As European leaders seek to deal with what an EU (European Union) representative called the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, The Salvation Army is responding across the continent, providing practical, emotional and spiritual support.
According to the IOM (International Organization for Migration) more than 360,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in the first eight months of 2015 – already 140,000 more than in the whole of 2014. Around 245,000 have landed in Greece and a further 116,000 in Italy. Records show that more than 2,700 refugees have died trying to reach Europe.
The Salvation Army in Europe believes it has an ethical and humanitarian responsibility to provide support to individuals and families fleeing their countries of origin. Some activities and programmes for refugees are already well established but in recent months The Salvation Army has stepped up its support and also started new activities in several European countries.
Support work for refugees across Europe includes:
In Greece The Salvation Army is working at the port of Piraeus in Athens to provide food and non-food items to refugees from Syria and north African countries arriving via the islands of Kos, Lesbos and others. Plans are under way to scale up this support and to provide additional support in Thessaloniki.
A Salvation Army centre in Rome, Italy, has hosted 21 Eritrean asylum seekers since May this year, providing accommodation and food along with legal support in the process of gaining refugee status. Conversations are currently taking place with local authorities in Salerno about hosting 50 to 60 people there.
The Salvation Army in France is providing space for 275 migrants in various centres and is offering meals to 60-80 migrants in Marseille.
In The Netherlands The Salvation Army has doubled its capacity for hosting refugees from 75 to 150 beds, with additional beds in crisis centres for the most marginalised. Refugees living in other shelters are being provided with clothing.
For many years The Salvation Army in Jönköping, Sweden, has been running a hostel for unaccompanied minors. This year it has increased capacity from 23 to 26 and is providing support through the asylum process. In addition, seven minors who have already gained asylum are being supported as they work towards independence. In other locations across the country, shelter and other support is also offered to refugees. Two additional properties are currently being prepared to house young migrants.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, 20 beds are provided for migrants by The Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army in Switzerland is currently hosting 2,500 people arriving from war-torn regions. Other support includes the provision of food, healthcare, childcare, assistance with access to education language courses and support in finding job opportunities. Swiss Salvationists are determined not just to provide immediate assistance but also to offer long-term support.
In Hungary The Salvation Army is handing out clothes, shoes, hygiene articles, sleeping bags, blankets, water and food to refugees who have gathered at rail stations.
Although Romania has not seen a huge increase in refugees over recent days, Salvation Army team members report that several migrants have needed assistance through ongoing homeless support, especially during colder weather.
The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom is currently preparing spaces for up to 40 refugees in one of its properties and is prepared to commit further personnel, funds and property to assist in the continuing crisis.
In Russia The Salvation Army is providing asylum seekers with blankets, food and clothing.
In several places in Finland The Salvation Army has started communications with the Red Cross and other organisations who are running reception centres for asylum seekers to discuss possible coordination and support.
In several centres in Germany The Salvation Army is working together with other organisations and local authorities to provide shelter and other support, including language lessons and clothing. Plans to scale up the response and support are currently being put in place.
These are just examples of the larger schemes that have been set up through The Salvation Army. The plight of refugees in Europe is hugely concerning, but The Salvation Army will continue to fulfil its mission to 'meet human needs in Jesus' name without discrimination', offering support to people at railway stations, refugee centres and at its hundreds of churches across the continent.