On Tuesday, Al-Imdaad Foundation hosted their partner NGO Children of Adam for an event on the Refugee Crisis in Greece. The emotive event was broadcast live on radio stations in South Africa and drove home the message of the desperate situation faced by refugees stuck in limbo on the Greek Island of Lesvos.
The event was opened by Hafez Abdus Samad Mulla, Country Director for Al-Imdaad Foundation UK who himself has been on numerous relief missions to the Island of Lesvos. After introducing the Al-Imdaad Foundation and their partners Children of Adam, he exhorted one and all to appreciate what they had recalling Syrian refugees who had told him how they had had everything and now had nothing.
The first speaker was Muneer Bhimani, Head of Operations for Children of Adam. He opened his talk by saying, “we see ourselves as representing the voices of the refugees stranded in Greece”.
He went on to tell a story based on an unaccompanied child they had witnessed during one of their missions. He told of a mother who was sent to the outskirts of the town by her husband when the protests first started in Syria and the journey she faced as days turned into weeks and months and years.
He described through the eyes of this mother, the difficult choices that refugees have to face. How mothers who can’t afford the exorbitant costs of people smugglers, send their children alone in the hope that there will be those to love and care for them on the other side.
He then described how they had witnessed a young child screaming in the chaos as she came alone off a dinghy and how no one could find the mother who wasn’t there.
Bhimani described how their relationship with the Al-Imdaad Foundation had helped them to respond to the crisis. He said initially they had approached numerous Muslim NGOs in the UK to assist them with providing halal food to the refugees on the Island of Lesvos in Greece, but that the Al-Imdaad Foundation was the first to eagerly support the project.
Bhimani told of how they had come across a Greek caterer who shared their vision of providing halal, wholesome meals to refugees and said that he had been waiting for people to let him know what the needs of refugees were. The caterer even agreed to mobilise his team in the early hours to provide Sehri meals in Ramadan.
In 2015, many refugees on the Island of Lesvos, were unable to fast as they did not have the means to make sehri.
This year however, the Al-Imdaad Foundation and Children of Adam were able to provide 196 000 meals during Ramadan allowing those refugees who chose to fast, to do so.
Children of Adam Chairman Waqqas Rehman, also addressed the congregation at the event. He described how, into the sixth year of conflict, more than half the pre-war Syrian population were now either internally displaced or refugees.
He spoke about the situation of the refugees on the Greek Island of Lesvos, known as the gateway to Europe. Refugees take night journeys from Turkey across a narrow strip of ocean that he described as a “beautiful blue water that looks peaceful but is so deceiving”.
This is especially so because the boats they take, commonly referred to as “boats of death” by Syrian refugees are no more than “large rubber tyres” built for 10 to 15 people but carrying at times 60 to 70 due to the greed of the people smugglers.
The name ‘boats of death’ is easy to understand when we know that the Mediterranean crossing has resulted in the deaths of over 3740 people this year so far. Rehman described a conversation with an elderly Syrian women about why they board the boats even though they call them ‘boats of death’ to which she responded, “What we are fleeing is worse than death”.
The tired and sea weary refugees arrive on the Island of Lesvos and must then make a 40km trek to the capital city, Mytilene where they are registered. According to Waqqas Rehman, NGO’s are not allowed to help them make this journey as they may be accused of being associated with smuggling rings if they do.
The Island of Lesvos has a population of just 70 000 but has seen more than 1.3 million refugees passing through it in the past two years. At the peak of the crisis, up to 10 000 refugees were passing through the island each day.
According to Children of Adam, the local Islanders have shown much compassion to the plight of the refugees. A wealthy businessman abandoned building a new nightclub and instead made the property available to build temporary accommodation for refugees making the trek to the capital in order to register.
Waqqas Rehman reiterated the point made by Muneer Bhimani saying, “We told them we would tell their story to the world”.
He said that Children of Adam felt it was their responsibility as people who had been on the ground to let people know that the situation of refugees in Greece was desperate.
The Al-Imdaad Foundation will be continuing to provide halal meals to refugees at the Kara Tepe Camp.
Donors can sponsor meals for a day for just R70 and ensure that the refugees have halal food to eat.
To donate or for more information call 086178624 or visit www.alimdaad.com.