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Refugee crisis: From Aleppo to Macedonia

A young Syrian girl sits outside the train station in Gevgelija, Macedonia
A young Syrian girl sits outside the train station in Gevgelija, Macedonia

More than 300,000 people have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe this year. The vast majority of them are fleeing the war in Syria. Last weekend alone around 10,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Greek border and entered Macedonia. As this week's news has highlighted, many of the worst affected are children.

Macedonia is seen as a gateway to Northern Europe and countries like Germany and the United Kingdom. This small and incredibly poor country is struggling to cope with the influx, and, on 20th August, declared a state of emergenc. But still the refugees come at a rate of around 2,000 a day. Conditions for the refugees crowding into the small border town of Gevgelija are becoming increasingly unsanitary. SOS Correspondent Katerina Ilievska recently visited the area. The following describes what she found:

From Aleppo to Macedonia

“As I stop to quench my thirst at a drinking fountain in a park in Gevgelija, Macedonia’s southern-most town located just under two miles from the Greek border, someone yells 'don’t drink the water!' I ask them why and they explain that this is where many refugees wash.
To describe the situation in the town as alarming would be an understatement. Normally only 15,000 people live here, but the population has more than doubled, swelled by refugees fleeing war, famine and torture.

A Syrian refugee sits holding her baby, Macedonia
The future remains uncertain for the refugees as Europe debates what course of action to take

The temperature is 36 degrees, but just a couple of weeks ago, temperatures reached a staggering 49 degrees. Conditions in the heat quickly became horrendous with the elderly, sick and pregnant women suffering greatly as they struggled to find shade and water. Unbearable is the word many people use to describe the situation.

We come across a mother of three sitting in the shade of the railway station building. She speaks no English, but with hand gestures and the help of a friend who knows a few words of English, she agreed to let us sit with her for a while. Her two girls, aged six and four were shy for a moment, but were soon posing happily for photos. I ask the mother were they had come from. 'Aleppo' she replies, tears filling her eyes. I remain silent, watching the little girls play excitedly with the camera. Giggling, they take photos of their baby brother – they’re really good photographers! 

The mother tells me that she has received a food package containing much-needed baby formula. It’s not much but it will last her for a while. She tells me they want to board the 5pm train. She doesn’t want to leave the station for fear they’ll miss it. I ask where they are headed. 'Alemania', she says. Germany. Many days travel away. First they must reach Tabanovce on Macedonia’s border with Serbia. Then, another train or bus will take them to the border with Hungary from where they hope they will be able to enter Germany.”

An increasingly desperate situation 

Group of refugees in Macedonia
As many as 2,000 refugees arrive in the border town of Gevgelija every day

There are thousands of women and children like this family living a life in limbo, completely unsure of what the future holds. Their situation is desperate; simple items like baby formula and nappies are desperately needed, and, as autumn and winter approach blankets and waterproof shelters too. 

SOS Children is currently in the process of finalising its response to the crisis.

  • SOS Italy are providing care to 15 unaccompanied and separated child refugees at SOS Children’s Village Mantova and Vicenza.
  • SOS Austria is planning a programme designed to care for 100 child refugees.
  • SOS Macedonia and Serbia launched a dedicated humanitarian appeal in response to the crisis on 4th September.

SOS Children have been working in Macedonia since 1995, providing a loving home, care and support to the country's most vulnerable youngsters. Find out more about our work there.

We have been working hard to support children and families affected by the war in Syria, and, since 2012, have helped thousands of people. Find out more about how we are helping.

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