Berlin, Germany, December 5, 2022 As winter grips countries across Europe and temperatures drop, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling for increased access to humanitarian aid and safe shelter for people fleeing war and persecution.
The number of people seeking safety in Europe is expected to rise as hostilities continue to escalate in Ukraine in the face of a harsh winter, while ongoing violence in Afghanistan and famine caused by drought in Africa mean people will continue to treacherous journeys to safety.
Reports suggest that Poland is preparing to take in around half a million more refugees from Ukraine, yet an IRC assessment found that 56% of refugees surveyed who are already in the country feel unprepared for the coming winter months. Meanwhile, the number of people traveling along the Balkan route has doubled in just twelve months and living conditions for people on the move – with the onset of winter – are expected to worsen.
Furthermore, the rising cost of living in Europe has increased tensions between host communities and refugees, with the latter often being wrongly perceived to receive preferential treatment from aid organizations and local governments.Host communities have expressed great concern for their livelihoods; countries such as Slovakia and Hungary have seen inflation rates rise to 14.9% and 21.1% respectively. Amid the ongoing energy crisis, there are concerns that volunteers may stop providing accommodation for refugees from Ukraine, while self-reliant refugees may soon be unable to pay rent or utility bills.
Meanwhile, temperatures in countries such as Italy, Serbia and Poland go dangerously high. Collective housing schemes, such as refugee camps in Greece and coastal hotels turned shelters in Bulgaria, may not be adequately equipped to keep people warm this winter – the lack of suitable accommodation and barriers to entering the shelter system make people even more exposed to winter. the threats.
Marijana Simic, regional director for Europe, said,
While the world’s attention is trained on Ukraine, we cannot forget the people on the move who are caught up elsewhere in Europe, preparing for the hardships of the coming winter.
People traveling through forests in Serbia are forced to live for days in the cold in extreme conditions, while others sit in abandoned buildings and makeshift shelters. Many fear the police, who may use violence to prevent them from crossing the border. Our teams report that many people along the Balkan route are deprived of medical assistance. They are often unable to treat wounds caused by violence or frostbite during their journey.
In Italy, we see many refugees waiting for shelter, who are forced to sleep for weeks in parks or in huts, often without proper clothes, blankets or sleeping bags to escape the cold. IRC teams assisted over 4,200 people in September and October this year alone, 10% of whom were children traveling alone. Meanwhile, refugees living in camps in Lesvos, Greece, are experiencing power outages and a lack of hot water and heating.
No person can be allowed to suffer from the cold this winter. Our teams receive calls for help from refugees coming from Ukraine and other countries struggling to find a warm place to stay. It is imperative that donors and governments commit to plans for a structured and comprehensive winter response that addresses the needs of all people fleeing conflict and persecution, regardless of their country of origin or journey. Governments must renew investment in urgent shelter needs and ensure adequate and dignified housing for all who need it. In addition, they must ensure that no one is denied safety in Europe and that people are not exposed to the violence of deportations that will put their lives at risk.
Notes to editors:
- IRC is working to provide additional cash assistance to over 900 of the most vulnerable refugee families in Poland, ensuring that the elderly, people with disabilities, pregnant women and families with many children have access to essential winter supplies.
- In Italy, IRC teams are working with local partners to respond to the most urgent needs of refugees and asylum seekers, which includes providing emergency aid, distributing winter clothing and other essential supplies, and supporting shelter needs of refugees in Rome. and Bari.
- In the Balkans, IRC is supporting refugees from Ukraine across Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, providing information services to help families access housing, healthcare and education services.
- In Greece, the IRC provides mental health and protection services to vulnerable people living in Athens and the island of Lesvos, where camps are often without electricity or heat.
- United for Ukraine, a new partner of the IRC-led Signpost Project, launched in collaboration with Google.org, connects people with pro bono legal services and psychosocial support and provides essential information to crisis-affected refugees, including information on accommodation.
The IRC has been responding to humanitarian crises in Europe since 2015, where we launched an emergency response to the peak of migration in Greece and resumed operations in Serbia. Since then, our teams have provided water, health and sanitation and psychosocial support to refugees and migrants across Europe, including Italy from 2017 and Bosnia in 2020. In February 2022, the IRC launched an emergency response to the war in Ukraine, and our teams are now present in 14 European countries, including Hungary, Moldova and Poland.
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