Date: August 20, 2015
By Nico Bougas, Special to ASSIST News Service
ATHENS, GREECE (ANS –August 20, 2015) – Six Syrian refugees, one of them a baby, drowned while trying to cross by sea from Turkey to the Greek islands on Tuesday, as the United Nations revealed that an unprecedented 21,000 made the crossing successfully last week alone.
They died when the 30ft-long boat they were travelling in overturned. Rescuers recovered the body of the baby. Three more migrants – two men and a child – survived for hours in the vessel’s overturned hull, breathing air trapped in a pocket, before being rescued by divers.
A growing number of Syrian and other middle eastern countries are fleeing war and violence and are now using the east Mediterranean Sea route to reach Europe. This has resulted in an unprecedented number of refugees arriving in Greece’s Dodecanese islands. Arriving migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are left with poor accommodation conditions and limited access to healthcare.
Johnathan Macris, President of Hellenic Ministries and a team from the mission have just landed on the island of Mytilini (bordering Turkey) to assess the reality of the humanitarian needs generated by the massive influx of refugees entering Europe through Greece’s islands.
They have planned a meeting with the Mayor on the island who has been struggling to cope with this recent crises…as if the economic/political crises of the last month hasn’t been enough.
After the busy period following the hectic summer season which included a major Bible distribution campaign to 125,000 homes in northern Greece and subsequent ministry camps at their campsite at Porto Astro. Hellenic Ministries have been moved by the plight of thousands of refugees pouring into Greece. Macris put it even more strongly, “our hearts have been torn apart by the tragedy of waves of humanity that are flooding our country.”
They were aware that upwards of one million refugees have been waiting on the other side of the Greek border in Turkey to enter Europe through Greece. But they were completely amazed, at the huge numbers of refugees that arrived on the Greek islands and inundated them so quickly.
In the last month, it is estimated that some 30,000 refugees have flooded the island of Mytilini alone and has almost doubled the population of the island overnight. They are arriving in small plastic rafts/boats. In the last month or two, more refugees arrived in Greece than the total number since the beginning of the year.
Hellenic Ministries are a relatively small ministry with a staff that is way too small to cope with the demands and opportunities that are coming their way. But they have done all they can to provide extra food distribution in the town squares.
At the same time, they are finding that people are leaving Greece as quickly as they are coming. The new gateway or route has been afforded by FYROM (Macedonia) which is granting a three-day temporary visa to transit the country with all transportation expenses covered to Serbia then finally to the border of Hungry. This is a short window of opportunity for approximately 2,000 refugees a day rushing for central Europe through Greece before Hungary is able to build its security and stem the flow of new refugees.
Macris has made a plea for prayer support that the Lord would give wisdom as they add yet another dimension to their social ministry in order to make the most of this opportunity to bless and minister to more refugees. Evangelicals comprise less than 0.2% of the population but they are having a significant impact on a nation that is reeling under the impact of the economic austerity measures being placed upon them.
The mission is working on the possibility of temporary housing, shade and sanitation, and to set up a “Welcoming Center” initially on the island of Lesvos in the town of Molivos - the side of the island nearest Turkey.
There is also a possibility of duplicating the service on the islands of Kos and Kalymnos. The vision is to have an evangelical Christian mission to be the first to welcome people as they come out of the water. They would be greeted with a gift bag of necessary items for their survival for the first days in Europe!
They would be provided with water and transportation with a bus across the island that would alleviate a 40 mile walk through this mountainous island in the heat to the capital for registration. They are also working on setting up a medical facility by hiring local medical personnel that would be near the official registration center for any first aid needs.
Almost all these refugees are coming from Muslim backgrounds. Welcoming people here could possibly be a means of introducing them to the Christian gospel and to the HM Refuge centers in Athens where they can get further assistance both medically and by way of food, showers, and care.
For more information on Hellenic Ministries and how you can get involved or support its work, please go to the website:www.hellenicministries.org
Photo captions: 1) A policeman hits a migrant as police try to disperse hundreds of migrants during a registration procedure on the island of Kos. 2) Johnathan Macris, President of Hellenic Ministries. 3) Nico Bougas.