Coming Together to Provide Aid to Refugees in Europe
November 25, 2015
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is continuing its long-standing partnership with international humanitarian organizations to tend to the dire needs of refugees entering Europe. Support is underway to provide food, shelter, clothing and medical supplies and other life-sustaining necessities.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest presiding body of the Church, just returned from visiting a refugee shelter in Berlin, Germany, and two sites on the Greek island of Lesbos. Elder Ballard was there to show his support and to gather firsthand impressions of the tremendous humanitarian effort for those who have lost everything fleeing civil conflict in their own countries.
“It’s overwhelming to see the magnitude of the size of this problem,” explained Elder Ballard. “I think what surprised me the most was the size of it. We saw a lot of pictures, we’ve heard a lot of reports, but it’s different when you come here on the ground and you walk through the camps and you see the faces.”
"The scale of this human tide has to be seen to be believed,” expressed Elder Ballard. “I have seen our people working alongside new friends of all faiths and nationalities to relieve the suffering of those who have been driven from their homes and countries. I am so grateful for the dedicated service of all involved to bring relief to those who need it most."
The Church follows the admonition of Jesus Christ found in Matthew in the New Testament to take in the stranger and care for those in need (see Matthew 25:35–36). And there is much need.
“What we are seeing is the fulfilment of the Lord’s request to His teaching that we’re to reach out, touch and bless the lives of our Father’s children regardless of where they are, regardless what their circumstances are; we do what we can do,” said Elder Ballard.
Baroness Marie-Catherine Heereman leads a charitable group that oversees several “villages” like the one in Berlin. An exhibition center converted into living spaces at the beginning of October now houses some 1,000 people who have endured visible hardship on their journey for protection and shelter.
“When they come here they do not have any luggage at all; they have just what they are [wearing], which is frequently dirty and wet,” said the baroness.
“We’ve seen the great, wonderful open hearts of the German people,” exclaimed Elder Ballard. “I love that the first words they said to us were, ‘These are our guests.’ That’s a great message for the whole world.”
Mormon volunteers assembled hygiene kits at the shelter and passed out pallets of toys provided by the Church during Elder Ballard’s visit. “What a wonderful thing to see, … the children run in and have a toy,” said Elder Ballard. “They … would melt the heart of anyone.”
The Church is working with organizations such as UNICEF, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Malteser Germany, the Crisis Management Center of the Republic of Macedonia, Catholic Relief Services, Medici per i Diritti Umani (MEDU) and the International Medical Corps.
“We are pleased to work with such compassionate and experienced partners,” said Church leader Elder Patrick Kearon, president of the Europe Area. “We have seen what they do and are confident that our joint efforts will make a difference in the lives of those fleeing from war and misery.”
“There’s so much more that people can do, so much more to be done,” added Elder Kearon after visiting a refugee shelter on the Greek island of Lesbos with Elder Ballard to learn more details and express their appreciation for the service rendered to those in need. “I see opportunities for us to continue with the partnerships that we’ve had and forge new ones too.”
With the help of the Church, UNHCR assists refugees by offering information about their rights and providing food, water, shelter and medical care. The project supported by the Church will focus on Greece and the Balkans. Elder Ballard and Elder Kearon visited a shelter on one of the Greek islands where refugees first arrive in Europe to learn more details and express their appreciation for the service rendered to those in need.
The Church is also supporting a project by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to grant help to 225,000 children from refugee families in Italy — 90,000 over the next six months. Children are receiving clothing, blankets and toys. Supplementary feeding kits will be available to younger children and their parents.
UNICEF creates child-friendly spaces in refugee shelters to help children experience an environment that will allow them to deal with trauma and distress. Refugee children on the transit area between Greece and Slovenia will be provided with winter caps to protect them from the cold.
The Church has funded a mobile medical unit for a MEDU (Physicians for Human Rights), a nonprofit organization based in Italy.
The International Medical Corps provides primary medical and psychological services to refugees arriving on various Greek islands, including Leros, Samos and Kos. With financial assistance from the Church, this humanitarian organization will administer medical and psychological care and refer those in need to local hospitals for higher-level care.
Catholic Relief Services has been a trusted partner of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for many years. In Serbia and Macedonia, both organizations will cooperate to provide food, emergency supplies and psychological counseling to refugees and their families. The Church also supports Caritas in Athens to aid refugees.
The Church has been providing aid to refugees in the Middle East for more than a decade, donating hundreds of thousands of blankets, clothes, emergency medical supplies, food and other resources to refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria.
An announcement was made at the end of September stating that Mormons in Europe, supported by Church headquarters in the United States, will be stepping up their aid to refugees fleeing to Europe.
The Church made a commitment of $5 million to immediately help displaced families. In addition, members worldwide have been asked by the Church’s First Presidency to provide assistance to refugees by making contributions and participating in local relief projects.