The Head of Islamic Relief’s Humanitarian Department has expressed his ‘huge relief’ following the evacuation of 25,000 refugees to the Greek mainland from appalling conditions on the island of Lesvos, but called for concerted action by the European Union and member states to tackle the continuing Mediterranean refugee crisis.
“A week ago the conditions on Lesvos were appalling and inhumane, and the situation reached boiling point when the number of refugees topped 25,000,“ says Imran Madden, who returned to the UK from Lesvos today.
“It’s a huge relief that most of the refugees have been evacuated to the mainland but more refugees are still arriving each day. This crisis is far from over because there are so many pressure points along the tortuous journey people are making across six countries to get from Turkey to Germany.
“These refugees desperately need concerted action by the EU to deal more effectively and humanely with the crisis on its own doorstep, and fresh diplomatic initiative to tackle the ultimate root of that crisis – the horrific conflict in Syria.”
This year more than 2,800 people have died trying to reach Europe. Yet many would not feel forced to undertake this perilous and degrading journey if relief efforts in neighbouring countries were fully funded and refugee resettlement programmes for the most vulnerable were more widely accepted by governments across the world.
“We would not tolerate this experience if our own families were put through it,” says Imran, “and we should not tolerate it being allowed to happen to others who have already suffered so much.”
Islamic Relief has put forward a three-point Agenda for Action to tackle the crisis, including a Europe-wide humanitarian response as refugees travel across the continent, greater commitment to resettling refugees in European and other countries, and fresh diplomatic effort to end the conflict in Syria.
“EU members must act with integrity and adopt the UNHCR’s resettlement scheme, which provides refugees with legal and physical protection and supports them to integrate into new countries that will ultimately give them permanent settlement,” says Imran Madden.
“Collectively the member states are also wealthy enough to meet the basic needs of refugees on their journey. And we must not forget the people still in Syria. Safe havens and humanitarian corridors must be established to get more aid in and provide better protection for people, and world leaders must use their political influence to end the conflict so the people of Syria can live in safety.”
UNHCR’s Syrian operation only has 37 per cent of the funding it needs. Over 12 million people inside Syria are in need of humanitarian aid, and a further four million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries, where UN programmes are also significantly underfunded.
Islamic Relief launched its emergency response to the crisis in the Mediterranean on 4 September. We have distributed over a thousand food packs to refugees on Lesvos in the past week, as well as small cash grants to the most vulnerable and translation and support services to help people get the assistance they need. That operation is continuing, and we have an assessment mission examining how we can provide more help in southern Italy.
In addition Islamic Relief has been working deep inside Syria and in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey since the conflict began in 2011, and we have assisted over 1.6 million people in these countries this year alone.
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