2015 witnessed the largest migration of people since the Second World War. Approximately 900,000 people made their way across the Mediterranean to Europe to escape countries experiencing conflict, widespread violence and insecurity.
The Salvation Army continues to build its response to this crisis across Europe, with new developments and inspiring stories emerging each day from service activities on the ground.
In Greece, The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) channeled increased funding to help The Salvation Army in Greece, where anywhere between 800 – 6,000 refugees arrive daily from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and remain several days before trekking northward.
Funding supported the development of a day center that offers toilets, shower facilities, basic medical care, and communications services for refugees. A warehouse, managed by two newly employed people who coordinate the vast army of volunteers is being developed to store and sort donated items.
Salvation Army personnel and volunteers are also passing out sandwiches, water, milk, clothes, diapers, baby wipes, and personal hygiene supplies.
“If there is something that everyone on this great march shares, it is desperation,” said Major Haris Gianaros of The Salvation Army’s United Kingdom Territory. “This desperation has driven them to leave their homes, their wider families and their countries in search of a safe tomorrow.”
In the advent of winter, The Salvation Army made an appeal for raincoats, scarves, socks and hats, which are distributed at the borders as refugees leave Greece.
“The Salvation Army, motivated by the love of God, seeks to restore the dignity of these people who are made in the image of God,” Gianaros said.
Germany continues to be the most popular destination for migrants arriving in Europe, having received the highest number of new asylum applications, as of the end of 2015.
Committed to providing a long-term response, The Salvation Army is focusing on building relationships, helping asylum seekers integrate into their new surroundings and adapt to new culture. Immediate needs such as food, clothing and emotional and spiritual support are provided, while language classes and parent-and-baby groups support assimilation among participants.
In Leipzig, where more than 6,000 asylum seekers arrived in the city last year, a small-scale furniture project was scaled up to meet the demand for furnishings for the new homes of refugees.
Funds from SAWSO made possible the creation of a new thrift store in Leipzig to store household wares, clothing, toys, electronics and furniture. Salvation Army Officer Major Mark Backhaus who oversees services in the region says that approximately 60 new clients are registered monthly with the facility and set up with furnishing for their apartments.
“You should see the joy in their eyes and hear their happiness,” Backhaus said. “We are blessed with this extraordinary possibility to serve and to experience becoming a family with a lot of people from other cultures.”
Logistics support for the furniture program was provided by a technical specialist from UPS, a longstanding partner of The Salvation Army.
“We thank our American friends and supporters. Without your engagement this project would not have been realized. What a privilege to see God in action,” Backhaus said.
In Italy, a Salvation Army center in Rome has hosted 21 Eritrean asylum seekers since May of 2015, providing accommodation and food along with medical and legal support in the process of gaining refugee status. An empty facility at Atena Lucana is able to receive up to 50 asylum seekers. The first 25 young men and women from Nigeria arrived in early November.
The Salvation Army is also helping these individuals integrate into their new communities.
“We hope to build relationships with the townspeople and find small jobs for our guests,” said Lt. Colonel Massimo Tursi of The Salvation Army Italy and Greece Command. “They have received name tags where their professional skills can be seen, in the hope that the people in town will eventually ask for their help.”
In Switzerland, The Salvation Army - the main partner for the Swiss government - is sheltering increasing numbers of refugees at 13 locations. With the recent increase in new arrivals, temporary shelters were opened to meet the increasing need.
In Belgium, nearly 100 refugees - including families and very small children - are being accommodated in a special Salvation Army center in Brussels, and plans are in place to increase the number of accommodations to 140. A nearby Salvation Army hostel provides accommodation for 24 single men, while in the town of Spa, The Salvation Army has converted a youth and conference center into a reception center to receive 70 individuals.
In France, The Salvation Army is providing space for 275 refugees in various centers and is offering meals to 60-80 migrants in Marseille.
In Hungary, The Salvation Army handed out clothes, shoes, hygiene articles, sleeping bags, blankets, water and food to refugees who gathered at rail stations. Borders have since been closed.
In The Netherlands, The Salvation Army has doubled its capacity for hosting refugees from 75 to 150 beds, with additional beds in crisis centers for the most marginalized. Over 1,000 have received emergency shelter. The Salvation Army recycling program, ReShare is providing clothing to asylum seekers in shelters across the country.
In Norway, accommodation hosting up to 250 people is being provided by The Salvation Army for newly-arrived refugees in Oslo, and emergency accommodation is available for 150 refugees in the southern town of Farsund.
In Sweden, a huge number of asylum seekers are being welcomed, including many unaccompanied children – most of whom have fled from Afghanistan. Working with the Swedish Government Migration Authority and charities such as the Red Cross, The Salvation Army is part of the national network that plans activities to meet the needs of new arrivals.
Supported by colleagues from Denmark, Salvation Army team members spend several hours at the rail station in Malmö every evening, meeting these traveling people, providing support and information and guiding them towards the reception centers.
“By God’s grace and the benevolence of donors, The Salvation Army has been able to serve lost and marginalized refugees in 14 European countries throughout the last year,” said Lt. Colonel Thomas Bowers, National Secretary for SAWSO. “Our heartfelt prayers and support go out to the individuals and families suffering uncertainty, hopelessness, and unrest throughout this time, and to the faithful volunteers and staff who transform donations into practical and meaningful service.”
Monetary donations are the most critical need to help refugees and migrants. The Salvation Army has set up a designated fund for relief efforts in Europe. During times of disaster, 100 percent of every dollar donated supports response and relief efforts. To give, visit salar.my/RefugeeGive or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769). Check donations to Salvation Army World Service Office (designate “Refugees in Europe”) can be sent to:
International Relief Fund
P.O. Box 418558
Boston, MA 02241-8558
In-kind donations are not being accepted.
Occasionally, conditions in the field may alter relief activities. If this occurs, The Salvation Army will direct funds to our International relief efforts in the region.