buy if not more beds then similar cots, as well as vital medical supplies.
‘With the blessing of your readers, we’d like to continue to support the centre.
‘The response so far has been fantastic and is making a real difference to individuals’ lives.’
To help, readers can donate via or text ELP155 plus an amount (eg £1) to 70070.

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