Frostbite adds to long list of horrors for refugees

Laundry of Syrian refugees covered with snow at the refugee camp of Ritsona, north of Athens. Photograph: Muhammed Muheisen/AP

I received a message recently letting me know that a young mother that I met in a Greek refugee camp in September 2016 has been frostbitten on both hands, and may in fact lose her hands. (Text messages and a photo were sent among friends and volunteers navigating and following the plight of refugees in Europe. Communications among refugees are often short, incomplete, and unreliable – cell phone and internet service are an insurmountable challenge at times). Having met this woman just briefly when I was working in refugee camps as a volunteer, to my knowledge, she was an otherwise healthy young mother. She was trying fiercely to find proper medical care for her baby, who was suffering a heart problem. She’s been volleyed around Europe – it’s unclear whether she’s been sent by officials or taken to the road herself – and has, apparently, been denied the most basic protection from the elements.

This young woman’s story corroborates the situation in European refugee camps as told in this New York Times article: 

The refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East is not ending soon.

In recent travels to refugee camps in Greece while working with Acupuncturists Without Borders I have witnessed that people from all over the world are collaborating, volunteering, giving, caring – reaching across borders – to bring relief and hope. These efforts are indeed saving lives, providing dignity, and transcending limitations and fear, whether real or imagined, which are imposed by culture, politics and dogma. The humanitarian movement I’ve witnessed is indeed inspiring, but not nearly enough.

Many thousands of people are trapped and reliant on the world to be aware and to care – to be outraged – and willing to break from their daily routines and human challenges, which are also real and compelling, to show up in any way they can. Care, compassion, awareness, advocacy, activism, warm clothes, shelter, nutritious food; medical, educational, social and relocation services are desperately needed. Everyone has something of value, in thought, word or deed, that will make an impact.

Perhaps we also need haunting daily reminders, like the story of the young woman above, to remind us of our fragility, and our brother- and sisterhood in humanity.

It is reasonable that not everyone is willing or able to mobilize in this moment; not everyone feels called to this cause. There is a whole world of need, suffering, and causes out there. Nonetheless, this one continues to beg for our attention and swift action in this moment in time.

My hope is that someone is reading this and that today you realize that you do feel called. Reach out. Contact one of these organizations. Send a donation. Make it a daily part of your web-surfing and water cooler conversations to check in with the situation. At the very least, please send a prayer.

This planet belongs to us. Let us be aware that horrific things are happening on our watch.


Organizations that I have seen on the ground providing support that accept donations and volunteers (not an exhaustive list):


Blogs and Facebook pages to follow (not an exhaustive list):


Cover Photo:  Laundry of Syrian refugees covered with snow at the refugee camp of Ritsona, north of Athens.
Photograph: Muhammed Muheisen/AP

Author:  Jennifer M

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