By Andria Kades
An initiative to help Syrian refugees in Greece has garnered the support of Cypriot officials who on Tuesday joined volunteers to help them sort out and pack donations.
Branding the refugee crisis as unprecedented and a European problem, former First Lady and former EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, Nicosia Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis and head of the EU representation in Cyprus, George Markopouliotis were thrown in the thick of things trying to help the ‘Cypriots Helping Syrian Refugees’ (CHSR) group.
With roomfuls of donations amassed in only two weeks and piles upon piles of bags, clothes and toys, volunteers were busy on Tuesday sorting, packing and taping up the boxes that will be sent to the Greek island of Kos.
“We need hands,” said one of the leading organisers, Rosie Charalambous, during a news conference in Nicosia on Tuesday. “Ask your friends to give a couple of hours of their time.”
Charalambous said right now they needed back packs, sleeping bags, small tents, baby carrying slings/pushchairs, shoes/trainers, socks, underwear for both sexes and all ages, toys, diapers, sanitary towels, soap, toothpaste and tooth brushes, baby wipes, talc/baby powder, cream for babies. “Think what you would need if you and your family were on the road with just a plastic bag and a mobile phone,” she added.
Charalambous said nothing would go to waste with any items that could not be shipped to Greece sent to the Nicosia municipality to help families in need, and any clothes that were deemed unsuitable for the refugees – such as high heels – would be donated or swapped with local charities.
Describing it as an excellent initiative, Vassiliou said: “I think it is our duty to help these people”. She called on Cypriots to remember that “when Cyprus and Cypriots needed help from foreigners, they offered it with open arms. We now need to do the same.”
Criticising the EU, Yiorkadjis said the bloc should be ashamed for allowing the crisis to escalate to such an extent because “the problems didn’t start yesterday” and although initiatives such as the CHSR were wonderful they only alleviated the symptoms but did not solve the problem, he said.
Markopouliotis said the blame game should be avoided as this was “an unprecedented crisis not seen since the second world war.” “Refugees are our fellow human beings and Europe knows too well what it means to be a refugee,” he said. “They (refugees) weren’t born unfortunately, in a safe place like the EU and need to be helped”.
Along the same lines Vassiliou sought to remind everyone that the refugees had not left home “because they wanted to but because they had to”.
The CHSR has garnered over 1,000 likes on their Facebook page set up by James Mackay, who actually started it as an information point on how people could help charities working with refugees in Europe.
Somehow, things escalated to the point where they are now, two weeks later, a fully fledged group working tirelessly across Cyprus to try get a shipment to Greece. As of now, they are looking for a shipping company to get items to Kos and volunteers to help them pack everything so they can be easily distributed.
For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/CypriotsHelpingSyrianRefugees/
Nicosia: Shop 21 lower ground floor, City Plaza, Makarios Avenue. Contact Rosie: 99666011. Open Monday – Friday 10.00 – 12.00, and 17.00 – 19.00.
Larnaca: 53, Ayiou Lazarou St. Contact: Louise: 96736838. Open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 10.00 – 13.00.
Limassol: AV Solutions, 30 Spyrou Kyprianou, 4045 Germasogeia. Opposite Carrefour. Open 09.00-18.00 Mon to Fri. Contact: Amy: 97661996 or Nikki: 99080118
Paphos: El Paso Kiosk. On the road from Geroskipou to the Limassol highway. Contact: Petros Mavros: 99217165
Paralimni: Contact Toulla Iacovou, 99595699