The director of a Durban aid organisation who spent time in Greece recently, lending assistance to the some of the thousands of people fleeing war-torn Syria, says the plight of the refugees was heart-rending.
Gift of the Needy director Faiaz Majid said he and others from the non-profit organisation went to Greece to offer aid and some comfort to refugees in distress.
“As an organisation that empowers, uplifts and serves people in need, we couldn’t just sit back and ignore this humanitarian crisis.
“We were physically rescuing refugees off the boat and making sure they were brought safely to shore.”
His team assisted with food, clothing, counselling, medication and accommodation and paid for tickets for some of the refugees’ journeys.
They also sponsored a generator for the medical camps, which provided heating, electricity and hot water.
“It assists doctors with their performance of small surgical procedures,” Majid said.
The team worked around the clock rescuing refugees, who were kept warm, dry and fed.
Their ages ranged from 1-year-old babies to 80-year-old women.
The organisation was based in Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece, for six weeks.
“When I arrived, I realised that there are so many people in this world with good hearts.
“These are people with the same purpose: to welcome and assist the refugees.”
He said the volunteers and lifeguards - from his organisation, the Red Cross and the UN Refugee Agency - did night shifts in freezing weather, looking through binoculars to spot a boat that might be bringing more refugees.
“The crisis is ongoing and we plan on returning in a month and a half to continue with relief efforts.
“We urge donors to sponsor towards the much-needed aid, including food, clothing, blankets, water and milk.”
He said the stories told by the refugees were tragic and gruesome.
Majid recounted a story told to him by a couple whose son had drowned a few days before.
“It’s sad and tragic for parents to bury their own child and in a foreign country.
“We also assisted in the burial of a body which we were later told was in the sea for at least three months.”
“I have witnessed and attended mass burials, sometimes up to five burials in one day, body after body arriving at the graveyard.
“Some bodies are in such an advanced stage of decomposition that the customary cleansing rites cannot be carried out before burial.”
The refugees told him about the unscrupulous behaviour of some of the refugee smugglers.
“Many refugees complained that they were not well treated in spite of paying such a high price for the trip from Turkey to Greece by boat.
“In a boat suitable for 20 people, they load 60. For eight to 10 hours, no one can even move. For a family, parents and small children to undertake this dangerous trip, it can only be because they are going through extreme hardship and fear in their own countries.
“Otherwise no father in this world would put his own child in a boat that could probably sink.”