Scots donations saving lives in freezing Balkans

Migrants warm themselves by the fire outside of derelict brickyard  in Subotica, Serbia. Homeless refugees face a desperate battle against freezing temperatures in the Balkans. Photograph: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty

Migrants warm themselves by the fire outside of derelict brickyard in Subotica, Serbia. Homeless refugees face a desperate battle against freezing temperatures in the Balkans. Photograph: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty

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Aid from a Scottish charity has saved the lives of refugees living on the streets in freezing conditions in the Balkans, a volunteer has said.

Re-Act, a grassroots organisation set up in Edinburgh more than a year ago in reaction to the refugee crisis in Europe, has sent emergency aid to Serbia, where refugees are enduring temperatures as low as minus 20C with little more than a blanket.

Martin Nolan, who headed to the north of the country as an independent volunteer last week, put out a call for supplies to help keep refugees warm and was given help from the Edinburgh-based charity to buy sleeping bags, items of winter clothing and money for essential supplies.

He said: “After starting a very panicked fundraiser to purchase food stuffs for distribution while I was down there, Re-Act stepped up to the plate yet again. With the donation from Re-Act, I was able to purchase even more ex-military Arctic-grade sleeping bags and a large quantity of thermal hats, scarves and gloves.”

Nolan, an army veteran, told how he had made contact with a local family working to help refugees and had been taken to a group – including six children, the youngest aged seven, living in a disused school.

He said: “We gave out most of our sleeping bags to them and ensured that they each have a thermal hat and gloves. The blankets they had were as good as useless and the only benefit they were giving, if any, was one of psychological value with the idea that if they were wrapped up in them then they could ‘think’ that they were warmer.

“The school has been stripped of anything even remotely useful and anything that could burn has already been used on their makeshift fires which, crazily, they had lit in the centre of the room that most of them are occupying.”

After creating makeshift stoves to allow the refugees to cook, Nolan put out a call for help on Facebook for donations to be able to buy pots and pans to replace old tin cans which had previously held chemicals – and was answered by Re-Act.

He said: “On the open fires that they have been using they have been trying to boil water in old tin cans – many of which originally held chemicals of one description or another and pose unbelievable risks to their health – not to mention the burns that they have inflicted upon themselves by trying to pick up a very thin tin full of scolding water with fingers they can barely feel and that are very close to getting frost-bitten.”

He added: “With the provision of decent cooking pots with bottoms thick enough to withstand the extreme heat of these stoves, and hot water bottles to tuck inside their new ‘Gucci’ sleeping bags – I am certain we are providing a better chance of survival than any other form of aid which they are likely to be given this winter.”

He added: “The refugees receiving these life-saving gifts are incredibly grateful, but at this point they only know that some people, somewhere in the UK (I will try to explain about that funny place at the top called Scotland) care enough about them to try and make a difference. That in itself is amazing.”

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