The Syrian conflict and the displacement of its people is, according to the UN, the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. The UN are right. The refugee crisis in Europe has raged out of all control and in seven days time, I’m going to be a part of it.
It can’t come soon enough.
Next Tuesday, I am getting in a van filled with blankets, warm clothing and my prickling social conscience. I’m leaving Ireland and I’m hitting the road for Calais. That’s just the start of my journey. When the van is unpacked and my driving buddy has turned around for home, it will be just me, my backpack and a whole lot of determination to volunteer my way through Europe.
At least that was the plan.
I’d done my research, I’d contacted various charities and grassroots organisations. I’d read their literature. I’d figured out accommodation and transport. I’d spoken to people who’d volunteered before, mostly those who’d worked in The Jungle before the Calais camp was razed, before the problem was swept into all the corners of France. I was going to go from one European hotspot to the next; two weeks in one place, ten days in the next. I would work my way east to reach Greece by April.
Then, today, news from Serbia jarred me as a state of emergency was declared due to the unprecedented, harsh winter conditions. It’s -14ºC there in the day and -20ºC at night. People are dying. How hopeless it must feel to have made it so far. How crushing to have escaped war, persecution and horrors beyond any we can imagine; To have lost loved ones; To have left others behind; To have struggled on and survived; To have lived only to meet a dead end. They’ve reached Europe. And now?…
Now, they die.
They die because there is not enough shelter, because there is not enough food. They die because we haven’t done enough to help.
Shame on us.
I’m reworking the plan.
The front lines are drawing me – the countries overwhelmed by this crisis; Serbia, Macedonia, Greece. They need help now, not in two months or three months time when the deep snows have thawed and the bodies of the dead have been cleared from the streets and from the global memory. So the new plan is to see out the two weeks I have committed to in Calais, then head straight to Belgrade to work with a group from the local community whose sole aim is to give hot food to any and every refugee, asylum seeker, migrant or whatever name you wish to put on the displaced masses in the city.
From there, I’ll make a new plan. The more I learn, the more I want to go to each and every one of the locations throughout the Balkans and South East Europe who are feeling the strain of this crisis. I know that I can’t. But I’ll find my place and I’ll do what I can.
I hope you’ll come along with me for the (virtual) journey and if you are planning to head to Europe to volunteer this winter, please please leave a comment or get in touch. We’re going to need each other!