Emergency aid on the long journey to Western Europe

They can be seen everywhere – the photos of people who have left their home in order to find, after a burdensome journey, refuge and help in Western Europe. Their distress is particularly visible at those places where they need to interrupt their journey – mainly at borders between two countries and at railway stations. Many organizations, supported by countless volunteers, focus on these places while trying to provide the refugees with a humane emergency aid. Members and friends of the United Methodist Church also participate in these activities.

Strumica is not far from the border between Greece and Macedonia. In the most recent past, more than 7000 refugees per day have crossed this border on their journey of hope, and day by day between 1000 and 3500 refugees newly arrive. For Superintendent Wilfried Nausner it is foreseeable that this is not a challenge for the next few weeks only, but that, given the number of people who are currently on the move in Turkey and Greece, the flow of refugees will last throughout the whole next year. So far, volunteers of The United Methodist Church (UMC) and employees of the Miss Stone Center, a diaconal institution of the UMC in Macedonia, have provided the refugees with emergency aid, mainly with bottled water and clothes – and they have already done this when there was hardly any media coverage of the distress on the long journey to Western Europe. However, there is no consistently organized structure so far. In order to sustainably help, the UMC in Macedonia is therefore currently looking for coordinator for relief activities of the church. The Miss Stone Center owns a delivery van, which can be used for regular humanitarian aid transports in order to provide refugee groups in their camps with aid supplies. «We are currently working on finding individuals who know the needs of the refugees, who are regularly present among them and who can organize the appropriate assistance.» What Superintendent Nausner describes as next step won’t be possible to be implemented without support from abroad.

From the border between Greece and Macedonia, the refugees are transported across the country in three to five trains per day. The next major stop is Tabanovce at the border to Serbia – however, the UMC is not active there. In Belgrade (Serbia), the UMC is not involved in humanitarian aid activities for refugees either. This is mainly caused by the fact that all United Methodist congregations are located in the northern part of Serbia. However, Superintendent Ana Palik-Kunčak expects that the refugees will sooner or later knock on their doors, as well – as soon as winter has arrived or once the border to Hungary is even more difficult to cross than it is today. In this case, the UMC in Serbia would certainly try to coordinate any activities with the Ecumenical Help Organization EHO in Novi Sad.

In Hungary, members of the United Methodist congregations in Budapest are involved in activities of the organization «Christians for Migrants», which provides emergency aid in the refugee camps and transit zones (particularly at the railway stations). In addition, the UMC is a member church of the Hungarian Interchurch Aid, which also provides emergency aid at these places. Finally, as member of the Wesleyan Alliance, the UMC and some other churches and organizations of Wesleyan tradition decided to set up a baby-bath center at Keleti Railway station in Budapest. Parents receive towels, soap and an opportunity to bathe their children. In addition, soup is given out to the needy.

In Austria, Superintendent Lothar Pöll has released a public statement in which he urged leaders and citizens of his country to welcome war refugees. Members and friends of United Methodist congregations in Vienna actively support the humanitarian aid activities at Vienna Main Station, coordinated by Caritas and by the organization «Train of Hope». During this month the «Diakonie Zentrum Spattstrasse» in Linz, a social institution of the UMC in Austria, will open its first living community for unaccompanied minor refugees. The UMC in Austria closely works together with «Diakonie Austria» and supports various projects (e.g. German language courses in church rooms). Local churches are trying to find appropriate housing opportunities and will offer them to refugees as soon as possible. Together with other Churches and denominations, the UMC promotes a culture of openness and welcome in society and tries to impact on the government and to support it in its aim to receive and accommodate asylum seekers.

Compassion and love of neighbor find an expression in a huge commitment of many people. There are, however, also dark clouds appearing on the horizon. Superintendent Nausner says: «We are dealing with a still growing flow of refugees. But we fear that the current openness of Germany and Austria will soon come to an end. The result would be an immeasurable disaster on the Balkans.»

Connexio, the network for mission and diaconia of the UMC, and the Office of the Bishop of the UMC in Central and Southern Europe in Switzerland do not collect clothes or food parcels in order to send them to Austria, Hungary, Serbia, or Macedonia. Financial donations, however, are welcome (PC 87-537056-9, EMK in der Schweiz, Connexio, 8026 Zürich - for international donations please contact urs.schweizer@umc-europe.org). They will be used according to the needs – either for emergency aid activities in the above-mentioned countries – also in the medium-term and on a long-term basis – or they will serve their purpose through UMCOR, the United Methodist relief organization supporting the refugees in the Middle East, in Greece, and in Italy.

Source: UMC in Austria, Hungary, Serbia, and Macedonia / Office of Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich
Date: September 9, 2015