What happens with the donations?

Shortly before leaving our home base for the camp, we get the call that police is clearing the makeshift camp in front of the entrance. We hurry up to save whatever possible material that is still there. The order to remove everything came when a group of volunteers had just spent hours organising the donations in order to be able to distribute them appropriately. Thanks to one of our coordinators' negotiations with the Red Cross and UNHCR, we are allowed to set up a warehouse a bit further away and bring these donations over there.

Volunteers packing donations after having received the order to clear the camp.

Volunteers packing donations after having received the order to clear the camp. (Opatovac 25/09/2015)

Volunteers are seriously upset. They came here on their own costs to support the refugees and are now forbidden to provide desperately needed help. A Swiss woman I connected with in the last days comes over crying and sobbing. She has been providing a few hundred kilos of bananas every day to the camp inside, but is told she should not buy food anymore. She follows this order, but Red Cross people keep asking her where the bananas are.

Rumours say that the reason for this ban of volunteers is some high ranking politician's oncoming visit to the camp with media, and that the Red Cross want to demonstrate they have everything under control and don't need the volunteers' support. There is indeed some improvement: the lanes where people where queuing for hours in the rain without any shelter yesterday are now covered with tents.

The camp itself has been divided into four sectors which are supposed to be emptied alternately for cleaning. Tonight, it is the sector where we set up the internet tent, so nobody is using our services. But we are free to move across the camp and scout to find out where we actually can do something. The situation is quite confusing. As we bring blankets into one sector, police lets us gladly in. People are roaming around, sitting in groups on the ground eating cold food, some are sleeping in the tents. They seem to appreciate us bringing blankets. We ask the police if we can bring some hot tea to distribute, as people look cold. They approve, but by the time we come back, everybody has been sent into the buses. We give out tea along the lines where people are waiting to board.

Donations the Red Cross refused to take in are collected to be moved to the new warehouse.

Donations the Red Cross refused to take in are collected to be moved to the new warehouse. (Opatovac 25/09/2015)

One young girl of some church organisation approaches us, telling us in a very peremptory tone that we should not believe the media, that people are treated well inside the camp, that they get everything they need. Well, there is no need for us to believe or not what the media are telling, we see with our own eyes how people are treated in here. Waiting to board the buses, they are freezing. They do have blankets, but still ask for clothes and shoes. I feel guilty not being able to really help them while myself wearing several layers of high-tech outdoor clothing to keep warm.

The Red Cross did refuse to take in the donations we moved to another warehouse earlier. Our coordinator approached UNHCR about this, who are shocked. Then we are told the Red Cross has warehouses full of donations, which are not being distributed for lack of staff. At the same time, the organisation does not accept volunteers helping. What is the point of having enough donations for all, but not giving them out? What is the point of complaining there are not enough staff to do this job while a crowd of volunteers outside is just asking to help?

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