This tiny country is sandwiched in-between Greece and Serbia. As the refugees try to reach Germany, Austria, Sweden, or other welcoming countries they have to travel though Macedonia. As they come into the camp they show the fatigue of their journey. Some of them show the scars of what they are leaving behind.
I met three bothers that were traveling with their families. One of the brother’s house had been bombed and one of his sons had lost his leg in the explosion. The boy was about 12 years old. His dad has carried him for the whole journey.
I met a Syrian father that had to leave his wife and three daughters back in Syria. He hopes to make it to Sweden where his brother lives. He hopes to obtain asylum papers, and then have his family reunited with him in Sweden. These are some of the typical stories of the refugees trying to find a secure life.
Until three months ago, refugees caught traveling through Macedonia were sent to a detention center, some were sent to an asylum center but those facilities quickly began to overflow. Refugees were traveling through Macedonia under the cover of night and there were multiple accidental fatalities on the railway.
In June, the Republic of Macedonia passed a law that allows refugees to pass though the country unhindered. They gave the refugees a 72-hour temporary pass though the country. The temporary pass allows the refugees to take trains, buses, and taxis north to the Serbian border. When that law took effect the numbers of refugees entering the country has rose drastically. This past Saturday and Sunday about 15,000 refugees entered. As the numbers continue to grow, the needs will continue to grow as well.
When you see so much need so close to where you live you want to act, you want to respond, you want to help. Over the last two weeks we have spent time speaking with UNHCR, the Red Cross, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are working to meet the needs of the refugees. What we discovered is that there are very few organizations in Macedonia that are positioned to respond to this sort of crisis, all of the work is falling on a handful of small organizations. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a registered humanitarian aid organization in Macedonia; we are positioned to help.
Two of the groups already working at the borders are our local partners that we’ve been working with for the last two years, Open Gate and the Food Bank of Macedonia. Open Gate is responsible for operating the women’s and children’s tent. They are providing refugees with rights information. They are responsible for reuniting unaccompanied children with family. They are providing limited hygiene items (underwear, shampoo, diapers, feminine products, etc.) and a bathing station for mothers to bathe their babies. They provide activities for children as they wait for the registration process or for the next train.
Our local partners are stretched thin, working with limited resources, and the number of refugees entering the camp grows larger every day. We are positioned to help. With partnerships already in place we are prepared to come alongside of our local partners and respond to the refugee crisis together.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40).
The “least of these” are coming to our doorstep. We have a responsibility to respond with the love of Christ, for they are Christ, and we are serving him as we serve them.